Shelter Shorts

A Different Twist on Equal Opportunity

Housing officials in Berkeley, California, were surprised recently to be told they might be favoring African-Americans over people of other races. Among the suggestions HUD made after it did a fair housing compliance review was that Berkeley should try to have the demographics of its public housing reflect the city’s overall low-income population. While blacks make up less than 16 percent of that group, they represent 74 percent of the people who get Section 8 rent vouchers and 87 percent of tenants in city-owned rental units. As a possible remedy, HUD said the city should recruit more students who attend the University of California at Berkeley, even though many of them receive financial support from their parents. City housing officials sent a letter back to HUD disputing the federal agency’s findings. They said HUD was trying to turn the historical purpose of equal opportunity review on its head. (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/3/05)

More Federal Programs Under the Gun

Though municipal and community leaders have voiced the loudest outcry over the proposed decimation of Community Development Block Grants, other federal programs that provide critical support in low-income communities are also threatened by President Bush’s budget. Among them is the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, which is targeted to be cut from a budget of $54 million to $8 million. Though this sounds like a small program, CDFI money often serves as seed capital by giving banks the incentive to invest in communities.

Another program, Section 515, would be cut from $99 million to $27 million. The loan subsidy program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides housing for almost half a million people in rural areas of the U.S. Advocates for the program were already concerned about its future before the president released his budget proposal; they criticized a USDA consultant for advising that the agency permit higher rents and abandon efforts to keep landlords from leaving the program by prepaying their mortgages. (American Banker, 2/16/05, and Rural Voices, Winter 2004-2005)

Another Try for Public Housing Time Limits

The Charlotte Housing Authority wants to put limits on how long people can live in its properties or receive its Section 8 subsidies, following the lead of 11 other U.S. cities. The average stay in Charlotte public housing is eight years, but officials want to target those who stay much longer. They hope to open up more spaces for the thousands of people on the waiting list for housing. But advocates think the change is likely to lead to more homelessness, in a city that already has 5,000 people on the streets. The city has applied to HUD to be part of its Moving to Work program, allowing it to bypass federal rules in order to put time limits in place. Several other cities that were admitted to the program in past years found that time limits didn’t necessarily work, since public housing residents often couldn’t find any place else to live. The San Diego Housing Commission cancelled its five-year time limit in 2004 when it found that many people didn’t make enough income to afford the booming private market there. The Delaware State Housing Authority gave up its three-year limit for the same reason in 2001. (Charlotte Observer, 1/15/05)

Homeless Newspaper Goes Weekly

In a sure sign that homelessness is getting worse, a Seattle newspaper that covers and advocates for homeless issues has gone from a biweekly to a weekly format. Real Change, founded in 1994, has grown from one staff member to 12 and is now sold by 250 homeless vendors. The publication has played a significant role in policy debates in the city; it lobbied successfully for a state housing trust fund, for example. But the high cost of housing continues to prevent large-scale solutions to the problem of homelessness. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/3/05)

Ad Campaign Responds to Bush’s Inaugural Speech

The Center for Community Change launched a television advertising campaign in February in several states against President Bush’s tax and budget policies. The “Actions Speak Louder” campaign asks members of Congress to oppose proposed cuts in the FY 2006 budget that will hurt the poor. The TV ad, which presented national data on the number of people in poverty, families going hungry and homeless veterans, aired in Missouri, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. on Fox News and CNN. It quoted the president at his inaugural address, in which he referred to poverty in America, saying “When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” The ad then responded, “In his budget, will Bush choose our side?” A coalition of groups in 18 states who are part of the campaign is targeting members of Congress through direct actions such as town hall meetings and letter writing campaigns. (www.actionsspeaklouder.org)

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Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.

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