#118 Jul/Aug 2001 — Schools and Communities

Shelter Shorts

Government Does Many Things Well-But Not Housing   “Most people don’t believe government is capable of much more than delivering the mail,” says Paul C. Light, director of the Brookings […]

Government Does Many Things Well-But Not Housing


“Most people don’t believe government is capable of much more than delivering the mail,” says Paul C. Light, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for the Public Service in the Ford Foundation Report (Spring 2001). In response, his center has published Government’s 50 Great Endeavors of the Second Half of the 20th Century, also referred to as “Government’s Greatest Hits.” To create the report, researchers categorized all of the major legislation enacted in the United States from 1944 to 1999 into 50 major endeavors, and with the help of 450 history and political science professors, ranked them by degree of difficulty, importance, and success.

According to Light, the report shows that Washington has been very successful in certain important areas: rebuilding Europe after World War II, reducing disease, expanding the right to vote, promoting financial security in retirement, and ensuring safe food are all in the top ten. All of these areas required persistent, incremental efforts.

But the report is also a sobering reminder that consensus and persistence hasn’t made headway everywhere. We can rebuild Europe, but somehow taking care of our own cities and less fortunate citizens has eluded us. Despite their importance, job training and placement, expanding the supply of low-income housing, and renewing impoverished communities came in at numbers 43, 45, and 46.


He hit you? Hit the streets. Tiffani Ann Alvera was assaulted by her husband in August 1999. She was hospitalized, he was jailed. She obtained a restraining order against him, which she gave to the manager of her subsidized apartment complex. Two days later she received an eviction notice, which cited the assault. According the complex’s “zero-tolerance” policy, if someone on a lease commits violence, everyone has to go. The supervising property manager says the policy was intended to “maintain a peaceful living environment for all tenants,” by keeping them from witnessing further fights.

Offering to take Alvera’s husband off the lease or move into a smaller apartment didn’t work; it took lawyers’ intervention before the management company stopped threatening to evict her. She has since moved out of state.

Alvera – with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Advocates for Victims of Domestic Violence – is now challenging the zero-tolerance policy in court, saying it discriminates against women, who are five to eight times more likely than men to be attacked by a family member. Sadly, the fact that the policy is a clear case of punishing the victim isn’t enough to do away with it. (The New York Times, 7/11/01)

The Power of Pressure: Fair Lending Victory! In late June and early July, Citigroup, First Union, Household Finance, and American General announced that they will no longer offer single-premium credit life insurance with their loan products. Other lenders are considering following suit. This is a major victory for community reinvestment advocates, who have long targeted the product as exploitative.

Janet Thompson, VP and director of community relations for Citibank, says the decision to phase out single-premium credit insurance was a direct result of the chorus of objections raised by advocates, regulators, and legislators. “Obviously we were responding to community concerns, there’s no question about that,” she says. “We did it because people convinced us we should do it.”

Credit life insurance pays for a loan if the borrower dies or becomes disabled. But financing a policy – which typically provides only five years of coverage – into a 30-year mortgage is expensive and illogical. Borrowers can’t cancel the coverage and end up paying for it long after the policy has expired. “Single-premium credit life is simply not an affordable product,” says David Berenbaum, senior VP-program of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “And most consumers don’t understand the cost when it is folded into a mortgage.”

Even worse than its unwarranted cost, says Berenbaum, is that lenders, trying to get high commissions from insurance companies, would push the product so strongly they often neglected to mention that it was optional or that there were other ways to get coverage. Changes on that front will be even more valuable than discontinuing one troublesome product. “What is critical,” says Berenbaum, “is that [the lenders] are also now ensuring that there is adequate disclosure and consumer counseling.”


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