Shelterforce Stands in Solidarity with #F17

Posted by Rooflines on February 17, 2017

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, the Shelterforce/NHI office is standing in solidarity with the February 17th General Strike, a national day of action being observed by organizations and individuals across the country that are pushing back against assaults on our shared humanity and democratic principles.

For more information and ways to participate, visit strike4democracy.com.

 

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Should Online Shopping Change How We Use Space?

Posted by Randy Shaw on February 16, 2017

Should ground-floor use go from retail to housing?

In San Francisco, the closing of once-popular San Francisco restaurants and the decline of longtime Union Square pillar Macy’s raise a question: Have the fundamentals of urban retail changed?

If the answer is yes, San Francisco could move to reduce retail requirements in new housing developments while adding badly needed housing, which would represent a dramatic change in “best practices” for urban neighborhoods.

Jane Jacobs’s support for mixed-use development with “eyes on the street” has long been seen as the best urban design strategy, but this vision assumed that the retail under housing could be rented. What if it cannot? Or, what if the only market for these retail spaces are for offices closed on evenings and weekends? Such uses do not offer the ongoing street activity that created Jacobs’s famed street “ballet.”

As San Francisco and other large cities combat their housing shortages, the requirement that ground-floor space under housing be for retail should to be open to debate. We may conclude that the city should not be giving up housing units for retail spaces that are not wanted or needed.

National Trend

An intriguing article out of New York City found that despite the economic upturn, vacancy rates are up in every Manhattan retail corridor. Some argue that unlike past downturns, this one is not cyclical. Brokers believe that “brick-and-mortar retailers will shrink dramatically during the next few years, so supply of retail space will outweigh demand for it.”

I recall that over a decade ago, Berkeley Daily Planet Editor Becky O’Malley questioned whether Berkeley had too much retail in light of people’s shifting purchasing activity to the internet. Urban America’s buying habits have shifted even more dramatically since that time, raising questions as to whether it’s time to rethink the popular model of mixed-use development.

Like nearly everyone else, I prefer the look of mixed-use streets. I bemoan the Tenderloin’s unusual lack of mixed-use housing, despite challenges finding quality tenants for existing spaces. Jacobs was correct: mixed-use streets are more interesting, and have more energy and foot traffic.

So before we give up on mixed use, let’s consider how San Francisco and other cities can maintain successful retail in an online world.

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Art Matters—In Rural Classrooms and Beyond

Posted by Stephen Sugg on February 15, 2017

I’ve spent nearly two decades working on the intersection of housing, community development, and public policy. I’ve seen the arts bring out the best in us, especially in low-income communities. So when I read the report, “Arts Education Reduces Stress Level of Low-Income Students,” it was not a surprise. What is surprising is that we must continually fight to make sure that the arts have a role in public schools, and that our low-income communities are worthy of arts and culture-related investments.

My academic research focuses on place-based education, which embeds student learning in local contexts, and shows promise as an antidote to deeply rooted social and environmental problems while boosting student achievement.
But how does this relate to art education?

Crellin Elementary School, a small Appalachian school in Maryland that serves largely low-income students and where I focused much of my research, is a national model for school turnaround, and it regularly claims national and international plaudits for environmental education, place-based education, and character education. Headlines on Crellin’s state-leading test scores are commonplace. But Crellin’s stakeholders are adamant: the Crellin way is about teaching students to think critically, learn authentically, and contribute to the community’s social capital. Disadvantaged kids with over a decade of jaw-dropping test scores are merely a side effect. And contrary to popular practice, in American education, this success is achieved as the school and community embrace art.

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Housing and The “Flyover” Mentality

Posted by Alan Mallach on February 14, 2017

Right around the New Year, an article by Wired’s Emily Dreyfuss popped up on one of my newsfeeds titled, “The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live In Cities Anymore.” My reaction was skepticism, and that skepticism was confirmed when I read the article, which was yet another piece about the same hot coastal places that everybody keeps writing about–Boston, New York, San Francisco, and so forth. That, in turn, started me thinking about what has been derisively called “flyover country” (everything between the coasts), which seems to have become largely invisible to much of the American media, and how so much of the information we get about so many of the issues that concern us is reflected through a distorted coastal lens.

