Thankfully, it’s not 1991 all over again. Despite similarities and some setbacks, there are hopeful signs ahead. Most of our readers know that the National Housing Trust Fund Act has received a tremendous amount of support from individuals, organizations, and legislators from around the country. As the Act made its way through the legislative process, it appeared that it would pass out of the House Financial Services Committee – with the support of a handful of Republicans – for approval by the whole House. The Act would create a national fund to distribute upwards of $5 billion from FHA’s “excess revenue” to states for the production of affordable housing.
You would think that a $5 billion windfall would cheer a HUD secretary. But not this one. Mr. Martinez does not believe that the federal government should have much of a role in housing. It’s a local issue, he says. And he, and his boss, believe that any money generated from the Federal Housing Administration should go to general revenue. After all, there is a big tax cut for the wealthy that needs to be funded.
So, the Trust Fund Act failed along party lines, and in its place an amendment creates a fund that would distribute much smaller sums as a match to those states that already have trust funds (see Shelter Shorts). The National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Center for Community Change, and their many partners did a tremendous job lobbying for the legislation and plan to continue their work. What might have changed the outcome?
Perhaps something else old – direct action. Never underestimate the value of protest and action in moving an agenda. For an issue that gets virtually no national press, action in support of affordable housing is one of the best ways to raise public awareness and tell legislators where the people stand on the issues. And direct action is on the upsurge, as Miriam Axel-Lute points out. From coast to coast, groups are protesting local housing conditions, as they have for decades. But what’s different today is that many protests are linking their local work to national policy issues, specifically the National Housing Trust Campaign. We came close this time. We’ll win next time.
News You Can Use
It’s not easy to find local news in a media environment with fewer newspapers and broadcast stations, most of which favor sensationalism over substance. And so, many community-based organizations are taking another form of direct action by creating their own newspapers to inform and organize. And these local papers, Jordan Moss tells us, are winning impressive victories for their communities while at the same time bringing their stories to the attention of mainstream media.
The Housing Crisis is Official
It’s official. America has a housing crisis. The report of the Millennial Housing Commission says so. Not that anyone outside of the housing movement would have noticed, since its release was not covered by the national media. It wasn’t until Friday, July 5th, that The New York Times mentioned it in an editorial. The report should have gotten more attention, even if some of its recommendations are less than stellar, as long-time housing advocate Chester Hartman asserts. While the report puts Congress and the Administration on notice about the housing crisis, it sadly does not come out in support of the National Housing Trust Fund. The report, like the administration, assumes that the right incentives will spur the private sector to end the housing crisis.
Clearly the private sector has a role to play. But until the extraordinary income inequality in America is eliminated and full-time minimum wage workers can find safe, decent, and sanitary apartments in their communities without having to work 150, 175, 200 or more hours a week to afford them (see “Out of Reach,” at www.nlihc.org), the market will never willingly provide for their needs. It’s an old story that hasn’t changed; only government can serve this “market segment,” whether through the private sector, the nonprofit sector, or direct production.
Something Else Old
And speaking of old stories, did you hear the one about the editor who left his magazine but missed his friends and colleagues so much that when the opportunity to return came, he jumped? It’s not really a funny story, but it has a happy ending. After 16 months away I’ve learned that you can go home again, and it’s great to be back. I want to thank the board of NHI for graciously extending the invitation to return, and the staff who took Shelterforce to new heights in my absence. I’m looking forward to meeting with as many of you, our readers, as possible to learn about your work, your challenges, and your victories, and to make sure that Shelterforce remains – as it has for 27 years – a useful resource and an active partner in community revitalization.