It’s the Mission, Stupid

For the past four years, the Bush administration has been working hard to turn HUD into the Cheshire Cat – all grin, no programs. It has proposed block granting Section 8 Vouchers and zeroing-out HOPE VI while cutting most of the remaining HUD budget and providing, at best, tepid support for their own initiatives. Now we hear that the administration is considering moving $8 billion in programs to other departments (Youthbuild to Labor, for example) and cutting half the funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, while sending it to Commerce. Just the other day, HUD sent a notice to PHAs that there would be a 4 percent cut in the Voucher budget with no chance of appeal. If the administration’s tax cutting wish list is fulfilled, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program will lose its value – all this in an environment where the need for housing assistance has increased almost everywhere.

In response, the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent a letter to the administration urging it not to cut CDBG. PHAs and advocates are warning of increased homelessness if vouchers and public housing supports are cut further. And while the Republican House and Senate leadership are reorganizing appropriation subcommittees in ways that will further weaken HUD programs, the Senate Democrats have publicly urged the administration to reconsider its plans for the department.

The good news here is that housing advocates are working together more than ever. The bad news, however, is that it will all come to little until we move the fight beyond programs to missions. Whether our cause is housing, healthcare, education or living wages, what brings us together is the belief in the value of ending poverty, of equity and justice, and the real and important role government has in protecting those for whom the market has failed.

Which is not to say we need to abandon the fight for programs important to those struggling to survive. In this issue, we spotlight the growing need for supportive housing for ex-prisoners re-entering the community. This problem is so large, it even made it into last year’s State of the Union. And yet, every barrier possible to the successful reintegration of ex-prisoners exists, from community NIMBYism to regulatory obstructions and the ever present “lack of funds.” Nonetheless, a few CBOs are doing something about it. Violet Law shows us supportive housing programs in Baltimore and Chicago, Corianne Scally uses NYC’s Fortune Academy to show how CBOs can create effective programs.

But these programs, effective and important to their communities as they are, reach a small fraction of the reentering ex-prisoners. Without an ideological shift in how we respond to such needs, will there ever be enough resources?

Leading with Mission
The fight for the Community Reinvestment Act was not about a program. It was about a mission that Americans could share: fairness. The result was a law that has brought billions of dollars into underserved communities since 1977. But since 1999, when Congress enacted the Financial Services Modernization Act (see SF #108) many of these same communities have been undergoing a kind of reverse redlining. Greg Squires shows us how unscrupulous predatory lenders – financial services companies not subjected to CRA oversight – are sucking the equity out of these same communities and how community groups are fighting back. All in the name of fairness.

In Florida, fairness scored another win. John Atlas details the electoral strategy that fell short of bringing victory to the Democratic presidential candidate, but united Republican and Democratic voters around a simple concept – if you work hard and play by the rules you should not live in poverty. Floridians, whichever presidential candidate they voted for, seemed to believe that and passed an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

To paraphrase a recent war cry: It’s the Mission, Stupid. And that’s going to have to be our job in the coming years; while we try to save programs, we have to elevate our missions of justice and equity into the national dialogue.

Welcome
Mary Gail Snyder recently joined NHI as senior research fellow. Mary Gail holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, where she also received her Masters in City Planning. Most recently she was assistant professor in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of New Orleans, where she taught housing and community development in the masters and doctoral programs. Previously she taught at San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley and New College of California. She is co-author of Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States.

Next Issue
William Traynor, of Lawrence Community Works, explores the implications of Network Theory for the intersection of community development and community organizing. The Enterprise Foundation’s Noreen Beatley examines strategies for moving a housing agenda and NHI Research Director Alan Mallach takes a new look at the use of housing as a community development tool.

Thirty Years and Counting
This is our thirtieth year. We’ll take some time to reflect on the past three decades in our last issue of the year, but today I’d like to thank you, our readers, who have provided us with inspiration, motivation and support. As we mark the beginning of our fourth decade, the challenges are not small. We appreciate the opportunity to meet those challenges by your side.

Series NavigationHousing Ex-Offenders >>The Rebirth of Urbanism >>
Harold Simon is the former executive director of the National Housing Institute and former publisher of Shelterforce.

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