HUD Secretary Mel Martinez got a wake-up call from National People’s Action (NPA) at his home on Sunday, June 1st. NPA and 1,100 grassroots community leaders gathered at the secretary’s home to demand a meeting to discuss critical housing issues plaguing the country. This most recent plea concluded a two-year petition for a meeting and resulted in the secretary agreeing to one the next day. Martinez was clearly not pleased about being visited at his home, but Inez Killingsworth, co-chair of NPA, said, “…[N]o public official has the right to ignore his constituents – the people who need housing the most and who he [Martinez] gets paid to serve.” The Monday meeting was satisfactory to those involved, but time will tell if Martinez will live up to his promises. (NPA Press Release 6/4/03)
A Real Compassionate Conservative
Conservative Republican governor Bob Riley stunned his constituents by pushing a tax reform plan through the Alabama Legislature that will shift the state’s tax burden from the state’s poor to its rich. The plan calls for the largest tax increase ever ($1.3 billion) and changes the minimum taxable income from $4,600 to $17,000 for a family of four. Riley’s plan, which will rectify income tax inequalities, stems from his belief that the state’s current tax system goes against the biblical philosophy that we are to “take care of the least among [us].” Alabamians earning under $13,000 pay 10.9 percent in local and state taxes, while those earning over $229,000 pay 4.1 percent. (NY Times 6/13/03)
In or Out?
New York City shelters have won the right to evict consistently disruptive and uncooperative single homeless adults from their premises. Not since 1981, when the city first signed a bill that ensured shelter to anyone seeking it, has the city had the power to decide who stays and who goes. Individuals can be asked to vacate city shelters for disturbing others, repeatedly refusing to seek therapy or not seeking and accepting permanent housing. Those who will be most affected are the mentally disabled and unstable. The mayor and his administration view this ruling as a victory while homeless advocates are already preparing an appeal. (NY Times 6/11/03)
How big is your…
…2003 tax cut? President Bush says the average American will get $1,000. Don’t be fooled. If your income is less than $20,000, you’ll get $61.Take home $36,000, you get $290. But if your annual salary is over $518,000… well, how will you spend your $11,302? (Citizens for Tax Justice 6/4/03)
Taking from the Rich and Keeping It
PipeVine, Inc., a San Francisco nonprofit that processes donations for major corporations and other nonprofits, has been caught diverting at least $2 million in charitable contributions to its own bank accounts. PipeVine’s revenue comes from processing fees it charges for handling employee donations to charities. The company deposits the donations in its own bank account, deducts its fee and then issues checks to the designated nonprofits and charities. However, since July 2000, at least $2 million in checks went uncashed, or were never deposited at all. PipeVine has plans to give back the $3 million frozen in its bank accounts, though it more likely amounts to $4 million due to misspending and improper accounting. (San Francisco Chronicle 6/26/03)
For People Like Us
Instead of hoping for gentrification to revitalize their downtown, lawmakers in Albuquerque, NM, are attempting to prevent it. Their plan proposes to use millions of private and public dollars to create affordable housing and commercial space for artists and small businesses. Unlike most revitalization initiatives, this plan hopes to keep the current residents there and to bring in more low-income people. Currently, the plan is to allocate about 10 percent of the space to arts organizations and around 70 percent for affordable housing projects. The remaining space will be developed into public areas and subsidized commercial property. (Albuquerque Journal 6/2/03)
All is Fair
Fair housing takes a leap forward around the country. A Savannah, GA, suburb has been found guilty of violating the Fair Housing Act. A lawsuit was filed alleging that the City of Pooler, who because of race, rejected a developer’s proposal to build affordable apartments for senior citizens using federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Now the city must contribute up to $425,000 towards the construction of the affordable housing and compensate the developer $25,000. Jumping to the west coast, in true democratic fashion Californians have found a fair way to handle housing disputes by settling housing discrimination complaints quicker and at zero cost. The new state Housing Mediation Program instituted a no-cost policy to any parties involved in housing disputes, and promises that cases will be heard within 30 days of being filed. The new initiative is an alternative to the previous formal, lengthy investigation process. A mediator will help both sides consider all their options and help to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. (Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. 6/4/03 and Modesto Bee 6/3/03)
While citizens have to worry about government-funded programs being cut, charities have reason to worry too. The lack in government funds and charitable donations has given way to a shaky state of affairs for most nonprofits and charity groups. Many are reducing their budgets, laying off staff members and cutting back in their charitable programs. Small- to medium-sized organizations consider merging with others to avoid closing their doors. Even donations to colleges and universities, where fundraising is typically high, has dropped considerably for the first time in 15 years. Some nonprofits and charities have fared better than others in these rough times, but for most, it has come time for them to sink or swim. (The Chronicle of Philanthropy 6/27/03)
Where Has All the Housing Gone?
Approximately 10 percent of all federally subsidized housing built in New York City since the 1960s has been demolished, destroyed or eliminated from the affordable housing stock in the last five years – that’s over 9,000 of the original 92,000 units. About 6,000 of those units were put into the private rental market as landlords steered away from affordable housing programs. And even more cause for concern is that around 25,500 units are in buildings whose HUD contracts will expire within the next two years, rendering them free to jump into the waters of the private market. (City Limits Weekly 6/30/03)