This Week in Homelessness and Housing Policy

affordable housing, homelessness, Housing Policy

In the past week, there have been a lot of innovative ideas about how to ameliorate homelessness and improve housing policy that have been discussed in mainstream and not-so-mainstream media sources. Here’s a brief re-cap. Thank you to Dorothy Holt for finding and sharing much of this information!

First, Amazon announced that it will permanently operate a homeless shelter in Seattle. CLICK HERE to read the coverage of this new Amazon initiative in the New York Times. Last year, Amazon was allowing homeless people to live in a motel owned by the company. The motel began to be known as a safe shelter with the moniker “Mary’s Place”, however the future of the shelter was unknown. Now, Mary’s Place will operate out of a new Amazon-owned-and-operated office building that will be constructed in fall 2017. According to the report published in the New York Times, there are many early supporters of this plan. “Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said she was unaware of any other private corporation integrating a homeless shelter into its building. ‘Too often, homelessness gets pushed to the other side of the tracks,’ Ms. Roman said. ‘Keeping them as neighbors is nice.'” Reporter Nick Wingfield who wrote the news story also noted that this move may make Amazon look more appealing to consumers who are concerned with issues of social justice. Amazon has been criticized for promoting gentrification and a toxic and abusive work environment. Seattle has been experiencing a “homelessness crisis” and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a “state of emergency” last year to note the magnitude of the problem. From 2015-2016, the number of people living on the streets in Seattle (unsheltered homeless) increased 19% (Woodard 2016). This figure excludes people who are homeless but sheltered (couch surfing, shelter hopping, etc.) or who were missed by volunteers who conducted the Point in Time (PIT) counts of the homeless in Seattle. (For more on how PIT counts are conducted, see a previous blog post on Point in Time Counts).

Second, this week, advocates for the homeless have installed portable toilets along the Santa Ana River which is located in Orange County, CA. This area is home to many people who are without housing in Orange County. County officials immediately criticized the actions as “unauthorized” and are taking actions to remove the portable toilets. The toilets were purchased using donations from the community. For more information, CLICK HERE to access the news coverage of these actions published in the local newspaper, the Orange County Register.  One homeless man who was interviewed in this article expressed that “it is a relief not having to rely on five-gallon paint buckets that many of the homeless people resort to using, dumping their waste in the river bed or disposing of it in the orange trash bags that public works supplies…[other people experiencing homelessness] trek to the Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box restaurants on Chapman Avenue…people living in the tents will police the toilets themselves.” (Walker 2017)

Third, as the affordable housing crisis continues to become more exacerbated in California, policymakers in CA cities around the state are pursuing a potential solution to this problem. The proposed solution involves making it easier for homeowners to build and operate “granny flats” or accessory dwellings (“back houses”, small cottages, garage studios, etc.) on their properties. Currently, it is very difficult for homeowners to build these dwellings on their properties due to zoning rules, parking fees, and utility-access restrictions. McPhate, the reporter writing the NYT article writes: “the idea was simple: Make it easier to build the units, then watch the housing stock soar and the rents fall…Those opposed to easing regulations on the units have cited concerns about increased traffic and changes to neighborhood character.” CLICK HERE to read the coverage of this policy idea in the New York Times.

Fourth and finally, if you were interested in last week’s blog post on how some of the federal policies that encourage homeownership in the USA have promoted inequality over time, then you may want to check out this week’s article on the mortgage interest deduction (MID) rate in The Atlantic. Check it out here! This article, written by Derek Thompson, examines the MID in more detail with a touch of Op-Ed flair! One quick poignant quote: “Since tax benefits are most useful for people with taxable income, U.S. wealth-creation policy is predominantly for people who already have wealth. These high-income households don’t consider their tax benefits to be a form of government policy at all. For example, 60 percent of people who claim the MID say they have never used any government program, ever. As a result, rich households can be skeptical of public-housing policies while benefiting from a $71 billion annual tax benefit which is, functionally, a public-housing policy for the rich.” (Thompson 2017).

