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/

 

Advertisements

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

 

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!

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

Drug Testing Welfare Applicants: Unethical, Unnecessary, and a Waste of Money and Time

poverty, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the article titled “What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients” by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel.  The article follows the rise of policies aimed at drug testing TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program applicants that have emerged in state legislatures across the country.  These states–which include Montana, Texas, and West Virginia–want to drug test applicants to the states’ food stamps and unemployment insurance programs.

States that have already implemented similar programs–such as Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah–are spending millions on the drug testing programs alone.  Not only does the act of drug testing applicants raise ethical issues, but the drug testing programs themselves are costing states far too much money and this money comes out of the budgets of the welfare programs.

The article quotes one welfare rights advocate who argues soundly that this is a waste of money that should be spent on helping, and not hurting, TANF applicants: “‘The main impact of it is first…to spend TANF money that could go into other things,’ said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, a non-profit focused on policy for low-income individuals. While many states told ThinkProgress that the funds don’t necessarily come out of the pot that would go to TANF benefits, it’s still money that could go elsewhere. ‘The money could certainly be spent on other things if it wasn’t going to drug testing,’ she said. ‘Even if it’s a state where it can’t go to into childcare or cash assistance, it probably comes out of their administration pot, so that’s caseworkers and things like that.’”

The article also addresses the fact that these drug testing policies  impact social stigmas surrounding seeking state assistance (e.g. welfare/TANF benefits) and drug use.  These policies can discourage drug users from seeking help and economically disadvantaged folks from seeking TANF benefits.  A must read for anyone interesting in homelessness, poverty, inequality, and welfare politics!