Housing as Infrastucture: A Rural Road Trip Proposal for Ben Carson

Posted by Stephen Sugg on March 24, 2017

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson said that housing is “part of the infrastructure of this country” during a March 20 interview with Fox News’ Neal Cavuto. In the same interview, he defended the administration’s budget—a budget that experts note as being particularly tough on HUD while also gutting funding for rural-focused programs across the government. But let’s give credit where its due: Secretary Carson is right in linking housing and infrastructure, and this is especially true in rural contexts.

We know that decent and affordable housing does great (and cost-effective) things like prevent lead poisoning, improve health outcomes, and boost student achievement in school. Rural affordable housing is an economic driver, and a lack of rural affordable housing is thwarting economic growth and job creation. Thus, HAC and rural partners in 50 states are among the growing number of voices who view housing as infrastructure. One rural small-business developer said it best, calling the intertwined issues of workforce recruitment and housing stock availability the “two biggest challenges that rural areas tend to be worried about.”

Those working in the D.C. metro area and other relatively affluent enclaves are (surely begrudgingly) accustomed to construction cranes hovering lattes the price of a burger and fries in many other places, and paying outrageous rents. But it is different in rural America.

Available housing is often dilapidated, not energy-efficient, and though comparatively cheap, relatively still unaffordable for the working poor or financially vulnerable. An elderly woman might have an $800 heating bill for her Jimmy Carter-era manufactured home.

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Where Do We Go From Here? Toward a New Freedom Budget

Posted by Gordon Mantler and James Tracy on March 23, 2017

Last week, President Donald Trump announced his first budget proposal. If, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, a “budget is a moral document,” then this budget is a reflection of the moralities of the boardroom, the eviction notice, the emergency ward, and the pink slip. What it does not do is take a single step toward alleviating poverty or tackling the structural inequality which fueled the discontent that defined the 2016 elections.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Trump’s budget will slash funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent, or $6.2 billion, compared to 2016 levels. When compared to funding levels needed for FY2017, the proposed cuts amount to a 15 percent, or $7.5 billion, reduction. This will result in an immediate threat to the homes of “more than 200,000 seniors and families, and people with disabilities will be at immediate risk of evictions and homelessness.” It also eliminates much of the resources that help low-income people access legal aid to fight evictions.

Trump’s budget reflects one more effort to abandon the democratic reforms of the New Deal and Civil Rights eras. Slashed, to various degrees, are the budgets for the departments of justice, labor, and education, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. The only winners are homeland security and defense. This compounds the damage already made by previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, who ran away from social progress in the post-NAFTA, pro-austerity years.

This budget is particularly striking when contrasted with others in the last 50 years, from the right or left. It has been compared to Ronald Reagan’s first budget in 1981, which began the shift of “national priorities” back toward extravagant defense spending (with average annual increases of 10 percent through the mid-1980s), lower taxes for wealthy Americans, and massive cuts in discretionary social spending, including Medicaid, food stamps, free and reduced lunch programs, transportation projects, education, and worker training programs. Democrats’ alternative budget that year claimed to do 75 percent of what Reagan’s did—including tax cuts and more defense spending—and failed miserably, as dozens of conservative and moderate Democrats voted for Reagan’s numbers instead. Economic growth followed, as did great inequality (exponentially so for the rest of the decade).

Fifteen years earlier, in 1966, King himself endorsed a budget, one that looked remarkably different than those proposed since.

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Homeownership Equity Depends on Racially Equitable Policy

Posted by Doug Ryan on March 22, 2017

Once again, we hear rumblings that housing finance reform, the wind-down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the retooling of the mortgage marketplace are coming. A new administration—with allies in Congress and in private industry—may have a remarkable opportunity to reshape what amounts to nearly an eighth of the American economy.

Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is an opportunity to rethink public policy about housing, wealth, access to credit, and more, through the lens of racial equity. We need to take a closer look at racial equity before and since the mortgage crisis, all while being honest about the crisis itself.

To start, there is the false narrative about what caused the crisis—or more accurately, who caused it. The narrative peddled by leading members of Congress in opposition to finance reform blamed “ill-informed borrowers or those unprepared for homeownership,” tricked into the American Dream by Fannie and Freddie. As the argument goes, mortgages went to naïve borrowers who simply could not afford them. Indeed, the Tea Party was birthed in part by rants about the government forcing taxpayers to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages.

What we need to remember, however, are the facts surrounding the mortgage crisis, the fallout from the tightened credit market, and the loss of wealth among borrowers and families of color due to the foreclosure meltdown. We also need to recognize that wealth-stripping practices that have put households of color way behind their white counterparts are far from new.

