Stepping Back From “Stepping Forward”

Posted by James Tracy on December 17, 2014

Public housing tenants are celebrating the Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) decision to retract a controversial plan to raise rents by more than 400 percent in the coming years. The “Stepping Forward” plan, announced last September, was immediately met with stiff resistance from tenants mostly organized through the Tenants Union of Washington State (TUWS).

In November, about 200 tenants of SHA buildings marched down Queen Anne Avenue to protest, then descended on the regularly scheduled SHA Board of Commissioners meeting, and spoke out about fears of displacement and homelessness if the plan were to be implemented.

 

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How Much Money Is Your City or State Losing to “Economic Development?”

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on December 16, 2014

Have you ever wondered how much money your city or state is actually losing when it gives a 20-year tax break to a developer in exchange for a handful of jobs?

You might soon be able to find out. As Shawn Escoffery of the Surdna Foundation and Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First explain in this opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philathropy, "For the first time ever, the body that oversees government accounting standards is proposing that state and local governments report how much revenue they lose to business tax breaks granted in the name of economic development."

Since that money would often have gone into the coffers of cash-strapped schools and local governments where community developers work, this is directly in the community development field's interest—and the interest of anyone who cares about equitable uses of public funds. As Escoffery and LeRoy say:

Once school boards, cities, counties, and states are all reporting uniformly on the same kinds of expenditures, it will finally be possible to look for patterns that demonstrate whether governments are treating citizens fairly. Foundations and grantees concerned about adequate and equitable funding for education and all public services will gain a powerful new form of analysis. Tax and budget activists seeking to help more people understand how public revenues are affected by interactions between government bodies will gain useful new data.

Having this information may turn the tide of public opinion against some of the more egregious giveaways.

But it's not yet a sure thing that we'll have that info. It's only a proposal. Check out this Good Jobs First primer for more details on the proposal, how it could be made better, and, importantly, how to comment.

(Photo credit: Flickr user John Tornow, CC BY 2.0)

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Renters Are Not The Problem

Posted by Tony Roshan Samara on December 16, 2014

Alan Mallach concludes his recent commentary on the problem of declining homeownership (Do Urban Neighborhoods Need Homeowners?) with the important reminder that cities and policymakes should not neglect renters.

Yet, his argument leading up to this point is a prescription for continuing a century-old approach to housing that structurally advantages homeowners and disadvantages moderate- and low-income renters. More worryingly, his argument includes misleading statements about the benefits of ownership that indirectly stigmatizes renters.

Mallach is right to stress the massive loss of wealth many already struggling communities have experienced as a result of the foreclosure crisis and the decades of predatory lending that preceded it. By some accounts the loss of wealth for black and Latino communities in particular is unprecedented in scope. Mallach is also right to point to the threat posed to communities where large scale private equity investors are buying up formerly owner-occupied homes and converting them to rentals. This trend has received widespread media coverage and was the subject of a recent report, which I contributed to, by the Right to the City Alliance, The Rise of the Corporate Landlord.

Where he runs into trouble is in listing a series of correlations that don’t necessarily mean what he takes them to mean, which he offers as evidence of the many benefits of ownership compared with renting.

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How Are Shared Equity Programs Growing With Public Investment?

Posted by Rick Jacobus on December 15, 2014

In an era of dwindling affordable housing resources, communities are looking for ways to use what they have more efficiently.

Advocates for shared equity homeownership programs have long argued that preserving long-term affordability helps public funding go further; in fact, new data shows that public funds invested in shared equity homes have been growing at an annual rate of almost 5 percent, even in the wake of the housing market collapse.

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Housing Equity’s Future: Moving from Debate to Productive Dialogue

Posted by Jason Reece and Joe Kriesberg on December 12, 2014

A robust debate erupted on Shelterforce in response to Miriam Axel-Lute’s article, “The Dangerous Rhetoric of Escaping to Opportunity,” with strongly worded opinions flowing from both sides of the mobility and place based debate.

As practitioners who were involved in this vigorous conversation and referenced in the article, we had a series of private discussions about our perspectives and concerns regarding the place vs mobility debate.

Our productive conversations illustrate one of the major challenges in this debate: We spend too little time in quiet, off-the-record dialogue based on mutual respect with a goal of deepening our understanding, and too much time engaged in public debates designed to drive policy agendas based on long-standing organizational agendas. While both have their place, we need to find a better balance. Such a balance would help us to identify our points of common belief and more clearly illuminate perspectives on issues that are still unresolved. We have tremendous housing and community development challenges in our nation today, and to paraphrase Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, we don’t have to agree on everything to work together on some things.

In the spirit of collaboration and dialogue we wanted to share our conversation with the audience of Shelterforce and hope that it stimulates further productive dialogue.

