Shelter Shorts

No Smoking Gun

It seems that HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has been heard urging his staff to steer contracts toward people who like President Bush. But since an investigation by HUD’s inspector general into the matter could find no hard evidence that Jackson or his staff actually did favor certain contractors, Jackson has claimed exoneration. Several top HUD officials told investigators that they recalled a meeting at which Jackson did urge them to consider politics before hiring contractors. His supporters at HUD who were at the meeting said they assumed Jackson was not serious. (Dallas Morning News, 9/21)

OTS Reverses Course

Thanks in good part to a change in leadership, the federal Office of Thrift Supervision announced in September that it is reversing its regressive 2005 decision to cut CRA enforcement. Under previous director James Gilleran, the office had allowed thrifts with assets between $250 million and $1 billion to use a weaker CRA test. Previously, this test had only been an option for very small banks. John Reich, the new director, replaced Gilleran in August 2005. (CDFI Coalition)

NYC Fights Poverty

A new effort by New York City to fight poverty couples local policy changes with a national legislative agenda. The city will offer cash rewards for families who make strides to better themselves, such as staying in school or keeping doctor’s appointments. The city may also develop a more accurate measure of poverty than the federally defined poverty line and offer a tax credit of up to $1,000 to help families pay for child care. The city plans to raise private funds for the cash rewards program during a two-year trial period, rather than commit public dollars to an untested approach. Meanwhile, the city says it will lobby on Capitol Hill to alter some federal policies it says hurt working people, such as cutting people’s welfare benefits when they earn more income. But it’s unclear how aggressive the city will be with legislators. (City Limits, 9/25)

Domes for Sale

A community of 14 domes that housed about 30 homeless people in the shadow of the Staples Center in Los Angeles was for sale on eBay this fall. Designed by a student of architect Buckminster Fuller, the futuristic domes were home to a village of men, women, and children, unlike many shelters that isolate individuals and families. Ted Hayes, a homeless activist, founded the neighborhood after the city tore down a shantytown he helped build in the Skid Row area in 1985. Though the landlord says the domes were forced out by rising downtown rental costs, Hayes says he’s being punished for his Republican politics. (Chicago Tribune, 9/1)

Replacing Hotel Housing

Officials in Sacramento, CA, are scrambling to protect the residential hotel units that remain in the city’s downtown for people with very low incomes. In 1960 there were 3,558 of these units; after years of urban renewal and downtown revitalization, only 712 are left. Now the city plans to replace any further loss of hotel housing with an equal number of low-cost units located near services and transportation. Hotel owners will be responsible for helping tenants relocate. Still unanswered is how supportive services for these residents, most of whom have disabilities, will be paid for. (Sacramento Bee, 10/9)

Cincy CDC Settles With Loan Flippers

Price Hill Will, a CDC in Cincinnati, agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a group of mortgage appraisers, investors and brokers that allegedly took part in a property flipping scam. Damages will go to a revolving loan fund that supports housing initiatives. The CDC had sued for the net loss in property value caused by concentrated neighborhood foreclosures that resulted from the scam. It based much of its case on a recent report that found each foreclosure in the Chicago region reduced nearby property values in poor areas by up to 1.4 percent. (Woodstock Institute)

Aging on the Street

The median age of San Francisco’s homeless population rose from 37 to 46 from 1990 to 2003, according to a recent study by University of California researchers. The study’s authors estimate the median is now 50, which is more like 65 if one considers the wear and tear of street life. As the median age rose, so did the number of years homeless people had been living on the street, and the number of diseases they contracted. Phillip Mangano, President Bush’s point man on homelessness, claimed the findings support the administration’s policies, which emphasize getting individual homeless people off the streets but do not focus on family homelessness. (SF Chronicle, 8/4)

Next Time, a Better FEMA

In September Congress passed several reforms to the notorious agency known as FEMA, though it comes far too late for the victims of its pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina bungling. The amount of financial relief for households is still limited to $26,000, but in future disasters the agency will lift caps on how much can be used for repair of a damaged unit or for its replacement. People will also be able to use cash relief for security deposits and utility bills. (NLIHC)

Rescue 311

People in Baltimore worried about losing their homes to foreclosure can now call a city hotline to get help. When they dial 311, the city’s one call center, operators will connect them to a national counseling hotline as well as a housing aid center run by a local nonprofit. The initiative is the work of a coalition of city agencies, foundations, private lenders and NeighborWorks America.

Putting on the Pressure

Under pressure from local activists, members of the Champaign, IL, city council decided not to repeal protections for tenants with Section 8 vouchers. The council had voted in March to make it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent an apartment to a voucher holder, addressing concerns that a local law prohibiting landlords from discriminating based on a person’s source of income was not specific enough. But after a conservative was elected to the panel the council threatened in October to reverse its vote. Central Illinois Jobs with Justice and members of the city Human Rights Commission cried foul. In response, the council tabled the measure until next fall. (Jobs With Justice)

Got Voucher, Need Decent Housing

While a Section 8 voucher is a wonderful thing to have, it doesn’t always lead to decent housing. In Birmingham, Alabama, HUD auditors found that about 88 percent of units rented by voucher holders did not meet federal quality standards. More than half the units had major problems, such as exposed wiring, water leaks and unsafe stairs. The auditors blamed the local housing authority for not reporting problems. Eleven of the landlords who owned property cited by auditors have since been disqualified from the Section 8 program. (Birmingham News, 11/4)

Reform the Insurers

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many Gulf Coast residents were denied insurance payments because the insurers said that storm damage fell outside policy guidelines. Recently United States Representative Charlie Melancon of Louisiana and Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi, both Democrats, introduced a bill that would eliminate incentives for insurers to deny claims (such as the industry’s antitrust exemption) and mandate that it cover all storm hazards, including floods. Their bill also calls for federal oversight of insurers, which are currently regulated by the states. (www.reconstructionwatch.org)

Homeless Dumping

Police in Los Angeles are investigating whether a major hospital is dumping homeless patients on the city’s Skid Row. They report having videotaped five recent cases of ambulances dropping off patients in the downtown neighborhood, although the passengers asked not to be left there. Police officers, too, have been accused of homeless dumping. It has become a major political issue in the city, which has the largest homeless population in the western United States. (LA Times, 10/24)

 

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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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