First, let's get some basic information out of the way. The middle class, by any reasonable definition, can clearly afford to live in most of America’s cities today. Not all, but most. Let’s define "middle class" as families earning 100 to 150 percent of the national median family income, which was $68,260 in 2015. Assuming that a family spends 33 percent of their income for mortgage, taxes, and insurance, they can usually afford a house costing roughly four times their gross income. With Zillow’s help, I created a graph of the median single family house value at the end of 2016 in 200 of the nation’s largest cities, and superimposed the results of my affordability analysis.

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Tenant Protections Are a Cornerstone to Solving the Housing Crisis

Posted by Aimee Inglis on February 13, 2017

I’ve read far too many think pieces, op-eds, and reports that neglect the role of tenant protections as a tool that is vital to solving our local, state, national, and international housing crises. Recently, California’s Housing & Community Development office released a report on our state’s housing crisis, and it failed to even mention “tenant protections,” “rent control,” or “just cause for eviction.” Despite a national Renters’ Day of Action last September where thousands took to the streets, the passage of two rent control laws in California at the ballot, and more of these campaigns in the pipeline, the conventional wisdom on solving the housing crisis remains conformed to the simplistic frame of “supply and demand,” and if we’re lucky, acknowledgement that some of that supply must be affordable units. We must do better.

It is not enough to organize around one particular policy. We must protect people who are in their homes AND increase the number of deeply affordable homes AND work to get to the root of the problem: financial speculation on land and housing. While tenant advocates are often leading fights for improved housing conditions, rent regulations, and eviction protections, we recognize that it’s not good enough to freeze things as they are. While we know we must fight for new homes that are deeply affordable and for greater community control of land and housing, we don’t feel that same recognition on the importance of tenant protections from most politicians and the “supply” community.

In a recent video, in which Assembly Democrats in California said they would stand up with our communities against President Trump’s proposed policies, Assemblyman David Chiu declared the importance of “affordable housing,” but no one said anything about tenants’ rights and displacement protections.

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Three Dangers and an Opportunity

Posted by Michael Bodaken and Ellen Lurie Hoffman on February 10, 2017

If it seems like we're approaching a domestic policy pivot point, it might be because we are. Since November 9, we’ve been thinking about the near- and long-term implications of the election results, and while the future cannot be predicted, we do know that it could have severe consequences for low income communities.

Now that Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as President and the 115th Congress has begun, in the coming months and years, a number of high stakes policy decisions will pose significant threats to core affordable housing and community development programs, while others could create opportunities to expand much-needed resources. A few specific policy debates on the horizon include:

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New Bills Would Enforce Ignorance on State of Housing Opportunity

Posted by Debby Goldberg on February 9, 2017

The 115th Congress has just gotten underway and already several of its members have launched an attack on some fundamental American values: the belief that choices about where to live should not be limited by the color of one's skin or the country of their ancestry, and that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should have an equal shot at access to opportunity. 

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced bills in their respective chambers to dismantle the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted in 2015. 

These bills would set back efforts to overcome the harm caused by housing discrimination and segregation, created in large part over many decades by government policies and practices. They would take away new tools designed to help communities better connect their residents to opportunity and fuel economic prosperity. And they would limit public access to a potentially wide array of government data on which public officials, policymakers, researchers, and citizens rely to understand and improve conditions in their communities.

The “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017,” (H.R. 482 in the House and S. 103 in the Senate) has just a few provisions.

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Not All Asian Elderly Are Well Off

Posted by Kelley Lou on February 8, 2017

Video of Fox News personality Jesse Watters disrespecting Chinese people on the streets of New York’s Chinatown went viral last October. In the segment on the network's "The O'Reilly Factor", Watters mockingly interviews an elderly woman who apparently can’t understand him. As she stands there in silence, the piece cuts to a clip of Madeline Kahn from the movie “Young Frankenstein,” shrieking, “Speak! Speak! Why don’t you speak!” 