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Who Counts as a “Homeless” Child? It Matters

Posted by Sharon Astyk on March 17, 2017

Are children in foster care homeless? It might sound like semantics, but it really makes a big difference.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the primary federal legislation designed to improve the lives of homeless people. One of the major things it does is declare that homeless children can stay enrolled in the same schools, even without proof of residency, providing some consistency for kids who desperately need it. Until recently, this included children in foster care.

Before McKinney-Vento, it was common for kids in care to move schools multiple times each year as they cycled through placements. After McKinney-Vento, regardless of whether a child moved one or 10 times, they could attend the same school in the same community. The community was required to bus them and could not deny them access to school based on lack of records or administrative issues.

Cutting Off Kids in Need
When McKinney-Vento was reauthorized in 2015, the language "children awaiting foster placement" was removed from the act. This change went into effect in December 2016. Since every school change sets kids back academically, socially, and otherwise, this is a big deal.

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Book Review: How to Do Creative Placemaking

Posted by Joyce Fernandes on March 17, 2017

How to Do Creative Placemaking is billed as “an action-oriented guide for making places better.” The book was recently published by the National Endowment for the Arts, a government agency that is currently sharing space on the Trump administration's chopping block.

How to Do Creative Placemaking's collection of essays and case studies offers a scan of the field, along with a diverse range of opinions on what constitutes “creative placemaking.” Early on, I was reminded of a story about the blind men and the elephant in which a group of blind men each touch a different part of an elephant and come to a variety of conclusions about what stands before them. I think the book can be read either as having a lack of clarity or a rich sense of possibility. I choose the latter.

Ideas around place, livability, and identity are explored through a cultural lens. The benefits of engaging artists in planning, economic development, and community building are illustrated by a wealth of diverse examples of work that is taking place throughout the country in both rural and urban areas. In Portland, Maine, an unlikely collaboration between police officers and poets led to an overall boost in morale across the department as well as a collection of photographs, personal stories, and performances. In Philadelphia, free criminal record expungement clinics include an artistic component; participants convert their expunged paper records to paper pulp in a blender, forming the basis for a revised portrait of themselves without a criminal record. In Boston, a pilot program embedded artists in 12 different city agencies to actively engage in the “development and implementation of government practices and policies.” Essays about the development of cultural districts and artist housing are also included in the collection.

Appropriately, How to Do Creative Placemaking begins with a letter about New Orleans from Shaun Donovan, who was the director of management and budget in the Obama administration.

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Context for the Racial Wealth Divide May Free American Minds, and Mindsets

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on March 16, 2017

Recently there has been broader discussion about the Racial Wealth Divide—the current (and shockingly large) difference in wealth between Blacks and whites, along with the history of how it got to be this way. This discussion is extending beyond academic and policy settings and into a more mainstream media because it’s clear that far too many Americans—of all races—do not know the story behind what we see in communities around the country. Pulling the curtain back may provide the context needed to make concrete amends, as well as catharsis for an entire group of Americans.

In the 20th century, a common political talking point was that poverty was a moral failing that just needed a good bootstrapping lecture and some tough love. In these new conversations, we’re moving on from that to acknowledging that our government and many major American institutions were instrumental in stripping Black people of wealth. For example, Black people were excluded from many of the income and wealth-building programs that helped build the foundation of white Americans’ wealth today—programs like Social Security (which when created in 1935 excluded farm and domestic work, which were the majority of jobs black people held at the time), and the GI Bill, which helped provide financial aid for education, mortgage loans, and small-business loans to World War II veterans.

Former New York Times writer Bob Herbert’s new documentary, Against All Odds, The Fight for a Black Middle Class, provides a timeline of the discrimination and economic setbacks Black people suffered at the hands of white America from Emancipation Proclamation through the Great Recession. The timeline of events in the documentary positions the “fragile” state of the Black middle class as one that operates perpetually in a series of considerable gains but even larger losses.

Speaking as keynote at a conference earlier this month at Harvard that explored the relationship between the nation’s colleges and slavery, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates praised Georgetown University’s announcement in 2016 that it would give preferential status in its admissions process to the descendants of slaves whose free labor the university profited from, as well as the 272 individuals who were sold off when the school was struggling financially.

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Tax Credits Play A Critical Role in Economic Development

Posted by Bill Bynum on March 15, 2017

In his recent speech to Congress, President Trump included this pledge: “Every American child should be able to grow up in a safe community ... and to have access to a high-paying job.” However, the main priorities for tax reform touted thus far—cutting corporate tax rates and providing tax relief for the middle class—offer little to help people living in economically distressed communities. Indeed, there are people in this country who will never see a single benefit from the cutting of taxes on corporations or people with middle incomes.