References:

McPhate, M. (May 16, 2017). “California Today: A Housing Fix That’s Close to Home.” New York Times. Accessible at: https://nyti.ms/2qnm38E

Thompson, D. (May 14, 2017). “The Shame of the Mortgage-Interest Deduction.” The Atlantic. Accessible here: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/shame-mortgage-interest-deduction/526635/

Walker, T. (May 15, 2017). “Activists install portable toilets for homeless at Santa Ana River bed; county says they’re unauthorized.” Orange County Register. Accessible at: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/15/activists-install-portable-toilets-for-homeless-at-santa-ana-river-bed-county-says-theyre-unauthorized/

Wingfield, N. (May 10, 2017). “Amazon to Share New Building With Homeless Shelter in Seattle.” New York Times. Accessible at: https://nyti.ms/2puvNd7

Woodard, B. (June 29, 2016). “#SeaHomeless: What you need to know about Seattle’s homeless crisis.” The Seattle Times. Accessible at: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seahomeless-what-you-need-to-know-about-seattles-homeless-crisis/

 

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Housing First or Treatment First?

homelessness, housing, Housing Policy

Perhaps the most prominent debate about service delivery models for people who are experiencing homelessness revolves around the question: should housing come before treatment, or should treatment for people who are homeless and experiencing mental illness and/or addiction issues come before housing?

Housing First is a service model that advocates for the provision of permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness before engaging homeless individuals in treatment for mental illness, addiction recovery, or concurrent disorders.

In contrast, the Treatment First service model prioritizes the treatment of mental illness before the housing of homeless individuals (Padgett et. al. 2011). The Treatment First model has informed many service delivery models and public policy designs that require homeless people to provide evidence that they are prepared to live in permanent housing (e.g. the staircase model and continua of care programs operate under the philosophy of Treatment First). The assumption underlying this policy and programming philosophy is that homeless people are not able to sustain tenancy and self-sufficiency without first receiving treatment for mental illness. In other words, sobriety and the active, consistent treatment of mental health disorders act as the necessary pre-conditions for attaining housing.

This philosophy still dominates many of the policy debates over Housing First and Treatment First models, however numerous studies with strong research designs have provided support for the contention that homeless people with mental illness and concurrent disorders are able to sustain tenancy when they are provided with appropriate support for their respective conditions (see Busch-Geertsema 2013, Tsemberis 2011, Tsemberis et. al. 2008, Padgett et. al. 2006).

What do you think should come first–housing or treatment?

 

References:

Busch-Geertsema, Volker (2013). “Housing First Europe Final Report.”: http://www.habitat.hu/files/FinalReportHousingFirstEurope.pdf

 

Padgett, D. K., Stanhope, V., Henwood, B. F., & Stefancic, A. (2011). Substance use outcomes among homeless clients with serious mental illness: comparing housing first with treatment first programs. Community mental health journal, 47(2), 227-232.

Padgett, D. K., Gulcur, L., & Tsemberis, S. (2006). Housing first services for people who are homeless with co-occurring serious mental illness and substance abuse. Research on Social Work Practice, 16(1), 74-83.

Tsemberis, S., Gulcur, L., & Nakae, M. (2004). Housing first, consumer choice, and harm reduction for homeless individuals with a dual diagnosis. American journal of public health, 94(4), 651-656.

Tsemberis, S. (2011). Housing First: The pathways model to end homelessness for people with mental illness and addiction manual. European Journal of Homelessness _ Volume, 5(2).

*For more information on the Treatment First model (written by advocates of this model), see King, R. and Martin, F. (2016). “Treatment first for mentally ill individuals, not housing” San Francisco Chroniclehttp://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Treatment-first-for-mentally-ill-individuals-not-8319570.php

Groton, D. (2013). “Are Housing First Programs Effective? A Research Note”: https://www.wmich.edu/hhs/newsletters_journals/jssw_institutional/individual_subscribers/40.1.Groton.pdf

City of Miami vs. Wells Fargo and Bank of America

Homlessness, housing discrimination, Housing Policy

Recently, Wells Fargo has undergone intense scrutiny for its questionable sales and employment practices (for more information, check out the New York Times coverage: http://nyti.ms/2e6ZH6l). However, Wells Fargo’s lack of business ethics precedes this recent scandal. This week, the City of Miami is filing suit with the U.S. Supreme Court against Wells Fargo and Bank of America for allegedly practicing racial discrimination against homeowners in mortgage terms and foreclosures during the 2008 housing crisis. The City of Miami asserts that Wells Fargo and Bank of America charged homeowners of color with disproportionately larger fees and unreliable terms for their mortgages. Such exorbitant fees made it difficult for homeowners to keep up with their mortgage payments. (In other words, the mortgages were more expensive than they should have been, which made it more likely that the homeowner would default on the payments.) When homeowners of color wanted to refinance their homes in order to save them, Wells Fargo and Bank of America refused. White homeowners operating under similar economic conditions were able to refinance their homes with these institutions without contestation. Twelve other cities (including Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Philadelphia) have signed on to this suit.