The clip was viewed over 2 million times, and people voiced outrage over how Watters treated the elderly Chinese woman and generally mocked Chinatown residents. For me, the video highlighted how little mainstream Americans understand Asian Americans and its older population. It also sheds light on how our communities are often disparagingly treated like the older woman in the clip by both media and policymakers—who often assume that we remain placatingly silent to injustice.

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Houston, It’s Time to Stop Accommodating Segregation

Posted by John Henneberger on February 7, 2017

Overall, Houston, Texas, is one of the most statistically diverse cities in the country. But at the neighborhood level, it is severely racially segregated.

This is no accident.

Segregation in our nation’s fourth-largest city, the Southern city with the largest African-American population, is mostly due to decades of intentional government action—especially decisions to restrict government-subsidized housing exclusively to high-poverty neighborhoods of color. Last month, the federal government ruled that the practices of city-sponsored housing segregation were unlawful.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ruled that the City of Houston is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, based on the results of a sweeping fair housing investigation. If Houston’s leaders do not take corrective action, the city risks law enforcement action by the Department of Justice.

Incredibly, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is vowing to defy the ruling. In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of many of his predecessors. For decades, Houston’s elected leaders have practiced racial segregation in the administration of federally funded subsidized housing programs without legal consequences.

Some worry that the incoming Trump administration will somehow reverse this ruling. But Civil Rights Act investigations are not political—they are thorough documentations carried out and enforced by the career federal staff tasked with upholding our nation’s most fundamental rights. John Trasviña, the former HUD assistant secretary for fair housing, told the Houston Chronicle that investigations of this kind are resolved by staff, not by political appointees.

Nevertheless, Houston leaders are vowing to use politics to continue their practices of segregation. Mayor Turner has declared that he will "utilize all possible avenues" to overturn the integration order. In doing so, he continues to misunderstand the meaning of fair housing.

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Nonprofits—Yes You Can Advocate. And Now’s The Time

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on February 2, 2017

Amidst the chaos of the past couple weeks there has been at least one positive change—a lot more people are starting to stand up and speak out about issues that concern them. I have personally had people seek out my advice for their first-ever calls to legislators and spoken to many first-time protestors. Many, many, more individuals have dramatically stepped up their commitments (myself included) to call, write, show up, and be a visible presence for justice in the world. 

The nonprofit sector needs to make a similar shift, organizationally. For a long time, many of us left the advocacy to the 501(c)4s, to our national organizations, to the organizing groups.

We know there are some political restrictions (which are really very narrow) on 501(c)3s, but most of us don't know exactly what they are, and tend to err on the side of caution, of not rocking the boat, and of not risking our funding. And when we do speak up, it's often very carefully limited to our wheelhouse—advocating to keep the programs that fund us alive and funded, or for rule changes that let us do our jobs better.

We can't afford to do that any longer. 

In the community development world, our constituents are overwhelmingly low income, and include people of all races, colors, and creeds. Our very reason for being is to support everyone in growing healthy communities where people can achieve their full potential. We have worked in untold communities that have been brought to life again by refugees and immigrants. We battle every day to heal the scars left by generations of legalized segregation, discrimination, and hateful violence. Even when our particular missions are specific, technical, and "not political," they still embody a desire for justice, fairness, opportunity, and compassion.

This means that not only do we need to stand up against disastrous and inhumane funding cuts, we can not stand idly by and be silent on the bigger picture moral crises facing our country right now, as well as the danger to its democracy.

As nonprofit organizations, we have an additional moral authority to bring to bear when we advocate as compared to people acting alone. Many of us have relationships with and access to policymakers in our official capacities that individuals do not. We have the ability to gather and share stories from our constituents to underscore the points that need making. We cannot make every cause our own, but neither can we keep our heads down and not speak on anything beyond our doors.

So in that spirit, I gave myself a refresher course on what 501(c)3s can and can't do, so I could share it with all of you. I suggest you read this piece from the American Bar Association and check out the Alliance for Justice's Bolder Advocacy site. But here's a quick version.

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