Supreme Court Argument Reaffirms the Case for Disparate Impact

Posted by Alan Jenkins on January 30, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a very important fair housing case, and the Justices’ comments from the bench have had court watchers buzzing ever since.

Here’s my take on what the legal back-and-forth in the case does and does not mean.

It’s safe to say that the oral argument in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project went very well for supporters of fair housing … and that we have no idea what, if anything, that will mean for the Court’s decision. The argument did make clear, however, how far this Court will have to stray from its established principles if it wants to weaken the Fair Housing Act in this case.

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CDFIs: Bridging the Poverty Gap

Posted by Bill Bynum on January 27, 2015

Each year, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday prompts people to reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy. By achieving passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation, the actions of King and others compelled a sharp decline in the blatant discrimination and wanton violence that had permeated the nation for generations. However, today, five decades after these and other seminal events altered the course of race relations in America, a level of inequality greater than any time since the recession makes it abundantly clear that much work remains to realize America’s promise of liberty and justice for all.

At the time of his death, Dr. King had shifted the focus of his work from voting rights to economic issues. He had launched the Poor People’s Campaign to seek better jobs, wages, education and other social programs aimed at helping people lift themselves out of poverty. The campaign’s premise resonates deeply today amid entrenched poverty and growing social unrest throughout the United States.

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Public School Closures: Loss And Opportunity

Posted by Ariel H. Bierbaum on January 26, 2015

In many people’s minds, a neighborhood is not complete without a public school, as they not only hold the key to the next generation’s success, but also represent an open and welcoming space for civic interaction.

Practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike have based their work on this vision. Local school districts and community partners have focused efforts to build community schools. Federal policies like Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods emphasize schools as key institutions in the work of place-based poverty alleviation. A vast array of research has established links between public education and housing and transportation policy, regional economies, political and social capital-building, and health outcomes. This work all suggests that schools serve multifold purposes—not merely as vehicles to deliver education, but also as important social, political, and physical infrastructure in neighborhoods and cities.

So what happens when a neighborhood school closes?

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Plugging the Leaky Bucket: It’s About Time

Posted by John Emmeus Davis on January 23, 2015

"A society grows great when old people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

If that Greek proverb is true, what does it say about a society where most of our policies for affordable housing and community development look more like the mono-cropping of field corn than the patient cultivation of apples, pecans, and maples? We prefer stuff that grows fast, even when it requires more and more fertilizer to compensate for soils that are becoming depleted. We re-plant stuff again and again, staying one step ahead of acceptable losses from falling yields and unfavorable weather.

Similarly, as a society we don’t typically care whether the housing we build, the affordability we create, or the homeownership opportunities we have worked so hard to provide for low-income families actually last very long. We calmly accept our losses and repeatedly start all over again. Why plant a diversity of slow-growing trees when you can annually harvest a crop of sugar and starch that grows as high as an elephant’s eye through the constant application of public subsidies and private donations?

Both systems are profitable, but neither is sustainable—or just. They depend on scarce resources that are not easily replenished. They diminish and damage the communities of which they are a part. They deliver neither food security nor shelter security for vulnerable people of modest means. Indeed, when the affordability of housing is lost, when the condition of housing declines, or when foreclosures rise, it is vulnerable people who are pushed aside.

Displacement is not a sign the system isn’t working.  Displacement is the way the system is designed to work.

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Income is How You Get Out of Poverty, Assets are How You Stay Out

Posted by Alexandra Bastien on January 22, 2015

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a vision for rebuilding the middle class with pathways to the middle class for lower-income families. But to manifest this vision, we need a much stronger focus on addressing the root causes of concentrated, generational poverty: financial insecurity and lack of ownership.

In our work to build communities of opportunity where low-income people and people of color can thrive, we must acknowledge that income is how you get out of poverty, assets are how you stay out.

