#121 Jan/Feb 2002

Shelter Shorts: Community Development News

Big Victory in L.A. Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has unveiled a plan calling for the creation of a $100 million trust fund to build affordable housing in Los […]

Big Victory in L.A.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has unveiled a plan calling for the creation of a $100 million trust fund to build affordable housing in Los Angeles. Hahn’s endorsement is the culmination of a three-and-a-half year campaign by housing advocates to establish a stable funding pool for housing in the nation’s largest city. The trust fund proposal’s prospects had been looking dim last fall, due to a slowing economy and the events of September 11th. By the end of last year, Los Angeles had a city budget shortfall of $180 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But in mid-January, the mayor announced a plan funded at the full amount activists had been seeking. Pending approval of the city council (which is expected), the proposal would make L.A.’s investment in housing the largest of any U.S. city by fiscal year 2003-04, according to advocates. The trust fund would establish a permanent source of money to build affordable housing and maintain the current stock of reasonably priced units. The money would come from several sources without imposing new fees or taxes on either developers or residents.

Jan Breidenbach, the executive director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing and a board member of the National Housing Institute, called Mayor Hahn’s move “a victory with a capital V.” “The trust fund happened because almost 100 committed activists and supporters worked to make it so,” Breidenbach said.
(Shelterforce will have a full report on the Los Angeles trust fund campaign in the March/April issue.)

DC Doings The District of Columbia City Council has passed the Housing Act of 2001, considered the first significant housing legislation in the District in two decades. The Washington Post reported in January that the act revives the city’s long-underused Housing Production Trust Fund, makes it easier for the city to demolish or convert vacant or nuisance properties, and offers tax abatements to companies that help their employees purchase homes in the city. Legislators hope the law’s nearly $200 million in incentives will create 7,000 units of low- to moderate-income housing over the next 10 years. The act also encourages construction of thousands of long-awaited upscale apartments downtown.

Sanctuary Still Has Meaning The New York Police Department must end its new policy of ejecting homeless people from the grounds of a local church, according to a ruling by a federal judge. In December, Federal District Court Judge Lawrence McKenna issued a temporary restraining order, ruling that the city was interfering with Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Christian ministry and violating its First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, The New York Times reported. The ruling came on a request by the church and the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the city argued that the church was operating a “de facto shelter,” Judge McKenna asserted that the city and the police were doing “irreparable harm” to the church’s program by chasing the homeless away. He added that New York had shown no evidence that the program was causing harm to the city, or that the homeless were even obstructing the sidewalks around the church.

The Missing Homeless Homeless advocates are disputing figures recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicating that the number of homeless persons in the nation declined 4 percent between 1990 and 2000, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Advocates say the bureau’s findings are flawed because they excluded shelters with fewer than 100 beds and counts of people living in the streets. The Census Bureau itself acknowledged difficulties with the traditional methods of counting homeless people – the current figures all come from one three-day period in March, for example – and conceded that new methods must be developed.

California Cracks Down on Lenders Household Finance and Beneficial Finance have agreed to pay nearly $12 million in penalties and refunds to settle a suit by the state of California. The suit charged the companies with deliberately engaging in a joint, pervasive pattern of abusive lending practices, including routine statewide imposition of excessive and improper fees, penalties, interest, and charges, reports the Associated Press. The companies agreed to reimburse an estimated 60,000 consumers a projected $3 million, including $1.5 million they had already paid under a previously announced agreement in June. They also agreed to pay California an estimated $8.9 million for their violations.

Hold that Wrecking Ball Newark, NJ, has been on a tear when it comes to taking down its public housing towers, but slower to build replacement housing. The Star-Ledger recently estimated that only a quarter of the 8,000-plus units destroyed in the last decade have been replaced. Now, the Newark City Council is stepping on the brakes, approving a six-month moratorium on the demolition of Brick Towers. According to the Star-Ledger, the move gives Community Developers Inc. of New Rochelle, NY, time to present a renovation plan for 324 public housing apartments. If the renovation is not approved, the original demolition and low-density rebuilding plan, under HUD’s HOPE VI program, will proceed at the Brick Towers site.

Clueless Watch

Back in October 2000, Wall Street Journal writer Mark Helprin predicted that, “If George W. Bush becomes president, the armies of the homeless, hundreds of thousands strong, will once again be used to illustrate the opposition’s arguments about welfare, the economy, and taxation.” (Helprin, in the best WSJ op-ed tradition, appears to believe that homelessness is caused by Big Government and moral decay, not something so mundane as economic hardship.)

To prove his point, “Best of the Web,” on the WSJ website (www.opinionjournal.com) is running a regular feature dubbed “Homelessness Rediscovery Watch,” which reprints headlines on homelessness culled from newspapers around the country, evidence that the vast liberal media conspiracy is stoking the issue for propaganda purposes.

Coincidentally, a study recently released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the 2001 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities, reports on homelessness in 27 cities in the year just after Helprin’s article first appeared. Between Nov. 1, 2000 and Oct. 31, 2001, it found, requests for emergency food assistance climbed an average of 23 percent, and requests for emergency shelter assistance increased an average of 13 percent. The number of emergency shelter beds rose only nine percent.

Of course, it would never occur to the Journal punditry that perhaps the reason there are so many more stories about homelessness is because there are so many more homeless.

License Suspension Haunts Potential Workers New Jersey’s widespread use of driver’s license suspension as a penalty for offenses unrelated to driving keeps thousands of low-income people from employment, according to Roadblock on the Way to Work: Driver’s License
Suspension in New Jersey
, a report by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ). New Jersey imposed more than 867,000 suspensions in 2000, most of which were not related to a person’s driving ability or record. More than half of 2000’s suspensions were for failure to pay fines or fees, especially insurance charges. The ultimate burden of this practice falls on low-income and urban residents; as many as 80 percent of the participants in some Newark workforce training programs are unable to reach, or are disqualified from, job opportunities because their licenses have been suspended. (For a copy of the report, contact NJISJ at 973-624-9400.)

Gains?… Or Losses? A new study claims that people in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods have been gaining economic ground even faster than those in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. But it’s a limited definition of “gaining economic ground.” State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2001, published by New York University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, reports that average prices for single-family private homes in the 10 poorest neighborhoods increased by 36.5 percent from 1995 to 1999, compared to 9.2 percent in the 10 wealthiest areas in the same period. But affordable housing advocates told The New York Times that the gains may be going to new higher-income residents, while long-time low-income residents are displaced. The report is available at www.law.nyu.edu/realestatecenter.

Unaffordable Housing? The Bay Area Council, a public-policy group sponsored by businesses in the San Francisco Bay area, has launched the Bay Area Smart Growth Fund, which will funnel investments into building homes and commercial space in 46 low-income neighborhoods while earning a profit for its investors. Development will be concentrated near mass transit, with the new housing slated to be mixed-income, according to the fund’s manager, Adam Zoger. But officials at nonprofits contacted by the San Francisco Chronicle questioned whether the fund will create anything but market-rate housing. Some insist that affordable housing construction requires development grants or subsidies to work, options the fund doesn’t offer.


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