Shelter Shorts

Hot Housing Market for Whom?

While homeownership rates soared to an all-time high in 1998, the housing boom has led to higher rents and housing prices and greater difficulty for the working poor and the young in finding affordable housing, according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies annual report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 1999.”Now that house prices and rents have been rising faster than inflation,” said Joint Center Executive Director Eric Belsky, “many renters are caught in a bind. On the one hand, it has become harder for them to save enough money to buy a home and on the other hand it has grown harder for them to afford the homes they rent.”

And while the numbers of minority and low-income homebuyers have increased – now accounting for nearly one-third of first-time homebuyers, up from 19 percent in 1985 – their homeownership rates are still less than two-thirds those of whites. Specially tailored mortgage loan programs and falling interest rates have given a significant boost to low-income homebuying, the report notes. In addition, minorities with college degrees are much more likely to become homeowners. But even those African Americans and Latinos with college degrees only achieve homeownership rates equal to whites with a high school education, Belsky said.

In terms of rental housing, the supply of unsubsidized units affordable to very low income renters is shrinking, with 337,000 lost between 1991 and 1995. Severe rent burdens are already prevalent among the 5.8 million unsubsidized renters with extremely low incomes, State of the Nation’s Housing reports. Almost 3.9 million of these households spent more than half their incomes on rent in 1995.

The report also cites the continuing drop in the number of federally subsidized housing units, with 65,000 fewer units today than in 1995, when the number of federally-subsidized units fell for the first time in more than a generation. This means even more low-income renters will face escalating housing market prices.

In addition, the report looks at the impact of welfare reform on the renter population. There is no doubt, it says, that many former welfare recipients who are now employed do not earn enough to afford decent housing. Assuming a take-home pay of $7 an hour and full-time work, a single earner could not pay the rent on an average, modest two-bedroom unit anywhere in the US without incurring a significant cost burden.

For more information, contact the Joint Center, 617-495-7908.


Lack of Affordable Housing Hurts Young

The increasing lack of affordable housing is wreaking havoc on a future generation. Thousands of children are at increased risk of disease, serious injury, and educational failure because of a growing shortage of affordable housing, according to a study by the Boston Medical Center’s Doc4Kids Project and Housing America. The report brings together research documenting a disturbing correlation between inadequate housing and children’s health, nutrition, and educational success.

Among its health findings, the report estimates that nationally 21,000 children have stunted growth and 120,000 children suffer from anemia because their families must choose between food and rent. It also says that 10,000 children between ages four and nine are hospitalized for asthma attacks each year because of cockroach infestations at home, 14 million children younger than six live in housing with lead paint, and one million suffer from lead poisoning, which can lead to problems ranging from nerve damage to mental disabilities. Additionally, the study found that homeless children, compared to housed children, suffer almost twice the respiratory infections, five times the diarrheal infections, seven times the iron deficiency, and twice as many hospitalizations.

The report also concludes that children who are forced to move from school to school because their families are unable to obtain housing are significantly more likely to lag behind other students academically.

For more information, contact Doc4Kids Project, c/o Department of Pediatrics, Dowling 3, Boston Medical Center, 818 Harrison Avenue, Boston MA 02118; phone: 617-534-2229; email: doc4kids@bmc.org


Record Year in CRA Agreements

With the largest lenders in the country announcing intentions to merge and form national banks, 1998 broke the record in terms of the size of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) agreements and megamergers. Lenders and community organizations struck 17 agreements in 1998 totalling a whopping $694 billion. This represents more than a doubling of the dollar amount of the $221 billion pledged in 1997. The total in 1997 was again more than double the $50 billion reached in 1996.

Since CRA was enacted in 1977, lenders have made more than $1.05 trillion in CRA pledges. The best agreements, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), commit specific amounts to particular cities and rural areas. These agreements have detailed targets by dollar and number of loans to minorities and low- and moderate-income borrowers, and goals for different types of homes, small business, and economic development loans and investments are carefully documented. They also have monitoring committees made up of community and bank representatives that meet regularly to review agreement goals and discuss programmatic strategies for reaching and exceeding the targets. To learn more about CRA agreements by state, contact NCRC, 202-628-8866.


Short Takes

Welfare Reform Harmful

Welfare reform has done “demonstrable harm” to poor people, according to Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby. The Washington Times (4/23/99) reported that the D.C.-based lobby surveyed 2,555 persons in 10 states who visited Catholic social service centers in the past 18 months and found that only five percent of these needy people were on welfare. Seventy-five percent were women with children, many of whom said they were missing meals or going without medical or dental care. Leaders of the lobbying group called for food stamp and minimum-wage reforms and increased child care spending.

