This Week in Housing Policy

affordable housing, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, housing discrimination

We’re only on Tuesday and so far, this week has produced a lot of strong media coverage of issues pertaining to the relationship between housing policy and inequality (social, economic, and racial inequalities in particular). Most of the year, it seems that issues of homelessness and housing policy receive meager media attention, so to have multiple news outlets covering these important issues in a span of a few days is very exciting! Whether or not you agree with the framing of these news stories or the policy suggestions implicit in these articles, it is still worth it to read the coverage of these issues, as they often get overlooked.

First on the agenda, the New York Times Magazine published a poignant piece on how the public policies that incentivize homeownership in the U.S.A. have contributed to inequality over time. This article, titled “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality,” was written by the acclaimed author Matthew Desmond who wrote last year’s hit book titled Evicted. (If you’re a housing policy nerd like me, then this is a must read!) In the article, Desmond does a great job demystifying some of the more complex and opaque features of the U.S. tax code as it is applied to issues of housing and homeownership. For example, he describes how the mortgage interest deduction (MID) favors middle and high income earners who own homes, but he notes that there is no comparable tax incentive for renters, who tend to have lower incomes. The MID was designed to encourage Americans to purchase residential properties at inflated prices, forcing them to borrow funds in the form of mortgages. This significantly contributes to the widening of the gap between affluent Americans and Americans who are struggling to get by financially. In addition, Desmond explains how racially discriminatory housing policies from the past, such as the G.I. Bill, are still affecting unequal housing outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities in today’s America. He also provides readers with profiles of individuals and families who own homes and rent properties to show the drastic differences in their experiences with housing in America.

To access Desmond’s article (published May 9, 2017), click here: https://nyti.ms/2pZp92k

To access info about Desmond’s book Evicted, click here: http://www.evictedbook.com

Second, the news outlet National Public Radio (NPR) has also paid more attention than usual to issues of housing, homelessness, and inequality in the past week. On May 3, 2017, Terry Gross produced a piece on the “forgotten history” of housing segregation in the U.S.A. This story profiles historian Richard Rothstein’s latest book The Color of the Law (more info on his book is accessible here: The Color of the Law). Gross’s article and Rothstein’s book both describe how redlining created a “state-sponsored system of segregation” in U.S. housing policy.  Rothstein notes that “the term ‘redlining’ … comes from the development by the New Deal, by the federal government of maps of every metropolitan area in the country. And those maps were color-coded by first the Home Owners Loan Corp. and then the Federal Housing Administration and then adopted by the Veterans Administration, and these color codes were designed to indicate where it was safe to insure mortgages. And anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.” This blog has examined redlining in previous posts, check the archives for more in-depth information on this abhorrent practice. Gross’s article, and the book that it profiles, show how these segregationist policies that began in the 1930’s are still negatively affecting African Americans today.

You can access this story (both audio and written commentary) here: “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America”

In addition, NPR, in concert with PBS’s Frontline, produced an interesting piece on the abuse of the affordable housing system in the U.S.A. Published on May 9, 2017, this piece, titled “Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer”, describes how the federal low-income housing tax credit program (LIHTC) has failed the American people, both affordable housing program beneficiaries and American tax-payers alike. The LIHTC was established to incentivize private companies to build housing for low income Americans. However, the investigation into the program by NPR and Frontline “found that with little federal oversight, LIHTC has produced fewer units than it did 20 years ago, even though it’s costing taxpayers 66 percent more in tax credits.” This means that more tax-payer money is being spent on a program that is producing fewer housing units for low income Americans. In other words, the program is ineffective at assisting poor Americans gain quality affordable housing. This report provides a critical look into the murky world of affordable housing policy and sheds some light on who is “winning” and who is “losing” in the twenty-first century. Spoiler alert: low income Americans who are seeking affordable housing are definitely losing while investors from private equity firms and companies that cater to the housing market are definitely winning.

You can access this fascinating and timely article here: http://www.npr.org/2017/05/09/527046451/affordable-housing-program-costs-more-shelters-less

 

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Homelessness in Developing Countries

homeless children, homeless families, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, personal experience

Homelessness is an international issue. In every nation in the world, there are people experiencing homelessness. However, the determinants, conditions, and experiences of homelessness vary considerably amongst citizens of developed, industrialized nations and citizens of developing, less industrialized nations.

While the issue of homelessness in developing countries has been understudied compared to homelessness in developed countries in academic research, there are some very informative papers in existence that pose salient questions about homelessness in developing nations. One of the main themes that runs through these papers is that global definitions and understandings of homelessness (often based on how homelessness is conceptualized in developed nations) are failing to accurately depict homelessness in developing nations. Scholars who make this argument also believe that skewed perceptions and incorrect definitions of “homelessness” affect the policy interventions directed at people who are experiencing homelessness in developing countries. These interventions usually fail because they are based on a false premise and misunderstanding of homelessness in developing countries (Speak and Tipple 2009, Speak and Tipple 2006, Tipple and Speak 2005, Speak 2004).

It is also worth mentioning that the bulk of this research on homelessness in developing nations seems to be conducted by the same research team–you may have noticed the frequency of their names in the citation above–Suzanne Speak and Graham Tipple. This is an important area of inquiry for researchers. Perhaps more people will join Speak and Tipple in investigating homelessness in developing nations.

Below is a bibliography of resources on homelessness in developing nations. When available, I have included direct links to the articles. (These links are valid on April 2. 2017 but may expire over time.) However, some of these resources must be accessed through research databases such as JSTOR or EBSCOHost.

