Shelter Shorts: Community Development News

A Lump of Coal for Xmas About one million people will begin losing their unemployment benefits after Christmas. Why? House Republicans successfully blocked Democratic efforts to extend benefits through the end of March and rejected efforts by the Senate to fashion a compromise. Congress did manage to vote itself a raise before adjourning for the year. As for the unemployed and those missing checks, they’ll have to wait for the 108th Congress to convene on January 7. (Washington Post, 11/22/02)

Hounding the Homeless Cities across the country are getting fed up with those who beg and sleep on the streets. Santa Monica, CA, recently made it illegal for anyone to sit or lie in city doorways overnight and required groups serving meals to more than 150 homeless people to obtain a city permit. In Madison, WI, city leaders are asking residents to ignore panhandlers’ requests; city officials in Philadelphia, PA, and San Francisco, CA, have launched advertising campaigns urging their citizens to ignore panhandlers’ requests on their streets. The increase in the number of homeless people is no illusion: the U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that requests for emergency shelter have increased by an average of 13 percent in 27 cities over the past year; the Census Bureau reported in September that the nation’s poverty rate had increased for the first time in nearly a decade. (Washington Post, 10/30/02)

Rude Awakening It’s being called the aftershock of the bingeing 1990’s: more foreclosures and repossessions as homeowners struggle with debt. The Mortgage Bankers Association of America reports that, for the three months ended in June, creditors across the country began foreclosing on 134,885 mortgaged homes, or about four in every 1,000 – the highest rate in the 30 years that the association has been monitoring mortgages. Creditors’ backlogs of foreclosed homes reached 414,772, also a record. Jim Albin of Indianapolis, one of the hardest hit cities, has seen neighbors being foreclosed, and he’s sympathetic: “I’m a big advocate of personal responsibility. But sometimes these companies throw the American dream in your face. You get a fast-talking lender. I can see why normally levelheaded people get sucked in.” (New York Times, 11/24/02)

Partners Against Predators The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) and the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) have joined forces to promote model anti-predatory lending legislation and other efforts to reduce predatory lending and promote lending choices for more than one million Native Americans. NCRC will launch the Anti-Predatory Lending Consumer Rescue Fund to help Native American victims of predatory lending refinance abusive loans into prime loans with no fees and no points and provide training for tribal housing staff on fair lending/fair housing at two or three NAIHC sites. In addition, NAIHC will promote partnership initiatives to its 400 tribal housing authority members through its well-established homebuyer education programs and other communications. (www.ncrc.org)

The Way We Live Now The number of working families that spend more than half their income on housing has gone up 30 percent in just the last two years, according to America’s Working Families and the Housing Landscape, a National Housing Conference study. There’s also been a 60 percent jump in the last four years in the number of working families with critical housing needs – they pay more than half their income for housing and/or live in substandard housing. The study was based on an analysis of federal data from 1997 to 2001. (www.nhc.org)

Shattering Section 8 About 125,000 families could lose their housing vouchers if Congress approves a House bill in January that reduces the budget for the Section 8 voucher program by $938 million. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the reduction would result in 150,000 fewer vouchers for low-income families who are struggling to find affordable housing. About 1.6 million people rely on vouchers to help pay rent every month. Nonetheless, the voucher program has long been underfunded and reaches only 25 percent of the low-income families, elderly and disabled who qualify for it.
The House bill reduces the number of recipients by altering the formula used to calculate annual funding levels that local housing agencies receive. Barbara Sard and Will Fischer of the CBPP write that if the bill is approved it would be the first time in the voucher program’s history that Congress provided insufficient funds to renew all of the vouchers previously authorized and funded. Housing agencies could respond by offering assistance to fewer low-income renters or reduce the share of the rent covered by vouchers. Another consequence might be that landlords and developers lose confidence in the voucher program and decline to participate.

Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the House bill “without precedent and unconscionable at a time when the need for federal housing assistance is at a record high.” She notes that even the bipartisan Millennial Housing Commission described the voucher program as cost-effective and successful. (www.cbpp.org and www.nlihc.org)

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