Does Screening for Eviction Records Violate the Fair Housing Act?

Posted by Eva Wingren on April 29, 2016

We tend to think of the Fair Housing Act as covering access to housing—getting “into” housing. But it also applies to staying in that housing. In other words, it applies to evictions. A landlord may not discriminate when deciding what merits eviction any more than when deciding who to rent to.

Unfortunately, it seems that they do. At a talk hosted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Conference, and Coalition on Human Needs yesterday (April 28), writer and Harvard researcher Matt Desmond shared findings from his book Evicted that should give us pause.

Evictions are much more likely to happen, he said, given the same amount of rent past due, to families with children. This should be a violation of the Fair Housing Act, since family status is a protected class and disparate impact counts as well as outright discrimination. There is also evidence of racial disparities in eviction rates.

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Is a Meritocracy Really What We Want?

Posted by David Imbroscio on April 29, 2016

"Together we can break down all the barriers holding our families … back. We can build ladders of opportunity … so every single American can have that chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.  Then and only then can America live up to its full potential, too." – Hillary Clinton.

This aspiration forms, in a nutshell, the central vision of Hillary Clinton’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. What it boils down to is the desire to create a flourishing meritocracy in America. When we “break down all the barriers” holding people back, “every single American” will have the opportunity “to live up to his or her God-given potential.” Simply put, once individual potentialities have been liberated by the removal of barriers blocking advancement, all persons will have the chance to reach a place in American society determined not by the limited opportunities they face, but rather by what they truly merit.

At first glance, this meritocratic vision is morally compelling: that all, regardless of initial circumstances, should have an opportunity to achieve as much as their talents, skills, ability, intelligence, and efforts warrant. As such, it is broadly embraced in America. It sets the groundwork for our political debates, as political analyst Christopher Hayes has recently pointed out, but is “never itself the subject of them, because the belief [in meritocracy] is so widely shared.”

Upon closer scrutiny, however, the meritocratic ideal turns out to be quite pernicious.  Summarizing the conclusion of my recent article on the subject, I find that, while this ideal is highly unlikely to achieve its core objectives (except maybe on the margins), its pursuit nonetheless creates “a competitive individualist ‘rat race’ of a society, fundamentally anti-communal and anti-familial, where group solidarity is uncommon and compassion muted.” And, worst of all, it ends up legitimizing—and thus reinforcing—the very social and economic inequality it purports to rectify.

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In Memoriam: Marva Smith Battle-Bey

Posted by Rooflines on April 28, 2016

Marva Smith Battle-Bey, director of the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation in Los Angeles, which she founded in 1979, passed away on April 7th.

Battle-Bey was well known not only in Los Angeles, where she played a major role in rebuilding South LA after the 1992 riots, but in the community development and community reinvestment world at large. She was active in the National Congress for Community Economic Development, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and the California Reinvestment Coalition, and was a long-time board chair of California Coalition for Community Economic Development.

"She knew how to command a room," wrote NHI/Shelterforce board member Robert Zdenek in a letter remembering Battle-Bey. "Marva was deeply committed to her CDC, but her real passion and leadership at the local, state, and national level was bringing us together and valuing our strengths and gifts."

Read more: LA Times; Ted Wysocki's blog; California Reinvestment Coaltion; LA Mayor, or share your memories below.

Courtesy photo.

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Out of Homelessness, A Mom Turns Advocate

Posted by Fred McKissack, Jr. on April 27, 2016

Jenean F. and her husband worked hard to achieve the increasingly elusive American Dream. She was a stay at home mom and he worked as a salesman in the auto industry, affording them a measure of middle class stability in the heart of the Midwest.

They rented their home in an upper income working-class neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They thought the future was set for them and their children.

But they lived on a tighter margin than they realized, making them financially vulnerable to any misfortune.

That misfortune came in the fall of 2010, when Jenean’s husband lost his six-figure job.

It was the most devastating period of their lives. It also spawned a fierce advocate.

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Leveling the Playing Field for Tenants Facing Eviction

Posted by Lillian M. Ortiz on April 22, 2016

New York City renters who face eviction could get a little more help on their side if a proposed initiative is given the green light.

Two years after the introduction of a bill that would provide legal aid to low-income renters dealing with eviction proceedings, advocates are still fighting for residents’ right to counsel.

“Half of all the families that get evicted in this city would not get evicted if they had an attorney. So that’s 15,000 families [a year] at least …” said Susanna Blankley, the director of organizing for Community Action for Safe Apartments, a tenants rights group in the Bronx.

Blankley was one of six panelists who last week participated in a workshop that focused on new models for proactive anti-displacement policies at the 6th annual Community Development Conference, hosted by The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development Inc.

In the “Anti-Displacement Part II: Promising Solutions and Emerging Campaigns” workshop, Blankley discussed the importance of the right to counsel proposal, called Intro 214-A, which was introduced in the New York City Council in 2014.

If the measure were to pass, Blankley said New York City would be the first in the nation to offer such a program.

“How much more likely would you be to call 311 or organize a tenants association or fight back around really intimidating tactics if you knew you had a right to an attorney? We aren’t just talking about reducing evictions or reducing wrongful evictions. We’re actually talking about changing the nature of what court means in this city . . . and changing the field in which people negotiate their rights,” she said.

The proposal is estimated to cost at least $250 million to fund, according to a financial advisory firm solicited by the New York City Bar Association, which is three times more than the city currently pays for tenant attorneys.

