So About that Deconcentrating Poverty Thing…

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on July 30, 2014

Land of Opportunity Interactive has a marvelous interactive video called "Bricks and Sticks, Public vs Private" that uses footage from New Orleans to force the viewer to question some of the assumptions behind the "deconcentrating poverty" argument for turning public housing into partially privatized mixed-income housing. 

Angela Glover Blackwell, of PolicyLink, sets up the challenge well a few minutes into the piece by arguing "It is not the concentration of poverty in and of itself that creates the problem. The concentration of poverty sets up an identifiable community that the government sector and the private sector disrespect."

It's somewhat rare to hear challenges to the idea that "concentrated poverty" is a cause of problems, not an effect, so I found Blackwell's comments to be refreshingly direct, as were those of the UN special rapporteur for affordable housing, who noted that mixed-income housing is a great idea--if it's done with a human rights focus, instead of a real estate focus--but that's not how it's generally being done here.

Watch the clip (it's worth it just for the chuckle you'll get out of the cutting together of various nearly identical groundbreaking speeches) and then share your reactions below. Do you think it's accurate? Useful?

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Is the News on Homelessness Good or Bad?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on July 29, 2014

So there's bad news and good news, it seems, on the topic of homelessness these past few months.

It seems like we're seeing another wave (did it ever stop exactly?) of attempts to criminalize homelessness and punish people for being homeless. Installation of spikes to deter sleeping (did anyone else feel like they were creepily reiminiscent of anti-pigeon spikes?) got a flurry of attention recently, and in at least one case in London were removed after activists poured concrete on them.  (I found the park bench where you had to pay a coin to have the spikes retract to be even grosser than spikes on a ledge myself.)

Cities have been forcing people to move from makeshift encampments ("It will be the fifth time in four years the city has forced him to move, Stewart said. 'If you had to do this one day in someone else's shoes, you would hate it.'"). And new laws against survival behaviors like sleeping in your car (Sorry, Lou and Peter Berryman, apparently sometimes someone does deny your right to live in your car) and panhandling are on the rise, probably in response to the face that homelessness itself is on the rise (subscription link).

The irony, and hopefully the hope, in this situation, is that it also comes at a time when there seems to be wider spread acceptance of the idea that housing people is cheaper than not housing them and that homelessness actually can be solved. The New York Times noted as much in an editorial that referenced both a court ruling against a car sleeping ban and No Safe Place, a report on rising criminalization from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 

Community Solutions recently hit its 100,000 Homes goal a month early, and places like Salt Lake City and Phoenix, working with Community Solutions, have announced that they have successfully housed their chronic veteran homeless population, with the whole state of Utah looking to end homelessness within a couple years. (Look for more in an upcoming issue of Shelterforce on veteran homelessness and how the lessons from working with vets are can be applied elsewhere as well.)

In the meantimes, court rulings and public sentiment seem to be against the most punitive measures as well, and there are humane responses like this one, a bench designed to give shelter.

I would like to think that we can choose to put limited public resources and energy into following the more positive of these two paths. What do think about these two contradicting trends?

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We Still Need a Rent Freeze in NYC

Posted by Katie Goldstein on July 28, 2014

Rents have become increasingly unaffordable in New York City. NYC has been in a housing crisis for decades. Defined as under 5 percent vacancy rate, a housing crisis  in NYC triggers an elaborate system of rent regulation.

Rent regulation is not a subsidy program, but a system in which rents are regulated and determined by an appointed Rent Guidelines Board. Under rent regulation, tenants receive a guaranteed lease renewal and can compel landlords to provide essential services, such as water, heat, and repairs.

Unlike public and subsidized housing, rent regulation costs the city, state, and federal government almost nothing to operate, beyond a small regulatory apparatus. Rent regulation is a virtually no-cost affordable housing strategy that houses millions of low- and moderate-income tenants in nearly a million rental units citywide.

Rent regulated housing has by and large disappeared in the rest of the country, and in New York City, where rent regulation remains a critical mainstay of affordable housing, landlords and the real estate industry continually mount attacks on the system, seeking to undermine it in favor of market-rate housing.

