Conservative economists call it starving the beast: cutting taxes to force belt-tightening, drastically reducing public spending and shrinking “big government.” In a recent article, Princeton economist Paul Krugman describes the Republican crusade against taxes that stretches back to the 1980s and the Reagan Revolution and what it may ultimately bring us. What Krugman sees in his crystal ball is the end of government as we know it – the one that administers programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. The tax cut scam supposedly puts money in everyone’s pockets, but it actually leaves most of us poorer by gutting the programs that help people who live on the margins: the elderly, single mothers and those lacking adequate health insurance.
The trend has been unmistakable for anyone who has been paying attention. For example, the masquerade of the No Child Left Behind Act indicates that the current administration merely uses the evocative phrase coined by Marian Wright Edelman to, in fact, leave many, many children behind. According to the U.S. Census, nearly 1.4 million more people fell into poverty last year, almost half of them children. On the housing front, Hope VI has essentially been “zeroed out” in budget parlance, meaning the program will receive virtually no new funding – although that development may have been welcomed by some public housing residents who fear displacement.
As this trend accelerates, responsibility for ensuring affordable and equitable housing will fall more heavily on state and local governments. Inevitably, that means even more work for advocacy groups who must hold government officials accountable for addressing the housing needs of all of their constituents. In this issue, Miriam Axel-Lute writes about the efforts in places as diverse as Los Angeles, CA, Montgomery County, MD, and the New York City suburb of Long Island to make sure housing is affordable in their communities through inclusionary zoning. As one policy analyst notes in the article, inclusionary zoning isn’t a panacea, but it can be an important statement by a municipality that changes the dynamics of the development process. On another front, community development corporations are taking the lead in reviving weak market cities, such as Philadelphia and Cleveland, that are experiencing population loss, housing abandonment and stagnant economies.
Cuyahoga Falls is not a weak market city, and the challenges facing a nonprofit developer in that Ohio town were not apparent at first. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation followed the “official” zoning rules for acquiring a site to build a 72-unit affordable housing development and thought it had the support of the mayor and the city council. But as Gil Barno, executive director of Buckeye describes it, the story unfolded very differently. Community residents opposed the development, some used racist language and threatened Buckeye officials, and the mayor and city council members switched sides. Buckeye eventually prevailed, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a related matter may cast a long shadow on future efforts to build affordable housing, according to Michael Allen of the Building Better Communities Network. Apparently just as a referendum can remove an unpopular governor, circumventing the regular democratic election process, now community groups can petition for a referendum to keep out affordable housing, even if the plan complies with zoning requirements and has been approved by the city.
Fannie and Freddie
The investigation into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has blossomed far beyond the initial focus on accounting procedures. Discussions are now underway that could place most of the responsibility for overseeing the two government sponsored enterprises in the Treasury Department, not HUD. Allen Fishbein provides a guide to the complex story and what it may ultimately mean for low-income housing.
Politics and Organizing, cont’d.
Shelterforce has a long tradition of highlighting successful organizing campaigns, and has encouraged writers to tease out the lessons from the not-so-successful campaigns, as well. In this issue, John Atlas uses three noteworthy books as a starting point for his thoughts about the state of left-liberal politics, and the organizing strategies that can most effectively advance a progressive agenda.
The St. Petersburg Times (not the New York Times) published an editorial supporting the Charitable Giving Act of 2003. (Washington News & Views, Shelterforce #130.) For an update, see Shelter Shorts in this issue.