Canadian Homelessness Rising

Montreal’s female homeless population is facing an unprecedented crisis. Toward Freedom (4/99) reports that homelessness in Montreal has increased dramatically in the last ten years, and the percentage of women has risen from 15 percent of the total to nearly 24 percent in 1998. Many of the women have psychiatric problems that require medical care as well as housing, and the available hotels and shelters often can’t cope with mental illnesses. Compounding the situation are long waiting lists for social housing. The UN Charter Committee on Poverty Issues is seeking answers as to why homelessness and poverty are so widespread in Canada.

Lead Paint Liability

Lawyers involved in last year’s $246 billion tobacco settlement are challenging the manufacturers of lead pigment used in paint, long a menace of poor urban children. The Buffalo News (4/18/99) reported that a South Carolina law firm and others involved in the tobacco settlement have urged state attorney generals to launch a legal campaign against the industry. The attorneys claim that manufacturers knew their product was dangerous but sold it anyway – the same logic used in the tobacco litigation. Potential plaintiffs include tens of thousands of people who ingested paint chips and lead dust as children.

SF Poll Cites Affordable Housing Problem

The lack of affordable housing bumped homelessness as San Francisco’s most serious problem, according the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s 1999 “City Beat” poll of the city’s registered voters. Of the randomly selected respondents, 19 percent felt that high rents and the lack of affordable housing were top concerns. Seventeen percent cited homelessness as San Francisco’s most pressing problem. A spokeswoman for the chamber told the San Diego Union and Tribune (2/07/99) that high rents were to blame. She also said housing in the city in general is hard to find, as vacancy rates are less than 1 percent.

Cardinal Asks for Help with Housing Crisis

Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law has called on business and political leaders to confront the affordable housing crisis, The Boston Globe (4/14/99) reported. Cardinal Law said expanding Massachusetts’ now decreasing affordable housing stock is a matter of both social justice and economic growth. He has asked Fleet Financial Group, the state’s largest bank, to spearhead an effort with other banks, nonprofit groups, and state agencies to devise ways to streamline the creation of affordable housing. A study examining ways in which public-private partnerships can work together and conducted by MassINC, a non-partisan think tank, was also endorsed by the Cardinal.

Chicago To Run Its Public Housing Again

The city of Chicago will be fine-tuning its public housing plans over the next several months as it prepares to take back control of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) from HUD. HUD seized control of the CHA in 1995, after a series of scandals, including allegations of embezzlement by the former board chairman. As reported by the Associated Press May 28, CHA’s new management team will complete a detailed operating plan, including a budget review, an outline of social services available to residents, and a decision on which buildings will be demolished or rehabilitated.

Arizona Adopts New Slumlord Law

Arizona Governor Jane Hull  signed into law a “get-tough” bill in March that will allow cities and counties to inspect and take over slum properties. The Arizona Daily Star (3/23/99) reported that rental property owners have to now register with their county assessor, while out-of-state owners must provide a contact within Arizona. Municipalities can go to court and ask for an order compelling slumlords to repair or pay for fixing properties. Courts can also shut down properties considered hubs of criminal activity. The bill increases fines and prison sentences for slumlords and requires new property owners to be responsible for complaints filed against previous owners.


KKK Targets Fair Housing Advocate

Pennsylvania’s attorney general has sued the operator of an internet site in connection with a campaign of harassment by the Ku Klux Klan against a fair housing advocate on the Human Relations Council of Reading-Berks (Counties), Pennsylvania. According to Tenant (Winter 1999), the newsletter of the Tenants’ Action Group of Philadelphia, the Klan and other white supremacist groups targeted Bonnie Jouhari, branding her a race traitor for her work against hate crime and promoting fair housing. “Free speech does not give you the right to threaten to kill someone, whether through the mail, in person, or over the internet,” the attorney general said. Jouhari, who endured a home break-in and death threats, has relocated out of state. (See resolution of this case.)



Welfare-to-Work $ Barely Touched

A $3 billion pool of federal money to help welfare recipients with the toughest problems break into the workforce has barely been tapped, the Associated Press recently reported. Only about 8 percent of the first year’s money has been spent. One problem is the strict eligibility rules, which stipulate most recipients must have spent at least 30 months on welfare or are nearing their lifetime benefits limit. They must also have two of three other problems: substance abuse, poor work history, and/or low educational skills. Clinton administration officials are asking Congress to change the rules so more people can qualify.

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Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.

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