#138 Nov/Dec 2004

Shelter Shorts

Rent Control Advocates Lose Again in Boston The long fight to bring some form of rent control back to Boston continued this winter, as advocates asked city and state elected […]

Rent Control Advocates Lose Again in Boston

The long fight to bring some form of rent control back to Boston continued this winter, as advocates asked city and state elected officials to support their efforts. The Community Stabilization Act, backed by 70 housing and community groups, would have allowed elderly, disabled and low- to moderate-income tenants to contest rent hikes above 5 percent. Middle-income tenants could challenge increases over 10 percent. The proposed law was similar to one that failed to pass the City Council in 2002. Once again, on Dec. 8 the Council voted against the bill. Rent control supporters thought they would have the support of key state legislators; many had opposed the previous bill because it lacked exemptions for owners of small properties. The most recent effort included these, and also allowed for an unlimited rent increase when a tenant moves out. Advocates were proposing rent stabilization, not control, which shows how different the political climate is from 1994. That year a statewide referendum abolished strict rent control, though voters in Boston wanted to keep it. (The Boston Globe, 10/18/04 and 12/9/04)

Homeless Win One

St. Louis police don’t have the right to arrest homeless people just to get them out of sight, a judge ruled in October. Police had allegedly removed 13 people from downtown so that visitors attending a street fair wouldn’t have to see them. Some of those who were arrested said the police threw firecrackers as they launched their sweeps. Later, city jailers told the homeless they could be freed without charge if they spent a day cleaning up litter downtown. The mayor offered his opinion, saying that the jail shouldn’t have put people on litter patrol without finding them guilty first. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/15/04)

Thieves Lay Waste to HUD-foreclosed Homes

Someone is stealing the historical details that give special value to old, foreclosed houses in Cleveland. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which owns the properties, says the break-ins are the work of random vandals, but critics say someone with an eye for antiques is pouncing on the houses right after HUD repossesses them. In one case, just days before a CDC purchased a house from HUD that had folding French doors and hand-built china cabinets, those items disappeared. The thieves broke the legs of the antique gas stove in their attempt to take that as well. Unlike banks that foreclose property, HUD puts the same lock on every house it owns in Ohio. It does so for convenience, but the rash of thefts is hardly convenient for nonprofit developers. They say the foreclosed homes’ historical charms are what attract newcomers into struggling neighborhoods. (Cleveland Scene, 11/3/04)

Tent City Sets Up Camp on Campus

Some colleges send students to spend a night on the streets with the homeless. But Seattle University is inviting the homeless to spend a month near campus instead. A “tent city” will be set up at the end of January on outdoor, fenced tennis courts a few blocks from the school. Just one of two tent cities in the area, this one has moved 40 times since its founding in 2000. It has some 90 residents. The university decided to have the homeless on campus while it focuses on issues of consumption and poverty through forums and discussion events. Students and faculty may provide law and health clinics for the tent city. More campus security patrols will supplement the tent city’s own internal policing, but the surrounding community doesn’t seem worried about it. The local community council supports having the homeless visit, having been involved in planning for the tent city’s arrival. (The Seattle Times, 11/3/04)

Discrimination in Bay Area City Twice National Average

Realtors and landlords in Alameda, CA, discriminate against African Americans seeking apartments twice as frequently as realtors and landlords nationwide. Sentinel Fair Housing sent black and white “testers” to two dozen rental properties in the city last summer; they found that 44 percent of the time, the testers’ race was a factor in how they were treated. A national survey in 2000 found a 22 percent rate of discrimination. In Alameda, white renters were shown more apartments, quoted lower security deposits, charged less for credit reports or encouraged with follow-up phone calls, while blacks were discouraged from renting even if they had higher incomes. Landlords often assumed that blacks were Section 8 participants, even though more white residents of the city have vouchers than blacks. Alameda’s population is 6 percent black and 57 percent white. The fair housing group, which used a HUD grant to do its testing, invited 10 of the offending property owners to a legal training; at least three agreed. (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/04)

And Now… Reconcentration

In Salt Lake City, public housing residents are treated like everyone else. Some live in apartment buildings, some in duplexes and some in single-family homes. Even before “deconcentration” became a fashion, public housing tenants were scattered throughout the city. But in 2005, the Salt Lake City Public Housing Authority will be forced to begin selling its 150 detached and duplex homes and concentrate those tenants into multifamily buildings.

Pressure from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development led to the move. It’s apparently cheaper for HUD if housing units are concentrated in a few sites; nationwide, HUD is now allocating more money for consolidated housing than scattered sites. But this runs counter to recent federal policies that encourage lower-density public housing, based on the premise that deconcentration would equal less poverty and crime. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/3/04)

Prepayments Threaten Affordable Rural Rentals

Landlords who prepay their federal mortgages so they can rent apartments at market rates pose a serious challenge in rural as well as urban areas. Owners of nearly 3,000 affordable rural units paid off their mortgages to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 2004 fiscal year. At the same time, the USDA’s Section 515 program financed only 902 new units for rural residents during that period. The average annual income of these residents is under $10,000, and more than half the residents are elderly or disabled. The good news is that half of the prepaid mortgage agreements included provisions that kept rents affordable for current tenants. (Housing Assistance Council, 10/27/04)

Investing in Good Bankers

Three banks that have a strong record of investing in low-income neighborhoods have won financial rewards from the city of St. Paul, MN. The city’s Socially Responsible Investment Fund pumped $8 million into certificates of deposit at the banks, which had received top rankings from a federal office that tracks community reinvestment. The banks have to report to the city after a year on how they continued to help the city’s most distressed areas. The program generates interest income for the city, while neighborhoods benefited in 2003 from over $7.5 million in economic assistance from the banks. The banks invested in home loans, minority-owned businesses, affordable housing and other projects in targeted areas. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/2/04)

California Voters Call For Rich to Fund Mental Health

A 1 percent surcharge on personal income above $1 million to fund mental health care won approval from California voters in the November election. This will raise some $800 million annually for the state to pay for outreach, access to medicine and support services for children and adults with mental illness. In pilot programs similar to the ones that will be funded by the initiative, participants’ hospital or jail stays were reduced sharply, and more were able to get full-time jobs. The referendum campaign stemmed from an earlier legislative effort that targeted people with mental illness who were homeless or at risk of incarceration. (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 10/22/04)


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