Shelter Shorts

CDC Partnership Gets Big Job in Boston

Partners for Jackson, a development group led by two Boston CDCs, won a contract in June to redevelop a major intersection with housing, retail stores and a community center. Urban Edge and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation have both been active in the same area of Boston for the past three decades and were involved in a lengthy community planning process for Jackson Square. When the city of Boston issued a request for proposals to redevelop the square, the two CDCs decided to collaborate in order to compete with private developers. They won the contract after one developer dropped its bid and joined the nonprofits in a junior role. Their plan calls for 430 new housing units and nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and office space. Jackson Square has been awaiting development since the state tried to build a highway through the neighborhood in the 1970s. (Jamaica Plain Gazette, 6/10/05)

Housing Subsidies and Good Nutrition Linked, Study Finds

A new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two other federal agencies says children of low-income renter families that receive housing subsidies are statistically less likely to be malnourished than similar families that don’t receive such assistance. This is true whether or not the family receives food stamps or other non-housing support. The study was based on a sample of more than 11,000 caregivers interviewed in five states and Washington, DC. The authors of the study cautioned that housing subsidies do not necessarily “cause” better nutrition and the results should not be generalized to the national population of children at risk. Still, the article joins a growing body of research showing that housing subsidies are linked to good health outcomes for children. (NLIHC)

Credit Unions Missing Their Target Population

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition reports that although credit unions were formed to serve people of modest means, today they don’t do that job as well as banks. Unlike banks, credit unions are exempt from the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to invest in low-income neighborhoods. Though credit unions have grown substantially since restrictions on their membership were eased in 1998, the growth has not been accompanied by more lending to underserved communities. The report contends that a higher percentage of bank customers have low- or moderate-incomes than credit union customers, and banks make a larger portion of their home loans to low-income communities than credit unions do. Massachusetts is the only state that requires credit unions it charters to meet a standard for community reinvestment, a model that the NCRC suggests other states emulate. The study also notes that community development credit unions, which make up about 300 of the 9,000 credit unions in the United States, have stuck with their mission of serving the low-income population for which they were designed.

The Great Baltimore Rent “Strike” of 2005

Renters in Baltimore are fighting back against slumlords whose neglect has led to problems with rodents, lead contamination and other hazards. With the help of the grassroots group ACORN, tenants hoped to have 200 escrow cases filed in city rent court by the end of June. Unhappy tenants can deposit what they owe in escrow accounts with the court rather than pay it to their landlords. ACORN organizers are calling the collective action the Baltimore Rent Strike; the strategy is intended to force landlords to maintain their properties, since they cannot collect escrow funds until the court approves repair plans. (Baltimore City Paper, 6/8/05)

State Moves to Cut Down on Foreclosures

Illinois officials are reacting strongly to a wave of home foreclosures in the Chicago area. A state agency plans to collect information on every loan application taken by lenders and mortgage brokers in certain low-income areas. If the state determines that an applicant needs credit counseling before getting a loan, the lender or broker must pay for it. The lender would also have to submit any changes made to the loan before closing, and the state would have to rule again whether counseling is needed. Both prime and subprime loans would be subject to the reporting requirement. In defending the new system from lenders’ criticism, a state official noted that there were as many as 900 foreclosures in one area zip code in 2004. (American Banker, 6/21/05)

Housing Discrimination Not For Prime Time

The latest reality show proposed for TV had fair housing advocates fuming in late June. On “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” which was scheduled to air this summer on ABC, seven families would compete with each other to win the favor of three households in an Austin, TX, subdivision. In each episode, the three households would decide which of the candidate families to vote out of the running for a home in the neighborhood. All three households that were slated to act as judges are white and one is devoutly Christian, while the candidate neighbors included members of five racial groups, a gay couple and a family that practices paganism. The judges were to say at the outset they wanted neighbors who are like them, though the show’s publicity suggested they would learn to see the candidate families as people, not stereotypes. While this sounds like a show that could have some positive lessons for viewers, the National Fair Housing Alliance pointed out that in “reality” it is illegal for residents to choose new neighbors based on their race, religion and other characteristics. The alliance and others convinced ABC to cancel the show, after they warned it would give viewers the idea that discrimination is acceptable in housing.

Atlanta Tells Tenants to Work or Move Out

Nearly 14,000 adults in Atlanta who get housing support from the government have at least six more months to find work or enroll in school or job training. The city council convinced the city’s housing authority to give these residents more time before carrying out its threat to evict them. The work requirement is possible because the authority was designated a Moving to Work program by HUD, one of 32 nationwide. The program gives housing agencies flexibility to promote self-sufficiency among families that live in subsidized units. Tenants were told last October of the rules, but less than half the affected adults were in compliance by the July 1 deadline. A city workforce development agency offers tenants four weeks of computer and life skills training and childcare grants. City officials say there are plenty of jobs available; some tenants respond that it’s not so simple, especially for single women with children. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/29/05)

Nonprofit Offers Alternative to Day Labor Pay

A group of Cleveland nonprofits and unions recently opened a Community Hiring Hall where people can get temporary jobs that pay close to a living wage. The guaranteed wage of at least $8 an hour is better than what many day labor firms offer. The hiring hall was established after a study found that many working people are unable to move out of the city’s homeless shelters because their day labor jobs don’t pay enough. In addition to the reasonable wage, workers will not be charged fees for transportation or to cash checks. If it can find more funding, the hiring hall may also offer job and life skills training. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/21/05)

YouthBuild, Other Programs Survive Budget Cuts

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives restored $50 million in the federal budget for a program that encourages young people to complete their education while building affordable housing. President Bush had offered no money in his budget for YouthBuild, which has helped over 47,000 teens and young adults work toward a high school degree or GED and produced 13,000 housing units. It became possible to save the program because its funding is through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which the House had earlier refused to eliminate. Other programs that the House tried to maintain included Section 515, to which Bush allocated only $27 million; the House budgeted $100 million for the rural housing program. The House also voted to provide $60 million for HOPE VI, another program Bush had zeroed out of his budget. The Senate was working to prepare its own budget in July and then reconcile it with that of the House. (U.S. Fed News, 7/1/05 and NLIHC)

Rent Control Not a “Taking,” Court Rules

The Supreme Court ruled in May that the state of Hawaii has the right to cap what oil companies charge gas station dealers for rent. Oil interests wanted the cap lifted, arguing it amounted to a “taking” of company profits. While the case didn’t directly affect housing tenants, a different decision could have set a dangerous precedent for the future of rent control. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 5/24/05)

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