References:

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2009). The hidden millions: homelessness in developing countries. Routledge.

Speak, S., & Tipple, G. (2006). Perceptions, persecution and pity: the limitations of interventions for homelessness in developing countries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), 172-188. (click here to access article)

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2005). Definitions of homelessness in developing countries. Habitat International, 29(2), 337-352. (Click here to access the article)

Speak, S. (2005). Relationship between children’s homelessness in developing countries and the failure of women’s rights legislation. Housing, Theory and Society, 22(3), 129-146.

Speak, S. (2004). Degrees of destitution: a typology of homelessness in developing countries. Housing studies, 19(3), 465-482. (click here to access the article)

 

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

Measure HHH passes in Los Angeles

Homlessness, housing

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, voters in the city of Los Angeles passed Measure HHH, the Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond. This is a $1.2 billion bond measure that will be used to fund the construction of 8,000-10,000 high quality affordable housing units for people who are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. The measure will also fund the development of housing for people who are at risk of becoming homeless and mental health care facilities.

While the presidential election has occupied the minds of many Americans this week, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, assured Angelenos that measure HHH provides evidence that local governments will continue to tackle complex issues such as homelessness. On Tuesday night, he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times: “There is nothing to be depressed about in Los Angeles when we wake up tomorrow…[Los Angeles] is willing to take on the toughest challenges.”

Measure HHH required a 2/3 majority of voter approval (66.67%) in order to pass and as of Thursday, November 10, 2016, the measure has received 76% of the vote. For more on measure HHH, check out the news coverage:

Los Angeles Times (11/9/2016): http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-la-transit-homeless-20161109-story.html

CBS Local (11/9/2016): http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2016/11/09/prop-hhh-homeless/

Los Angeles Daily News (11/9/2016): http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20161109/election-2016-los-angeles-voters-give-prop-hhh-green-light

Domestic Violence, Homelessness, and Housing

domestic violence, Homlessness, housing

The article, “High Housing Costs Raise an Obstacle for Women Fleeing Abuse” written by Colleen Long and published on 8/15/15 in the Associated Press, highlights the close relationship between homelessness and domestic violence.  There are a lot of reasons why victims of domestic abuse do not “leave” their abusers immediately (or ever). These reasons are personal for each individual victim and can include (but are not limited to) economic, financial, social, emotional, and psychological motivations for staying with an abuser.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in the United States.  As rents and housing costs soar, it has become increasingly difficult for people fleeing domestic violence to find affordable, PERMANENT housing.  There are many domestic violence shelters in the United States that struggle to meet the demand for temporary housing and supportive services.  If a person who has experienced domestic violence is able to attain temporary shelter and services, after leaving the shelter, they will have to look for permanent housing. The high housing costs can prevent them from finding a stable place to live.  Click on the link above to read more about this issue in the AP article.

A big thank you to Dorothy Holt for finding this informative article!

211 Gets Jammed in Seattle

affordable housing, homeless children, homeless families, homelessness, housing

This week, National Public Radio (NPR) has been covering homelessness in Seattle.  This affluent, idyllic city has raised to fourth on the list of cities in the nation with the highest rates of homelessness.  Seattle follows New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas as the city with the greatest number of people experiencing homelessness.  Unlike other cities in America (even the “big three” of NY, LA, and LV) where homelessness is decreasing (albeit slowly) due to increased policy efforts targeted at veteran and family homelessness, Seattle has seen an increase in homeless residents in the past decade.  Seattle’s 211 line (the emergency line for homeless residents in crisis) is flooded with calls and the waiting lists for shelters and affordable housing units are years long.

CLICK HERE to read NPR’s article “Amid Seattle’s Affluence, Homelessness Also Flourishes” by John Ryan, published on April 7, 2015.

CLICK HERE to read NPR’s follow up coverage on homelessness in Seattle…”Homeless Families Wait Longer For Shelter Under Seattle’s System” by John Ryan, published April 8, 2015

Hollywood, FL Homeless Shelter and Its Advocates Move Out

homelessness, housing

CLICK HERE to read the NPR story on the homeless advocate who is on the move…  Advocate and entrepreneur, Sean Cononie, is moving his shelter out of Hollywood, FL to Central, FL. This eccentric advocate is moving the shelter from Hollywood to an area near Disney World because the city and the county (Broward County, FL) are not cooperating with homeless residents.

An excerpt from the NPR coverage:

“Like much of South Florida, Hollywood is seeing a building boom, with more than $1 billion of development in the works. Storey [a Hollywood city official] says that Cononie’s homeless shelter presented an obstacle in an area targeted for redevelopment along one of the city’s main commercial corridors.Broward County last year, has seen a marked increase in homelessness among the working poor — people with full time jobs who can’t afford to pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit…As old neighborhoods give way to new development…a lack of affordable housing will mean Hollywood’s homeless problem is likely to persist long after Cononie and his shelter have moved on.”

Mini-Houses Provide Hope for the Homeless

homelessness, housing

CLICK HERE to read an article that showcases an innovative approach to sustainable and affordable housing for people who are struggling with housing security.  The article titled “Tiny Home Village for Homeless Opens in Wisconsin” by Jen Hayden was published on the website DailyKos.  The piece contains interviews of new mini-home owners and the people who fought for the implementation of this interesting approach to housing. Check it out!

Below, a picture of the village of mini-houses mentioned in the article….

tinyhomes_copy