The legal support for this lawsuit comes from the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which was passed with the intention of abolishing housing discrimination. One of the practices that the law specifically addresses (and bans) is discriminatory lending practices.

The lending institutions (and the interest groups that support them) argue that this lawsuit is frivolous because the City of Miami and the other plaintiff cities cannot prove that the discriminatory lending practices led to decreases in property tax revenue (thus affecting the entire city and not just individual borrowers).

The Supreme Court is considering whether or not to take the case.

Here is more information on this lawsuit:

National Public Radio’s coverage of the lawsuit (November 8, 2016):

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501099505/501121095“>https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501099505/501121095

Los Angeles Times coverage of the lawsuit (November 8, 2016):

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-miami-housing-banks-lawsuit-20161108-story.html

If you are interested in the history of housing policy (and housing discrimination) in the United States, I recommend reading Michele Dickerson’s book Homeownership and America’s Financial Underclass: Flawed Premises, Broken Promises, New Prescriptions (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Dickerson holds the Arthur L. Moller Chair in Bankruptcy Law and Practice and she is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. This book would provide excellent background for anyone who is seeking to understand the underlying causes and the implications of the current lawsuit brought by the City of Miami.

Housing discrimination is one of the many factors affecting homelessness in the United States. (For more information on the specific attributes of the relationship between housing discrimination and homelessness, see the CERD Housing Report: https://www.nlchp.org/CERD_Housing_Report_2014.pdf). If the Supreme Court proceeds, will this lawsuit be able to attain some modicum of justice for the homeowners in Miami (and the other twelve plaintiff cities) who experienced homelessness after foreclosure?

 

 

 

Redlining And Homelessness

homelessness, Housing Policy, Racism

Redlining is the practice of denying services and/or capital to the residents of a neighborhood based on the residents’ race and ethnicity. The practice began in the 1930s when government sanctioned city planners (and later private sector entities) drew red lines around neighborhoods that they believed were inferior because of the racial makeup of the neighborhood. These red lined areas represented areas where government officials planned to withhold services and capital and sustain racially segregated cities and suburbs. It was a very transparent, unapologetically racist strategy for reducing the supply of quality housing for people of color. This system perpetuated housing inequality early on in the nation’s history, promoting and contributing to a high risk of homelessness for people of color.  And while this practice has historical origins, it is still a rampant problem in the United States of America.  The recent lawsuit against Associated Banks shows us how prevalent these despicable practices still are and how they hurt the quest for housing equality for all Americans.

Comedian Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show,  recently ran a segment on redlining practices in America.  While the tone of the video clip is comedic in nature, Wilmore disseminates vital information about redlining in an engaging manner.  If you are interested in how institutional racism has affected homelessness and housing inequality this is a good video to watch. Check it out….

CLICK HERE to watch Larry Wilmore’s brief history of redlining on the Nightly Show

For more information on redlining in the past and present check out these sources:

“Redlining: Still A Thing,” by Emily Badger. The Washington Post. 28 May 2015: http://wapo.st/1LLPu5r

“The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood,” by Alexis Madrigal. The Atlantic. 22 May 2014:  http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/the-racist-housing-policy-that-made-your-neighborhood/371439/

Dreier, Peter. “Redlining cities: How banks color community development.” Challenge (1991): 15-23. http://scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1357&context=uep_faculty&sei-redir=1&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fstart%3D50%26q%3Dred%2Blining%26hl%3Den%26as_sdt%3D0%2C5#search=%22red%20lining%22

Rice, Willy E. “Race, Gender, Redlining, and the Discriminatory Access to Loans, Credit, and Insurance: An Historical and Empirical Analysis of Consumers Who Sued Lenders and Insurers in Federal and State Courts, 1950-1995.” San Diego L. Rev. 33 (1996): 583.    http://repository.law.ttu.edu/bitstream/handle/10601/73/rice2.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

NY Times “Room for Debate” Analyzes Homelessness

homelessness, Housing Policy

Click here to read the NYT “Room for Debate” series piece on homelessness and housing policy.  The article features six different “view points” on homelessness.  Conservative writers from the Manhattan Institute and the American Enterprise Institute argue against embracing affordable housing for all, continuing the usual pattern of blaming the homeless for their own state of homelessness and using the “deserving” citizen/”undeserving” citizen paradigm that has been established for decades in conservative literature on welfare policy.  Four of the authors featured in the series work directly with people experiencing homelessness, and with social sector organizations and government agencies responsible for housing and homelessness policies.  These authors advocate for housing for all and some explore the nuances of serving those with addiction recovery needs and mental health services needs.