Tenants & Neighbors is a citywide membership organization of rent regulated tenants. Our members are low-income, moderate-income, seniors, youth, and immigrants, and live in all five boroughs. Though diverse in age, race, class, and ethnicity/nationality, they all tell the same story. They are trying to figure out how they can stay in their homes and communities, as their rent climbs to an ever-increasing proportion of their income. Many of them have seen their neighborhoods change rapidly as New York City has increasingly become a city for the wealthy, leaving them and their neighbors wondering just how much longer they will be able to call their city their home.

The attack on rent-regulated housing and New York City’s breakneck gentrification are inextricably linked. 

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Writing Truth For Power

Posted by Laurie Goldman on July 25, 2014

When Union United, a recently formed coalition of residents, local business owners, labor unions, and community and faith-based organizations in Somerville, Mass., read a local newspaper commentary about the proposed redevelopment of their neighborhood that didn't share their concerns about displacement, they saw it not as a disappointment, but as an opportunity to get the word out about their efforts to ensure that the community will benefit from the development.

The coalition’s published response, co-authored by six of its members, critiqued the article’s suggestion that the large scale of the transit-oriented development and the city’s expressed commitment to values-based, community-oriented redevelopment were sufficient to forestall gentrification. 

The 18 coalition members who exchanged e-mails over five days and multiple drafts sought to speak truth to power. At the same time, the collective writing process allowed them to discover more about the truth, empower diverse constituents, and speak as a unified group whose members respect and learn from one another’s differences.  They were writing truth for power. 

This worked in several ways:

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Put the “Choice” in “Housing Choice Vouchers”

Posted by Rooflines on July 25, 2014

In June, Alexander Polikoff, lead counsel in the decades-long Gautreaux Chicago Public Housing desegregation litigation, spoke to HUD staff on the FHEO Speaker Series.  Here is an excerpt of his speech that focuses on the specific stumbling blocks getting in the way of vouchers fulfulling their promise of mobility:

The first of the two programmatic reasons we haven't used vouchers to get children out of harm's way has been the inertia of adhering to the familiar way of doing voucher business. Every voucher administrator should be required to read, Segregating Shelter: How Housing Policies Shape the Residential Locations of Low Income Minority Families, by Stefanie Deluca, Peter Rosenblatt and Philip Garboden. Segregating Shelter makes clear how cruelly ironic for those families is the middle word in the designation "housing choice vouchers." It explains, plain and simple, why it is that under typical voucher rules so few minority families acquire housing in middle class neighborhoods and so many wind up in high poverty, segregated ones.

The explanation is not rocket science.  Instead of being user-friendly, portability is a Rube Goldberg construct that is all but impossible for many families to navigate.  Moreover it burdens PHAs with additional work and expense while providing them no offsetting benefits.

Instead of providing incentives to PHAs to foster mobility, HUD's SEMAP assessment policy rewards quick lease-up over good location and rates as high performers PHAs who earn not a single point for helping families move to low poverty, non-segregated neighborhoods.  Instead of FMRs [fair market rents] that facilitate mobility, HUD uses a metro-wide FMR arrangement that makes it more difficult. HUD tolerates search time limits that often lead families to take the first unit they can find, and landlord lists that are heavily weighted with properties in high poverty, segregated neighborhoods.

And so on.  One cannot but conclude that HUD is content with a system that not only provides minimal support for families who desire to relocate to non-poor, non-segregated neighborhoods, but one that actually frustrates that desire.

The second programmatic reason we haven't used vouchers to get children out of harm's way is that HUD fails to require PHAs to provide effective mobility counseling, post- as well as pre-move: 

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Answers from Red States for Our Broken Criminal Justice System

Posted by Laura Barrett on July 24, 2014

Left, right or center, few dispute that our criminal justice system is broken. But two new and thrilling victories this month are giving real hope to activists who want more effective and humane crimes policies. 

In a largely "red" state," Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon signed the popular and thoroughly bi-partisan "Ban the Ban" bill into law. The act, supported by Metropolitan Congregations United and MORE2, will end the food stamps ban for those jailed on drug convictions faced. During the floor vote a visibly moved state legislator said that thanks to personal visits by faith-based leaders and formerly incarcerated people, she now understood why food stamps are so important to those who are trying to stay sober.

And in an even more "red" state, officials in Fulton County Georgia voted to "Ban the Box,"  the infamous question on employment applications "Have you ever been convicted...".  This move will dramatically help once incarcerated people to get jobs. Faith-based ABLE, and 9 to 5's coalition to pass this measure has been wildly successful: earlier this year, the City of Atlanta and Dekalb County adopted nearly identical legislation. 