This administration must not forget that "every American child" includes people living in places where the promise of new jobs based on corporate growth has been a myth for decades.

"Every American child" includes people in between the two coasts, in mid-sized southern cities like Memphis, and in the tiny towns and hamlets of the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, areas of this country with the highest concentrations of persistent poverty.

Previous Republican and Democratic administrations and members of Congress have worked together to forge tax policy that advances the well-being of those who struggle economically. These tax policies included tax credits for corporations that invest in distressed areas that advance economic growth and prosperity, bringing much-needed capital into these communities for affordable housing, to start and expand businesses, and to upgrade essential infrastructure.

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Tenant Organizing From the Ground Up

Posted by Causa Justa :: Just Cause and Tenants Together on March 10, 2017

California is home to over 16 million renters— about 45 percent of the population—and the majority are low-income people of color. A disproportionate number of women with children and people of color are targeted for eviction and displacement every day. That number increased with the foreclosure crisis and continues today as speculation on land and housing intensifies.

Early this month, tenant leaders and organizers from throughout California gathered in Los Angeles to align our visions of housing justice, share strategies to build power, and move together across networks, organizations, and issues for a powerful response to the housing crisis.

Hosted by Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Homes for All California, Right to the City, and Homes for All national, our convening drew 125 tenant leaders and organizers from over 35 organizations across the state that are fighting for renters’ rights. The room was packed with folks eager and determined to put an end to evictions and rent increases, and demand (from the local, state, and federal government) investment in deeply affordable housing.

We’ve had some wins. Last year we passed three new rent control and just-cause for eviction laws for the first time in decades, and we plan to build on them.

Tenant organizers from rent control campaigns in 2015 and 2016 in Santa Rosa, Richmond, the City of Alameda, and San Mateo shared with us what they'd learned, which is especially important as tenants in Los Angeles County, Sacramento, and the San Diego area beginning to organize their own campaigns.

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Preliminary HUD Budget Shows Carson Lied in His Confirmation Hearing Too

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 9, 2017

The Washington Post reported today that a preliminary HUD budget cuts $6 billion—eliminating Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the HOME program, and cutting the already inadequate public housing operating and capital funds. (Remember the good old days when we debated the best way to deal with the maintenance and repair backlog in public housing, instead of having to point out that refusing to make any investment in its upkeep would be disastrous?)

The Post also reported that the proposal would cut Housing Choice and VASH vouchers for homeless veterans by at least $300 million, to $19.3 billion (though oddly earlier in the article they describe this as maintaining “the same level of funding to rental assistance programs”); the Section 202 program for senior housing by $42 million, nearly 10 percent (Note: 202 funds currently go to maintaining existing buildings, not to building new ones); Section 811 housing for people with disabilities by $29 million, nearly 20 percent; and Native American housing block grants by $150 million, more than 20 percent.

Not to state the obvious, but not only will these cuts hurt people and bring any attempts to improve our homelessness and affordability crises to a screeching halt, they will in short order cause rent increases and loss of support for many people who were using these programs to lift themselves up, and cause long-range problems as deferred maintenance reaches crisis proportions with no new housing to replace those lost.

I remember watching Ben Carson’s confirmation hearing. I remember that despite some classically offensive and terrifying comments about public assistance and dependency, he sounded fairly moderate much of the time, like someone who wasn’t salivating to dismantle the agency:

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Millennial Women and Retirement Savings: Start Where You Are

Posted by Lillian Singh and Joanna Ain on March 8, 2017

While history can be interesting to learn about, it’s more important to learn from. How can millennial women learn from previous generations? Know that just 100 American years ago, women were forced to rely on the men in their lives for income, savings, and end-of-life care. In fact, until the turn of the 19th-century, it was illegal for women to even hold assets in their own names. Today, most women have the autonomy and ability to take charge of our finances, but we don’t all do it. Statistics indicate that a small percentage of women aged 21 to 34 are actually deliberately planning for their futures.

As millennial women, we have a personal responsibility to protect ourselves, and cannot afford to ignore that retirement is another part of our life cycle. 

Millennial women have many advantages when compared to previous generations of women. For example, a higher percentage of millennial women have bachelor’s degrees compared to our male counterparts. The wage gap, though still present, is narrowing. In 1980, women made just 64 cents for every dollar a man earned. Thirty years later, women are earning 84 cents for every dollar.

Unfortunately, while we are making gains in education and employment, we’re still not hitting the mark with retirement savings. Millennial women have half as much savings in retirement accounts as do men, and only half of millennial women have started to save at all for retirement, while 61 percent of our male counterparts have already begun. Overall, in terms of wealth, women only have 36 percent of the assets that men do.

It’s a steeper climb for millennial women of color, who have a much thinner cushion for financial emergencies.

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