A Must Read Article: “Eviction and Intersectionality: Why Black Women Need Housing Justice” by Denechia Powell

Housing Policy, Women and Poverty

http://www.forharriet.com/2014/09/eviction-and-intersectionality-why.html

The article “Eviction and Intersectionality: Why Black Women Need Housing Justice” is a must read piece written by Denechia Powell weaving personal experience with insightful societal observations.  Click on the link above to read the article, posted on the website FOR HARRIET (www.forharriet.com).

“State and Local Officials Vow to End Homelessness Among Veterans” (By Emmarie Huetteman, New York Times, June 4, 2014)

homelessness, Housing Policy

State and Local Officials Vow to End Homelessness Among Veterans (By Emmarie Huetteman, New York Times, June 4, 2014)

Click on the link above to read a well-written New York Times article about the Obama Administration’s renewed efforts to combat chronic homelessness among veterans, announced on June 4, 2014, in light of the Veteran’s Health Administration debacle.  The Obama Administration has repeatedly stated that its goal is to end chronic homelessness for veterans completely and entirely (as if this goal is possible or even desirable for all veterans experiencing homelessness), citing the cities of Phoenix and Salt Lake City as exemplars in this fight.  This announcement comes on the heels of controversial discussions about poor health care and service in the VA system, which leads me to question the political motives behind the announcement.  People experiencing homelessness (especially homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals) are only discussed in the political arena when politicians have something to gain from the public nature of the discussion, and the solutions (or “goals”) proposed are rarely formulated by consulting people who are actually experiencing homelessness, those individuals with the largest “stakes” (i.e. stakeholders) in the discussion.

With these thoughts in mind, it is necessary to interrogate the current policy goals related to homelessness in the United States.  Is ending chronic homelessness for all veterans possible or desirable for those actually experiencing houselessness?  Should this be the goal of the United States government? While allocating more resources to the department of Housing and Urban Development (or HUD)* is necessary and admirable for housing homeless veterans and individuals who want to be housed, the goal of eradicating chronic homelessness does not take into account the feelings and desires of chronically homeless individuals who feel more comfortable living outside.  While working for a nonprofit organization that provides outreach services for chronically homeless individuals in Albany, NY, I encountered many people experiencing homelessness who felt more comfortable living outside and abhorred the thought of going indoors, even for one night.  Some of these individuals were veterans and all had their own, very personal, reasons for preferring outdoors to indoors.  Should the United States government, a government that espouses democratic ideals and frequently employs the rhetoric of “freedom” and “choice” for all citizens, allow for more flexibility and less rigidity in politically-motivated policy “goals” related to homelessness (such as the “eradicating chronic homelessness completely” goal)?  I think so!  Allow people experiencing homelessness the same freedom of choice as housed citizens.  And policy makers, PLEASE give people experiencing homelessness a “seat at the table” when policies that will deeply affect their lives are being made!!!!

*President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes a 14% increase in funds (totaling $1.6 billion) to HUD for housing homeless veterans.  This is a fantastic, very positive example of resource allocation, but the policy goals related to housing the chronically homeless and homeless veterans are still flawed and in need of revision.  It is unproductive to attempt to “eliminate homelessness completely” (Huetteman)–this ALL OR NOTHING approach is unrealistic and does not help people experiencing homelessness.

Campaign Aims To Open Doors For The Homeless

homelessness, Housing Policy, methods

Campaign Aims To Open Doors For The Homeless

Click on the link above to read the article “Campaign Aims To Open Doors for the Homeless”, by Pam Fessler of NPR.  The article explores a program serving people experiencing homelessness in San Diego, CA.  One of many poignant quotes from the article:

“The situation is dire. But those running the new campaign say it’ll cost more if they do nothing. They estimate that it costs about $25,000 a year to house a chronically homeless person, even with services like medical care. But it can be four or five times that amount if someone stays on the streets, repeatedly using things like the hospital emergency room.” (emphasis added)