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

 

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?

 

 

 

Homelessness and LGBTQI Rights

homelessness, housing discrimination, LGBTQI
Last week, the Supreme Court FINALLY ruled that same sex marriage is Constitutional, yay! What a joyous and long overdue decision!  The seminal court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, guarantees the right to marry for same sex couples.  
 
There is so much to celebrate this week for LGBT couples who have been waiting so long for this kind of good news!! During this time of excitement, it is also important to remember the LGBTQI people who are experiencing homelessness are still facing discrimination in housing and employment.  Federal housing rules still permit discrimination based on sexual orientation for owner-owned apartments and homes that contain less than four units.  For more information on the specificities of housing and employment discrimination for LGBTQI people, see the June 26, 2015 article in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-gays-employment-20150626-story.html#page=1   
 
In addition, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQI.  People who work at shelters and in outreach services for homeless youth often do not have specialized training in the unique needs of LGBTQI youth.  Policies, procedures, and protocols are not designed with the specialized needs of this population of homeless youth in mind.  For resources related to the needs of LGBTQI homeless youth, check out some of the sources below.  
 
40percent lgbtyouth
 
1) National Coalition for the Homeless, Resources for Homeless LGBTQI Youth: http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt/
2) Kickstarter page for the documentary “Pier Kids: The Life”, a film about LGBTQI homeless youth in NYC:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1083451899/pier-kids-the-life-0
3) Siciliano, Carl. “Homeless for the Holidays: Portraits of New York City’s Homeless LGBT Youth.”  The Huffington Post.  20 December 2011:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-siciliano/homeless-gay-youth_b_1158040.html