Shelter Shorts

Welfare-Style Time Limits Spread to Housing

San Mateo County, CA is offering 300 families the chance to skip to the top of the Housing Authority’s 11,000 person waiting list – if they accept a six-year limit on the assistance they get. During the six years the housing authority will provide intensive services and set up a homeownership savings account. Architects of the experiment say it is necessary in a tight housing market. Others call it musical chairs. “Given the high rents in our area, no matter how hard you work and how good a job you do moving off welfare, you can’t make it here,” Candy Capogrossi, deputy director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority told the San Jose Mercury News. San Mateo is one of 24 demonstration sites under HUD’s “Moving to Work Demonstration Project.” Six sites involve time limits. Others have mandatory savings plans or allow incomes to grow without increasing rents. Aspects of the demonstrations will be considered models for national housing policy. (San Jose Mercury News, 4/25/00)

The Costs of Discrimination by Gregory D. Squires

Homeownership is most families’ largest investment and source of capital accumulation. Artificial barriers, like discrimination, have blocked families from purchasing a home or limited that home’s value, with severe financial costs for both families and their larger community – almost $1.3 trillion.

These costs were calculated using HUD’s 1997 American Housing Survey. The average values of homes owned by whites, African Americans and Latinos were multiplied by the number of homeowners to determine total housing assets of each group, and then divided by the total number of all households (not just homeowners) to determine average household housing assets. In comparison to white households, there was a deficit of $65,576 for each African-American household, and $59,365 for each Latino household; a total of $1.3 trillion for the African-American and Latino communities overall.

Surveys have consistently shown that housing preferences and the desire to own a home do not vary by race or ethnicity. These differences reflect discrimination, though not by the housing industry alone. The ability to purchase a home depends on financial status, which in turn reflects prior educational opportunities, so discriminatory practices in schools, labor markets, and elsewhere all contribute.

But the housing industry cannot be let off the hook. In 1989 the Urban Institute found that real estate agents steered African-American and Latino testers to lower valued properties, showed them fewer homes or otherwise discriminated over half the time. In 1992 the Boston Federal Reserve Bank found that among equally qualified mortgage loan applicants, African Americans were turned down 60 percent more often than whites. And in a 1992-1994 property insurance investigation, the National Fair Housing Alliance found that at certain companies, approximately half the African-American and Latino testers were offered inferior products and less service than similarly qualified whites.

Without such discrimination, a typical African-American or Latino household today could pay the full costs for two kids to graduate from a local public university and have money left over. $1.3 trillion could purchase more than nine million homes at the average white-owned home value, turning over three quarters of African-American and Latino renter households into homeowners.

Denying people their rights – and their fair share – because of color is costly in many tangible ways and persists from generation to generation. Discrimination, past and present, is the “gift” that keeps on giving.

– Gregory D. Squires, sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in-coming sociology department chair at George Washington University, and co-author (with Sally O’Connor) of the forthcoming SUNY Press book Color and Money.

Tenants Have a Friend in High Places

At a time when affordable housing work is often homeownership focused and tenant activists struggle to prevent roll-backs of basic protections, many tenants must wish there were more Judy Nicastros in the world. 500-600 people attended the newly-elected Seattle City Council member’s renters’ summit on June 10 to discuss a set of refreshingly proactive proposals. “We are at a historical juncture in deciding whether we will become a city for only the wealthy, or a city that is affordable for everyone,” wrote Nicastro in introducing her proposals, which include reducing parking requirements for affordable units, giving tenants first right of refusal when landlords leave a subsidy program, innovative ways to increase density, increasing code enforcement, passing low-income discounts on to renters whose rents are utilities-included, and repealing the state law that limits municipalities from passing rent regulations. Gabriela Villareal of Nicastro’s office reports that there was strong support at the summit for the proposed policies, as well as a lot of valuable discussion, even on the touchy topic of rent control. “An outstanding number of people, even if they didn’t agree with us on every point, thanked us for just bringing these issues up for discussion,” she says. Nicastro’s office is still taking public comments as they move forward. 206-615-1567; www.ci.seattle.wa.us/council/nicastro.

An ad for Shelterforce’s upcoming webinar, “How to Build a YIMBY/Tenant Activist Bridge.” The Feb. 7 event features six speakers and will be moderated by Shelby King. Register today.

(For the story of Nicastro’s election, see Shelterforce #s 105 and 108.)

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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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