Let's hope Wisconsin becomes the next state to jump aboard this encouraging bandwagon.

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Subsidizing the Upper Middle Class?

Posted by Sasha Hauswald on July 22, 2014

On June 30th, published an article titled "Defining Affordability Upward," about Upper West Side Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and her battle to create “affordable” housing for families earning over $150,000 per year.  According to Councilwoman Rosenthal, these “are the families that took a chance on the neighborhood a few decades ago and made it what it is today. They’re not rich, just upper-middle class.” 

In April, she negotiated for 20 units in a new housing development for households earning between 175 percent and 230 percent of New York City’s median income, equivalent to $147,000 to $193,000 per year for a family of four.  Her rationale is that without “middle-income” housing, the Upper West Side will become a place for just the very rich and very poor.

Rosenthal’s prioritization of housing for people earning significantly above average raises the question: “What benefits are we reaping, as a society, from subsidizing housing for our upper-middle class citizens?” 

Researchers tell us that affordable housing for lower-income families has numerous benefits, particularly when that housing is in a mixed-income environment like TF Cornerstone’s Upper West Side development (see image) is. It boosts children’s school achievement, cuts down criminal involvement, improves parent and child health, raises employment rates, ameliorates mental and emotional illness and decreases addictive behavior.  In other words, affordable housing is a powerful remedy for the family trauma and social maladies associated with poverty.

But what benefits can we expect from price-restricted housing for upper-income earners?

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Getting Together—Using National Gatherings to Learn from Each Other

Posted by Brent Kakesako on July 21, 2014

Given our national economic climate and the growing recognition of collaborative, place-based and culturally-grounded approaches, it is only fitting then that the theme of the National CAPACD 14th Annual Convention was "The Movement for Economic Justice: Changing the Narrative Together," which requires us to live the theme of the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) Native Grantee Meeting—"Honoring Our Commitments to Native Families and Communities: Today and Tomorrow."

The National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) is a national intermediary dedicated to addressing housing, community, and economic development needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. ACF's Administration for Native Americans (ANA) works to support all Native Americans, including federally recognized tribes, American Indian and Alaska Native organizations, Native Hawaiian organizations as well as Native populations in the territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianna Islands, to build their self-sufficiency.

Both of the gatherings thus provided a forum for diverse communities across the nation to come together to discuss the challenges their families are facing—often shared due to systemic and structural issues—and the unique ways each community is taking grassroots and community-based approaches to addressing these challenges. 

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Living the TOD Lifestyle in Denver: Growing Transit and Affordable Housing

Posted by Dana Hawkins-Simons on July 18, 2014

A consequence of huge transit expansions is that nearby rentals and other housing tend to escalate in cost, and lower income residents—who may have lived their entire lives in the same neighborhood—can get priced out. A recent report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council warns that, for example, rents for apartments near the new Green Line stations in the ever-gentrifying Boston suburb of Somerville could rise as much as 67 percent—even before the new stops open.

Equitable transit oriented development (TOD) aims to prevent this by including housing that’s affordable to local residents in the development plan early on, and assuring that it remains so for decades to come.

“If you allow change to just happen, you run the risk of wholesale displacement of low-income folks,” says Tony Pickett, a key player in efforts to include long-term affordable housing in two of the nation’s largest TOD ventures: Denver’s FasTracks plan and Atlanta’s Beltline project. “We’re working to avoid that."

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What Happens Once the Artists Arrive?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on July 17, 2014

Conventional wisdom says that artists and gay people are tend to be pioneers in distressed neighborhoods, signs that change is ’a coming. While there have been some funny, and likely apocryphal stories about unlikely conservatives awkwardly wondering in public meetings if “we could get some of those gay people here” to boost a struggling town, that understanding hasn’t exactly been something people have tried to parlay into an economic development strategy.

Artists, on the other hand, are a hot commodity, with special artist housing and art spaces cropping up as part of many places’ revitalization plans.

There are good things about this, and bad things. Certainly recognizing the crucial roles of art in creating community, challenging oppression, and bringing beauty and identity to places that have been short on it, and therefore deciding that cultivating and supporting spaces for artists to affordably live and work is an appropriate public/charitable goal makes a lot of sense.

However, we need to be aware of a couple troubling trends underneath these celebrations of the transformative power of art, and community developers need to make sure they're not perpetuating them. 

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