Comfortably Numb Rocker Has Feelings for Homeless
The glamorous lifestyle of rock stars can seem profligate, but sacrificing a $5.9 million London home for charity is still a magnanimous gesture. That is what Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour did after watching a video about Common Ground, the New York-based nonprofit. Gilmour sold the property and donated the money to Crisis, a similar organization based in London. The money will be used to create an urban village to house 400 people, half homeless and half public-sector workers. (AP, 5/21/03)
A Questionable Contract
The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the National Housing Group a multi-million dollar federal housing contract to manage troubled properties in 42 states.
But who is the National Housing Group? The six-year-old Miami-based organization has spent most of its time causing financial problems for other organizations. Virtually unknown, even in Florida, NHG recently gave up managing two public housing projects in St. Petersburg after only a year. When it left the project, so did $25,769 in rent money, which the St. Petersburg Housing Authority says they are still trying to find more than a year later. In New Jersey, an engineering and architectural firm won a $20,000 lawsuit against NGA for nonpayment of services and is still awaiting payment.
So why did HUD choose NHG to collect rents, make major repairs and take on other management responsibilities at properties across the country? According to the General Accounting Office, NGA won because of its low bid – so low that advocates say it raises doubts about NGA’s ability to serve tenants. (City Limits Weekly, 5/12/03)
Whose Housing Is It Anyway?
With HOPE VI up for elimination in President Bush’s FY04 budget proposal, some well-intentioned members of Congress thought it a good idea for HUD Secretary Mel Martinez to assess the future of HOPE VI and housing revitalization by consulting with interest groups. The trouble is they didn’t stipulate whose interest.
Under the guise of gathering useful information for a Congressional review, an invitation-only meeting was held on May 28. On the short list was Howard Husock, a contributing editor of City Journal (see a response to its attack on ACORN), a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. Husock has supported the phase-out of HOPE VI and has called for time limits on residency in public housing.
Residents and advocates of fair housing were not invited, and they’re pressuring Martinez to include them in further discussions. Maybe then HUD will remember in whose interest it serves. (NLIHC Memo to Members, 5/30/03)
The Close of Open Housing
On the 35th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the Open Housing Center went out of business. The center had investigated charges of bias in housing sales and rentals in New York City for 32 years.
In October 2002, HUD turned down the center’s request for $250,000 from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, the group’s only funding source. As a result, New York City no longer has an organization that tests landlords’ and retailers’ fair housing practices at random. Their strategy will be sorely missed because, as Victor Goode, chair of the Center’s board said, “There is a greater likelihood that real estate agents will be scrupulous if they know they can be tested.”(City Limits, 4/14/03)
Working People Need Not Apply
They can save lives, educate children and clean buildings, but own a home?
According to a study from the National Housing Conference “Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America,” none of the country’s elementary school teachers, police officers, nurses, retail sales people or janitors could purchase a median-priced home based on median income.
Of the 60 metropolitan areas studied, a family that relies on a police officer’s salary gets priced out of 28 of the 60, and a teacher’s family gets priced out of 32. Nurses cannot raise a family in all but three areas, and janitors and retail sales people require up to seven times their salaries to live in the most expensive areas. (National Housing Conference, 5/5/03)
Cincinnati city officials approved a $4.5 million settlement of lawsuits for excessive force used by police during the 2001 riots (See Shelterforce #123). The civil disturbance went on for three days after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man, the 14th in six years. The officer was acquitted in the shooting case. (NY Times, 5/23/03)
With Friends Like These…
Congress is attempting to pass a bipartisan bill that would make private foundations distribute more money – and foundations are lobbying against it. The present law states that in order for foundations to keep their tax-exempt status, they must annually spend at least five percent of their income – a figure that historically could also include administrative overhead costs. Under the new bill, the entire five percent would have to be given to charity. Foundations say that would force them to deplete all their resources, and have hired the conservative lobbying firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld to persuade Congress to drop the proposal. (NY Times 5/28/03)
Making the Predators Fair Game
National regulations may threaten state anti-predatory loan laws (see Washington News and Views) but state victories are making giant steps in an attempt to stymie the egregious practice. ACORN was successful in helping to pass anti-predatory lending laws in New Mexico and New Jersey, giving them the strongest protections in the country, along with North Carolina.
By bringing together a broad coalition of anti-predatory loan groups, negotiating with industry representatives and even harassing state politicians, ACORN was able to get bills passed in both states. In New Jersey, ACORN marched to the private law office of a legislative committee chairman who planned to gut the bill. They brought a sleeping bag and furniture, asking if a woman who lost her home because of predatory lending could move into the office. (More on ACORN.) Among other things, the bills require borrowers to meet with an independent loan counselor before signing papers and limit the financing of fees. The bills also prohibit the financing of credit insurance policies into home loans. (ACORN Report, April 2003)