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

 

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.”

Once Homeless, Family Feels ‘Blessed To Wake Up Another Day’

homelessness, personal experience

CLICK HERE to read or listen to an excellent NPR Storycorps piece on Franklin and Sherry Gilliard, a family that experienced homelessness but is getting back on their feet through the use of transitional housing programs and food pantries and banks.  A sobering reminder that homelessness can happen to anyone.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph Advocates Community Policing on Skid Row

homelessness

CLICK HERE to read (or listen to) an NPR profile of Deon Joseph, an LAPD officer who has been policing the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles for 17 years.  This inspiring officer prefers “community policing” tactics to the “hook and book” strategy that rarely helps those struggling with mental health issues or addiction.  Check it out!

skid-row2_custom-fb824fc38a58994fec32844f2588e7facd459041-s3-c85

Homelessness and Poverty are in the News

homelessness, Inequality

Today, I was relieved to see that National Public Radio (NPR) ran two stories on homelessness prevention and progressive ideas for reducing poverty.  Usually, homelessness and poverty only show up in the news if they are topics being covered in ONE story–rarely do two stories that show the nuances of inequality appear in one news cycle.  Today, NPR broke that trend and I applaud them!  The two stories mentioned are:

A ‘Circle’ Of Support Helps Families Stay Out Of Poverty

by PAM FESSLER

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/16/347954335/a-circle-of-support-helps-families-stay-out-of-poverty

AND

Homeless Vets: They’re Not Just Single Men Anymore

by QUIL LAWRENCE

http://www.npr.org/2014/09/16/348715076/homeless-vets-theyre-not-just-single-men-any-more

Now, turning to the important question:

Why don’t more stories about homelessness, poverty, and income inequality appear in daily news cycles?  Why is it that when we do see stories about these important issues, they are singular and rarely in pairs or multiples?

Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families

affordable housing, homelessness

Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families

Click on the link to read the May 27, 2014 NPR story “Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families” by Pam Fessler.  This is one of many articles by NPR that explores the struggles faced by people experiencing homelessness and people who are challenged by the lack of affordable housing in urban areas.  This article does a particularly good job of highlighting how resources in large cities are often used for areas where residents are already economically prosperous, while those areas that need attention and resources are ignored.  Please try to circulate stories like these and spread the word about the problems caused by such drastic wealth and resource disparities in the United States.  Affordable housing is a rarity in this country–almost an extinct entity–but like any endangered species, it can be saved if we all press for action!

“Tell Me More” is Going Off the Air

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“Tell Me More” is Going Off the Air

Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) announced that it will be canceling “Tell Me More” the fantastic show, hosted by Michel Martin, that explored race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, and identity.  According to NPR, the show will stay on the air until August 1, 2014 and Michel Martin will stay at NPR.  However, 28 positions will be terminated.  I am personally very disappointed in NPR. This show provides a forum for discussing issues that are often downplayed or under-discussed on NPR’s other programs.  Kinsey Wilson*, is it too late to reconsider?  You are dismantling a unique program, please don’t do it!!!

  

*Kinsey Wilson is NPR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer

*Information for this blog post was complied from the May 20 article in the Washington Post by Erin Wemple  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/05/20/npr-axes-tell-me-more-nixes-28-positions/) and David Folkenflick’s May 20 NPR article (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/05/20/314256024/npr-to-end-tell-me-more-lay-off-28-people?live=1)