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Making the Connections Between Housing and Health

Posted by Jonathan Reckford on January 21, 2015

In December, President Barack Obama signed into law the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act that offers health, and dignity to millions of people through access to life-saving water and sanitation. The focus of this legislation will not cost taxpayers a penny more; it simply makes U.S. investment in existing programs smarter, more effective and more transparent.

Worldwide, studies have shown that there is an inextricable connection between decent housing and health. An Emory University research study in Malawi found that children under 5 years old living in Habitat for Humanity homes had 44 percent fewer cases of malaria, respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases compared to children living in traditional houses.

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Are Millennials Different, or Just Delaying Homeownership?

Posted by Lisa Sturtevant on January 20, 2015

Big, diverse, and a little bit different, the Millennial generation is often cast as the solution to—or the cause of—many of America’s housing challenges. But Millennials probably aren’t as principal to understanding U.S. housing market conditions as the sheer amount of media coverage may lead us to believe.

The opportunities available to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, and the decisions they make about where to live, are also key rungs in the housing market ladder. But there is a mystique about Millennials in the midst of sluggish economic conditions which, among other less fanciful reasons, makes them an important part of the conversation about the housing market recovery and the role of housing in people’s lives. But can we separate Millennial fact from myth? And are markets and policy set up to adequately meet Millennials’ housing needs?

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Working in Partnership

Posted by Rooflines on January 19, 2015

[Editorial note: In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rooflines has chosen to share an essay from the Shelterforce archives.

Co-written by Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and John Taylor in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the decade-old essay shows us that the reality for millions of Americans in poverty has not changed very much, but the calls for coalition-building to enact change have grown stronger, and are being heeded.

On this national holiday that celebrates our nation's "drum major for justice," we hope you'll take some time to reflect on these words and your own commitment--professionally and personally--to the cause of eradicating injustice.]

On this 30th anniversary of Shelterforce, it makes sense to take a more global approach to addressing the problems unmasked by Hurricane Katrina. We need to not only recognize the problems that existed in communities prior to the hurricane, but also work to ensure that similar situations do not repeat themselves.

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Disparate Impact: A Texan’s Perspective

Posted by John Henneberger on January 15, 2015

It’s important to remember, as Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project reaches the Supreme Court of the United States later this month, the actual people who bear the brunt of Texas’ history of housing discrimination.

As Alan Jenkins’ earlier post on Rooflines points out, on January 21 the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments from the state of Texas that the Fair Housing Act does not protect citizens from housing discrimination in practice under a standard known as "disparate impact." As the justices consider whether lower-income people should have a fair and equal opportunity in their choice of housing, or whether their government can force them to live in segregated and distressed neighborhoods, they should think about people like Mary, a medical assistant and mother of three (whose name I have changed for this piece). Her story illustrates what’s really at stake if the Court agrees with the state of Texas and dismantles the disparate impact provision.

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Homegrown Solutions To Inequity in Ferguson and Beyond

Posted by Laura Barrett on January 14, 2015

The debate about Ferguson continues: The grand jury decision is unfair to many; policing practices seem discriminatory and dangerous; and local court systems have been shown to prey upon low-income people. The sheer scope of the problems can be overwhelming. But let’s take a step back.

Richard Rothstein’s "The Making of Ferguson" links some modern symptoms of racial inequity back to World War II, when many racially discriminatory practices became systematized. A strong economy, labor unions, and federal agencies—the Veterans Administration, the Federal Housing Agency, and others, helped to create a white middle class through good wages, homeownership, and educational benefits, but local zoning laws, housing covenants and real estate practices created block busting, redlining, and other practices that largely excluded African Americans from this economic boom.

There are, however, solutions to the racial divide laid bare—here in St. Louis and elsewhere. For many, the courage of young protesters has been inspirational and has helped older civil rights activists recommit to the cause. Even better, some social justice advocates who have been on the frontlines of the demonstrations with new and old activists have been working together to create a vision for the St. Louis region (they include Missouri Jobs with Justice; the St. Louis Clergy Coalition; MORE; Organization for Black Struggle; Metropolitan Congregations United; and United Congregations of the Metro East).

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