Shelter Shorts

Housing Fund Gets Hijacked

Housing advocates should have been smiling when the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Oct. 26 to require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to allot some of their profits for low-income housing. Instead, they were outraged that the House bill prohibited nonprofits that would receive housing funds from the two government-subsidized enterprises (GSEs) from helping people register to vote. Nonprofits would not even be able to help a voter to get to the polls on Election Day. The restrictions are specifically targeted at nonprofits; for-profits are exempt. NLIHC sent a letter signed by over 100 nonprofits protesting the anti-voting provisions to leaders in the Senate, where a companion bill is now being considered. The housing fund was part of a larger bill on GSE regulation; action on the bill is unlikely before January.

Poll: U.S. Should Fight Poverty

Hurricane Katrina left a majority of Americans convinced that fighting poverty is more of a priority than fighting terrorism, according to a recent poll. Blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos all ranked developing and funding programs to eliminate poverty as more critical than the war on terror, although the percentage of blacks who felt this way was much higher than that of the other groups. Asked whether they were more likely to say that government can do little about poverty, or that government should do everything it can to fight poverty, vast majorities in all four racial and ethnic groups said the latter was closer to their opinion. By contrast, a much higher number of those polled in 2004 were pessimistic about the prospects for government to address poverty effectively. (www.newamericamedia.org)

Better Late Than Never

It took almost 30 years, but a Roanoke, VA, man finally got some compensation for income he lost after the city threatened to condemn his property. The city housing and redevelopment authority voted to give Walter Claytor the rental income he would have collected if the city hadn’t temporarily taken his apartments and dental clinic in 1978 for urban renewal. The redevelopment would have also dislocated much of the surrounding area, the historic center of the black community. The city never did anything with Claytor’s property, and in 1998 he was told his property was no longer proposed for condemnation. But in the interim, the value of the property sank and both the apartments and clinic burned down. His story was told in Mindy Fullilove’s 2004 book, Root Shock, on the psychological impact of urban renewal. (Roanoke Times, 11/17)

Buffalo Foreclosures

Housing activists are angry at the city of Buffalo, NY, for foreclosing on houses just because their owners are behind on their water bills and garbage pick-up fees. The city did work over the last year with nonprofit groups to help delinquent property owners set up payment plans, but now many of the owners are also on the hook for code violations. People United for Sustainable Housing, a group that challenged the city’s foreclosures, bought one of the houses at auction and plans to turn it into an affordable cooperative. (Buffalo News, 10/25)

Tax Credit Threatened?

Though the panel appointed by President Bush to recommend tax reforms did not call specifically for the end of the low-income housing tax credit, it implied as much in the report it released on Nov. 1. The panel said all tax code provisions for “special interests” should be eliminated, with a couple exceptions such as a reduced mortgage interest deduction (see Peter Dreier‘s article in this issue). Bush tried unsuccessfully to weaken the housing tax credit in 2003 by ending taxes on corporate dividends, which would have cut the incentive to invest in housing. Congress will wait for the president to decide what he likes in the panel’s report before taking action on tax reform.

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Harold Simon is the former executive director of the National Housing Institute and former publisher of Shelterforce.

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