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Vouchers Are Helping Children Avoid Concentrated Poverty

Posted by Barbara Sard on December 11, 2014

More than 5 million people in some 2 million low-income families use Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) to help them afford decent housing. Although the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program makes little difference in where poor white families with children live, it makes a large difference for poor families of color, as our recent paper explains.

Among poor families, more than twice the share of black children and close to twice the share of Hispanic children using housing vouchers lived in low-poverty neighborhoods (those with less than 10 percent poverty) in 2010, compared with poor black and Hispanic children generally (see chart). In contrast, poor white children in families with vouchers were slightly less likely to live in low-poverty neighborhoods than poor white children overall.

For families of color, using a voucher to rent housing also slightly improves the schools that their children are likely to attend, compared with their poor counterparts. The median school nearest to both black and Hispanic voucher holders ranked higher on math and reading tests than the median school nearest to poor black and Hispanic households generally.

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Hubs Help Move the Local Food Movement to the Next Level

Posted by David Holtzman on December 10, 2014

It’s not unusual to read a press release from a governor’s or mayor’s office celebrating a deal to bring a new company to a neighborhood or city. Typically we’d be talking about a new manufacturing or tech firm, and the press release would speak glowingly of the prospects for economic development.

Which makes a bit unusual the recent announcement, covered here by the Civil Eats website, by the city of Louisville that it had landed a food hub (what is to be the largest one in the nation).

 

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Manufactured Housing: Underutilized and Misunderstood

Posted by Dana Hawkins-Simons on December 9, 2014

What will it take for manufactured housing, the principal source of unsubsidized, affordable homes in the United States, to reach its potential?

Limited and expensive financing options make life even more difficult for the financially vulnerable residents who live in manufactured housing (MH) communities. The continuing consolidation of ownership is taking a toll, and the industry just can’t seem to shake the outdated, negative stereotype of a rusted, flimsy structure with a dog chained to the front porch.

Manufactured homes, frequently mischaracterized as mobile homes or trailers—even though once placed, they're rarely moved—house over 18 million Americans. Most residents are just getting by; the median annual household income is $30,000. The homes are much less expensive to rent or own because they’re built in factories, so they cost less than half the estimated $94-per-square-foot national average for new site-built homes.

Not only is manufactured housing misunderstood, it’s underutilized. “We don’t have enough public housing to fulfill our needs,” says MH industry expert Lisa Tyler of Paris, Tenn. “Manufactured housing presents a solution. It’s inexpensive, energy efficient, and a great value. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth in the industry, but a lot of obstacles, too.”

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Policing in Communities of Color: We Want to Hear Your Voice

Posted by Rooflines on December 9, 2014

On Rooflines, bloggers have written directly about events in Ferguson, MO, and indirectly analyzed the social ramifications of racial and economic discrimination going unchecked in communities.

From "Three-Strikes" Law enforcement, to sentencing disparity among races in crack/powder cocaine offenses, to aggressive policing strategies in communities of color, the relationship between law enforcement and people of color in the communities they live has historically been an adversarial one. At the very least, this adversarial relationship leads to mistrust of law enforcement and subsequent weakening of community/police partnerships; at most, it leads to death.

In light of recent developments in the deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers in New York and Ohio (and Phoenix and LA and...); and the unprecedented expressions of outrage through demonstrations in cities all over the country, Shelterforce would like to hear from our readers in the community development world about what you’ve been doing, are planning to do, or want to do to address the way law enforcement interacts with residents in the communities you serve. Share your opinions, ideas, and stories about what's working and what isn't.

Please take our survey here. We invite you to share the survey with your community partners that may not subscribe to Shelterforce Weekly.

(Image credit: Poster designed by Micah Bazant for the organization Justice for Families for their “Night Out for Safety & Democracy” event. Image is from the Justseeds Artists Cooperative website).

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On Beyond Income: Asset Building and Union Organizing Go Together

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on December 5, 2014

If you're looking for Vouchers Are Helping Children Avoid Concentrated Poverty click here

I wrote earlier this week about how the current increase in labor organizing among service workers calls for a conscious choice by other nonprofits who work with low-income households to offer our solidarity to those campaigns.

Beyond the fact of supporting workers in their struggle for self-determination, there are some other opportunities for cross-pollination there.

I got to speak with Andrea Levere, president of CFED, which runs the truly impressive Assets Learning Conferences, a couple weeks ago about the potential for partnerships between the asset-building field and the labor movement. 

"One of the great assets that labor unions have with their members is that they have jobs," said Levere. And when you are working on building access to financial services, for example, "you start with someone with a job. You [then] have the ability to get them banked, and do all sorts of things." There is a whole set of collaborative strategies that can lead from there, she says.

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