Shelter Shorts

Salt Lake Officials Try to Redirect Low-Income Housing

City councilors in Salt Lake City are trying to redirect where low-income and affordable housing can be built. Currently, city-subsidized housing for poorer residents is located in a limited area in and around downtown where over 30 percent of the households are poor. In the rest of the city’s neighborhoods, the poverty rate doesn’t exceed 11 percent. Now the city council has proposed directing city funding to projects in neighborhoods with 25 percent or less poverty. Rental developments in areas with 16 to 25 percent poverty could receive city subsidies if half of their units are priced affordably, while developments in areas with less than 16 percent poverty could be entirely affordable and receive city funding. City councilors say the policy change will help downtown retail businesses by discouraging nearby low-income housing. Meanwhile, more affluent parts of the city can provide their fair share of affordable homes. But a nonprofit housing advocacy group is opposing the policy, noting that developers are unlikely to propose low-income homes in well-heeled neighborhoods. So the policy could have the effect of reducing the number of low-income or affordable projects anywhere in the city. (Deseret Morning News, 3/25/05)

D.C. Tax Credit Has Mixed Results

Supporters of a tax credit for first-time homebuyers in Washington, D.C., are cheering about a study that shows the program has helped revive neighborhoods and increase their homeownership rates. But the credit has boosted mixed-race areas more than solidly minority ones, and moderate-income households more than those with low incomes. The study shows that the credit, worth up to $5,000, was a factor in causing home prices to rise at a faster clip in D.C. neighborhoods than in Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Most people who claimed the credit, which first became available in 1997, had household incomes of less than $75,000, or less than the median income for the region. Since the credit is available to single people with incomes up to $70,000, yuppies are as likely as blue-collar workers to make use of the program, if not more so. (Washington Post, 3/25/05)

Permanent Affordability Threatened in Vermont

Vermont officials want to back off of their commitment to prioritize permanent affordability in subsidized housing, a commitment the state has had since 1989, when the legislature voted to allow permanent deed restrictions on housing that receives direct state funding or tax credits. The current administration says it doesn’t want to commit the state to subsidizing housing forever, since it would then be responsible for major repair costs in the future. Housing advocates retort that it’s wasteful to invest in housing today and see it lost to the market within a few years. (Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 4/8/05)

Builders, Advocates in West Invoke Fair Housing Act

In two rural areas in the West, builders and advocates are charging county leaders with using land-use laws to discriminate. Three local landowners and builders sued Lincoln County, Wyoming, this spring, claiming that the two-acre minimum lot sizes and a moratorium on new subdivisions in a fast-growing area violate the federal Fair Housing Act. The county had a total population of less than 15,000 in 2000, an average of 3.6 people per acre. The plaintiffs say that the “slow growth” motivation behind the restrictions will result in reduced affordability. Meanwhile, the NAACP and several other advocacy groups sued Summit County, Utah, for violating the federal law. That county only allows one housing unit for every 20 acres in an area where many wealthy newcomers to the state have built their second homes. (NLIHC Memo to Members, 4/22/05 and Deseret Morning News, 4/26/05)

Diverting Section 8 From Those Who Need It Most

Advocates mobilized this spring to stop the latest attempt to gut Section 8. Bills introduced in Congress by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) and Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) could make housing vouchers much less of a benefit to the people they were meant for. Today, 75 percent of vouchers must go to households earning less than 30 percent of area median income. The proposed changes would require at least 90 percent of vouchers to go to households with incomes up to 60 percent of area median. In addition, housing authorities would be allowed to charge voucher holders a higher portion of their income – the limit has been 30 percent since the early 1980s. The Bush Administration claims it wants to change Section 8 because the program is eating up too much of HUD’s budget. This proposal threatens to do more than just change Section 8 – it would no longer offer a housing safety net for the poorest Americans. (NLIHC)

Affordable Housing Fund Advances in Congress

A possible new source of affordable housing funds got a boost in May as part of an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A bill passed out of the House Financial Services Committee would require the two government-sponsored enterprises to spend 5 percent of their after-tax profits on housing for low-income families. This would be $400 to $600 million in the first few years and could reach $1 billion within six years. The funds would be used to build or preserve rental housing and to help first time homebuyers. A portion would also be set aside for a leverage fund to support housing and economic development. The next step for the legislation is action by the full House of Representatives, which could come as early as mid-June. (NLIHC Memo to Members, 5/31/05)

No Trust in These Funds

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wants to put a permanent cap on the state’s two housing trust funds, a move that would take billions of dollars over the next few years out of affordable housing efforts. Most of the funds, which come from taxes on real estate transactions, support down payment assistance and home renovations for the elderly and disabled. Bush’s efforts would formalize a trend of raiding housing and other trust funds to pay for the rest of the state budget; in fact, 58 percent of the current budget already comes from trust funds. The recent boom in homeownership has made the housing funds a particularly inviting target. The Florida Housing Coalition is leading the fight against the proposed cap, arguing that it will result in fewer new homes built, lost construction jobs and overall lost economic growth. The coalition has prepared alerts with data on the negative economic impact in each of the state’s legislative districts. (www.flhousing.org)

Denver Calls for More Supportive Housing

Denver is the latest big city to prioritize supportive housing to fight homelessness. The city plans to develop more than 3,200 transitional units over a 10-year period, and to implement a strong network of support services. Government sources will pay for half the $12.5 million annual budget, with as-yet unspecified nonprofits, corporations and individuals footing the rest of the cost. Support services to accompany the housing will include substance abuse and mental health counseling, medical care, job training and parenting skills. The city’s plan is comparable to similar efforts in recent years in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco. The idea is for homeless individuals to go straight to supportive housing and skip emergency shelters, whether or not they have dealt with addictions and other challenges. Denver is coupling its effort with a tough stance against homeless tent cities and panhandling. A recent survey counted some 4,600 homeless people in the city. (Denver Post, 5/24/05)

University Offers Free Legal Help for Area Tenants

Columbia University in New York has allocated $300,000 to help tenants in West Harlem to defend themselves from their landlord, which may soon be the university itself. To meet its need for more land in the area, Columbia is hoping to use the state’s power of eminent domain, which could force some people from their longtime homes. But now the school will pay for an attorney and encourage its own law students to assist tenants, free of charge. The university insists that the attorney should work zealously for tenants, while local advocates wonder if the university is co-opting groups that might otherwise oppose its planned expansion. (City Limits, 5/16/05)

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