Shelter Shorts

Redefining Community Benefits

When does a community benefits agreement (CBA) not benefit its community? When it is negotiated between elected officials and developers, says Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit that opposed recent deals to build the new Yankee Stadium and a major retail development. The deals were made with few legal commitments to provide living wage jobs, local business development or other improvements. Nor are there solid plans to compensate for increased traffic and pollution the new projects will bring. In a true CBA, these plans are part of an agreement negotiated between community members and a developer. (www.ssbx.org)

The Big Bond

Los Angeles is putting the largest municipal housing bond ever on its ballot this November. The $1 billion bond would pay for an estimated 20,000 affordable units and create a home loan program for workers priced out of the current market. Several city councilors pushed for the bond after inclusionary zoning legislation went nowhere, and the city’s housing trust fund ran low on money. Business, labor and the mayor support the bond, but it’s hard to say if voters will. (LA Times, 7/31)

S.F. Boosts Affordability

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law an inclusionary housing policy aimed at creating more affordable homes in the city. Fifteen percent of units in new residential developments must be rented or sold below market rates, as opposed to the previous standard of 12 percent. If developers choose to build the affordable units elsewhere, the market-rate and affordable sites have to be within a mile of each other and the number of affordable units must be equal to 20 percent of the units in the market-rate development. City leaders are hoping to not only address the city’s lack of affordable housing, but also help maintain a diverse population. (San Jose Mercury News, 8/10)

Storied Groups Close

The Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, a Chicago fair housing advocacy group with a small geographic range but a national impact, ended operations in June. The council is best known for its role in the Gautreaux program, which relocated 10,000 public housing families to the suburbs from 1976 to 1998 as part of a court settlement. Council leaders blamed a lack of funding for the group’s demise, and said they hope other local nonprofits can continue their work. The National Congress for Community Economic Development, which was fundamental to the CDC movement in the United States, also closed its doors at the end of August. The group was founded in 1970 in the early years of the field.

Double Bottom Line

A Tacoma, Washington CDC is putting at least $250,000 into developing a “double bottom line” real estate fund that will invest in struggling neighborhoods throughout the Seattle/Tacoma region. These funds have become more common in recent years but are usually spearheaded by business or government groups, not nonprofits. The director of the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association says it’s a big risk for his agency, but could pay off handsomely. The CDC and its consultants hope to raise $60 to $90 million for the fund and leverage at least three times that amount. (Tacoma News-Tribune, 6/20)

NIMBYites Lose One

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in June that affordable housing development can’t be stopped on the grounds it might hurt neighbors’ property values. The case involved a suburb where a developer planned an apartment building. Because the town didn’t have enough low-income housing, the state “anti-snob” law allowed the developer to ignore the town’s zoning rules if he made a quarter of the units affordable. Then residents of a nearby single-family neighborhood argued their home values would be put at risk; the court said this argument would “frustrate” the intent of the law. (Boston Globe, 6/20)

Brokering Network

Several CDCs in the Memphis area have partnered with Seedco, the national economic development intermediary, to form a mortgage loan network. Members can either create their own mortgage brokerages or refer clients to other members. They agree to charge fees set by the network, which will be lower than those of for-profit brokers. The idea is to enable small CDCs to offer mortgage loans, without worrying that they will not have enough volume to provide the service. (Seedco Fieldnotes, Summer 2006)

Ohio Fights Predatory Lenders

Politicians from both parties teamed up in Ohio in May to enact a predatory lending law that is arguably tougher than North Carolina’s, which went into effect in 1999. The law requires brokers and lenders to work in “good faith” for homebuyers, and gives the state the power to press criminal charges against violators. The law bans numerous practices common among unscrupulous lenders, including unreasonable contract terms, taking advantage of an illiterate person and failing to weigh whether a borrower can afford a mortgage. A series of articles in 2005 about predatory lending in a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper put the issue at the top of lawmakers’ agenda. (NLIHC, Winston-Salem Journal, 6/20)

Alabama Tenant Victory

It took 13 years, but Alabama Arise’s efforts to win minimal protection for tenants finally bore fruit this year. The governor signed a bill to limit security deposits, define habitable dwellings and give a tenant the right to break a lease if necessary repairs are not made. (See article on Alabama Arise’s tenant work in SF #138.) The coalition also won an increase in the threshold at which a family of four below poverty level must pay income taxes from $4,600 to $12,000. That victory took 18 years to achieve. The group credited these breakthroughs to its persistent outreach to politicians and the media, as well as working closely with a variety of activist groups. (NLIHC)

Immigrant Backlash

A city that barred landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants now faces a lawsuit. The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and several other groups challenged Hazleton, PA effort to curb the rapid growth of the undocumented population in that city. The suit says the city law, which also penalizes employers for hiring the undocumented, is unconstitutional and violates the federal Fair Housing Act. Judging whether a person is undocumented is no easy task, the suit argues, and city officials are not qualified to do it. (Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, 8/16)

Preservation in Mind

As more property owners seek to get rid of their federally assisted housing, advocates hope they’ll sell to someone interested in preserving affordability. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) filed a bill in June that gives owners relief from “exit taxes” if they sell to buyers committed to extending affordability for 30 years. If owners have to pay the taxes, they are more likely to make deals with for-profit developers who can afford a higher sale price. The Millennial Housing Commission identified exit tax relief as key to affordable housing preservation in its 2002 report. (www.nhtinc.org)

Schools House Homeless Kids

A school district outside St. Louis is opening a home this fall for homeless students. The Maplewood-Richmond Heights district bought a house and had lined up a dozen teenagers to live there by mid-summer. Though many school officials try to help kids living on their own to find housing, it’s rare for schools to own property for that purpose. In 2004, there were more than 100,000 homeless U.S. high school students. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/29)

Miami Scandal

After the Miami Herald reported that the city-county housing authority had squandered millions of dollars intended for homes for low-income residents, community activists declared a “state of housing emergency.” Among their demands are a moratorium on most evictions, more rental assistance and a community land trust. The scandal comes as the city faces a wave of gentrification. Less than a fifth of the 72 projects the housing agency pledged in recent years to build have been completed, while officials have lost track of much of the money they lent to private developers. (NLIHC, www.miami.com)

Shelterforce is a nonprofit publication, published by the National Housing Institute. We are not beholden to a particular program, theory, approach, or constituency. We are dedicated to being useful to our readers and to fostering strong, vibrant, just, healthy places for everyone.

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