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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“The Lives of America’s Homeless”, Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

homelessness, personal experience

“The Lives of America’s Homeless”, Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

This is A MUST READ article!! Rosen highlights the stories collected by Margaret Miles, director of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, MN.  In 2008, Miles developed an oral history project documenting the lives of people experiencing homelessness in the state of Minnesota.  The project has collected over 600 oral histories thus far.

***Click on the blue link above to read the article.