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CRA on a State Level Makes Sense

Posted by Josh Silver on April 21, 2016

When practitioners in the affordable housing and community development field think about the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), they think about the federal CRA, and for good reason; the federal CRA has been around for a long time. In 2017, the federal CRA will be 40 years old. But a number of states, including Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and a few others also have CRA requirements applied to lending institutions. Why is this important, and should more states institute CRA requirements?

On a federal level, CRA imposes an affirmative and continuing obligation on banks to meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income borrowers and communities, consistent with safety and soundness. Three federal agencies: the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, conduct CRA exams and rate banks based on their level of lending, investments, and services to low- and moderate-income borrowers and communities. Different types of banks receive different CRA exams depending on their asset sizes and capacities. State CRA works in basically the same manner. In the case of state-chartered banks, a state conducts CRA exams jointly with a federal regulator. However, in the case of Massachusetts, its CRA differs from the federal CRA in that it also applies CRA requirements to mortgage companies and credit unions.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition's (NCRC) research indicates that it would be beneficial for states to impose CRA requirements on lending institutions, particularly for those that are not covered by the federal CRA. During the 2000s, NCRC conducted two reports examining and comparing bank and credit union performance. Banks are covered by the federal CRA, while credit unions are not. In our reports, we found that banks perform better than credit unions on a number of measures such as the percent of loans made to low- and moderate-income borrowers and communities. This makes intuitive sense: banks face more accountability because they are examined and rated on the number of responsible loans made to low- and moderate-income borrowers while credit unions are not.

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From Homelessness to Homeownership in Nine Months. It’s Possible

Posted by Doug Ryan on April 20, 2016

Earlier this month, I had the chance to speak at the annual conference of an organization new to CFED and our Innovations in Manufactured Homes (I’M HOME) program. Family Promise is a 30-year old national network of affiliates that aim to help homeless and low-income families through a comprehensive approach of direct services, education, and other tools. Through its network of 200 affiliates, the organization serves 50,000 people each year. What we see emerging is an example of how to think about our core work in affordable housing in a different way, one that recognizes the value of manufactured homes while addressing the comprehensive range of needs facing low-income families.

Based in New Jersey, Family Promise approaches homelessness in a number of ways. Local affiliates use congregations to provide immediate shelter and other services for . Local groups also provide financial education and participate in public policy work, focusing on key issues such as funding the National Housing Trust Fund and expanding the definition of homelessness.

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Two Presidential Affordable Housing Platforms!

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 19, 2016

"There’s still time to get the nation’s housing and urban crisis on the presidential campaign radar," wrote Randy Shaw in his Feburary post "Why the Presidential Race Ignores Urban America." I doubt at the time he had high hopes that it would happen. I didn't.

But since then, at least the Democrats have stepped up, somewhat. Though they haven't made them central to their campaign, Clinton and Sanders have each released affordable housing platforms, and heading into today's New York state primary contest, each of them made visits to public housing in New York City.

Hillary released a housing platform first, shortly after Shaw's post in February, in fact. Sanders released his this week, and described it in an op-ed in the Daily News. (Final word to the voters before a contested primary--on housing? Pinch me!)

They have many similarities—both speak of downpayment assistance, pre-purchase counseling, credit score reform, and support for the Consumer Finance Protection Board and fair housing.

Though their tones are similar, they differ in some of what they highlight as priorities as well.

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Harvard Planners Talk Race, Design, and St. Louis

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 15, 2016

In our recent interview with long-time urban planner and racial equity advocate Chester Hartman, he told us he thought that urban planning programs were not "taking race and poverty into consideration in the essential way that planning ought to be doing." 

He recommended that these programs be moved out of design schools, where they so often reside, and instead locate them where they would have more interaction with politics and public policy programs, getting insight on their work from sociologists, historians, and others.

Chester might have been surprised, but also pleased, by the conference put on by the Harvard Graduate School of Design (whose urban planning masters program he chose to leave decades ago for a degree housed instead in the School of Arts & Sciences) on March 31.

Entitled "Voices & Visions of St. Louis,"  the conference used St. Louis as a focal point to do some of what Chester hoped for: along with planners and urban designers, the conference brought in historians, law professors, public health specialists, journalists, and politicians to discuss St. Louis, and the issues of race and segregation were front and center. (More community development practitioners would have been really helpful in a number of the conversations that came up, however.)

That event was followed by a half-day symposium called "Race, Space, and Design: Evolving Activities at the GSD," organized by Designing Justice, a student-led initiative.

And indeed, the students have been out ahead on this issue, creating syllabi and their own symposium last year on the topic.

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So Far, Development is Divisive, and Driven By Race

Posted by Ana Garcia-Ashley on April 14, 2016

Many of us live in cities that are undergoing a renaissance, but the longstanding populations are no better off than before.

In the midst of giant cranes building hotels and condos sprouting like weeds, the Nashville Census Bureau reported a few years ago that the city's poverty rate increased in 2014 to 19.9 percent, meaning one in five Nashvillians lives in poverty. This past year in Chicago, a gleaming new family park opened downtown while teachers fought pension cuts and faced furlough days.

Buffalo and western New York is perhaps the best example of this dichotomy. The region has received $5.5 billion in new economic development investment over the past few years. Leaders are expecting thousands of jobs to come on line in the next few years. But for the African-American, Hispanic, refugee, or handicapped communities, this hasn’t translated into economic power yet. Across the region, 37 percent of African Americans and Hispanics live below the poverty line, compared to 9 percent of whites.

We can look at the problem through the lens of segregated neighborhoods, through the disparate impact on people of color by failed policies of the past, or go to the root cause of a broken economic system that over-rewards some. But the one thing we must recognize is that we can’t talk about this problem if we don’t talk about race.

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