Shelter Shorts—The Week in Community Development, March 9

car with private property sign
Homeless Victim. Photo credit: Don Hankins via flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Quote of the Week:

There are more complexities here than in brain surgery. Doing this job is going to be a very intricate process.” —HUD Secretary Ben Carson. A New York Times article this week paints a profile of Carson as even more unqualified for the role than predicted, and so far, a powerless figure in the Trump administration. Likely in response to rumors of low morale, Carson just yesterday sent a letter to all HUD employees reiterating the agency’s commitment to fair housing, and said a planned updating of its stated mission would not change that.

Two activist groups have filed a lawsuit against HUD for what they say is the Trump administration’s repeated undermining of efforts to prevent housing-related discrimination against LGBT Americans. Not long after the inauguration, the agency removed a training guidebook for service providers on how to provide equal access to LGBT people in homeless shelters, canceled a survey of pilot programs aimed at reducing LGBT homelessness, and removed itself from a study on LGBT housing discrimination. A spokesperson from one of the groups says it has reason to believe the agency’s actions are politically motivated, and has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the directives that led to these actions.

Evicted book coverOne of the many problems Matthew Desmond helped readers understand in his book Evicted was the Catch-22 that often faces tenants in seriously unsafe housing—if they bring the situation to anyone’s attention and the apartment is condemned, they have no place to live. San Mateo County has decided to make permanent what had been a one-year trial program of making landlords pay relocation assistance for tenants displaced by substandard housing. This feels like one of those “why isn’t this the law already everywhere?” moments. We hope it spreads. San Mateo County is also eyeing an amnesty program for unpermitted in-law units.

HousingWire figures that a Trump-initiated trade war would lead to higher costs, inflation, and rising interest rates, which would be bad news for aspiring homebuyers. We’d add that increasing the percentage of people renting will also keep adding to the upward pressure on rents, as long as there isn’t sufficient affordable rental housing.

The new U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty coalition has been putting out an interesting series of publications, all centering around a fascinatingly non-place-centric definition of mobility from poverty: “economic success, power and autonomy, and being valued in community.” For example, “Imagining a Future of Work that Fosters Mobility for All” recommends expansion of current policies such as the earned income tax credit, but also more ambitious goals such as portable benefits, extending worker protections to all sectors, and supporting strong worker advocate organizations (like, say, unions? They didn’t quite go there, but the implication is strong).

Communities over Commodities report cover

You’ve heard of community land trusts and limited-equity cooperatives—but how about tenant syndicates and mutual aid housing cooperatives? Right to the City’s inspiring new publication Communities Over Commodities compares each of those four approaches to what they call PAD housing—permanently affordable and democratic—against a list of five principles for just housing. The report also comes with a comprehensive policy agenda for prioritizing PAD housing and a myth busting section. We see a lot of reports—for us to read an 80 pager to the end means it’s something special. Take a look if you need a reason to be reengerized by thinking about what’s possible.

Is the family car “America’s safety net,” as Lou and Peter Berryman asserted in their 1988 song “Family Car”? Seattle just took one step toward protecting those who live in their cars with a court ruling that if your vehicle is your only home, it, well, counts as your home. The legal ruling doesn’t exempt folks living in their cars from things like parking rules, but it does seem like it brings those vehicles under the state law that prohibits “holding a home hostage in order to collect a debt”—which will limit excessive fees and impoundment that would essentially deprive people of their homes.

Have we made any progress in the last 50 or 60 years? Sadly, in many ways, we haven’t. Take a look at these New York Times informational graphics, which highlight issues such as school segregation (which has been getting worse), the poverty rate (it’s the same as it was 50 years ago, but there are more poor people now), and mass incarceration (you guessed it: it’s gotten worse). The University of California, Los Angeles’ report, South Los Angeles Since the Sixties paints a similar picture.

More than a dozen Democrats will help Republicans scale back banking regulations that were passed after the 2008 financial crisis. According to The Washington Post, a new bill exempts about two dozen financial companies from scrutiny by the Federal Reserve. Among those supporting the bill: Virginia’s Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election, and Mark Warner, who was a lead author of the Dodd-Frank Act. The proposed law “aims to strike a middle ground between those seeking to gut Dodd-Frank and those who want the law left intact—or, at most, to be modified by tweaks and technical corrections.” Oh boy.

detroit hives logoA suggestion to use local honey for a persistent cold got a Detroit couple thinking about how abandoned, overgrown lots in their community might contribute to resident health and respiratory issues. Combining the two things together gave birth to their nonprofit, Detroit Hives, whose mission is to purchase vacant land and convert it to bee farms. The organization raises honeybees on its farm, conducts farm tours for the community, and teaches local school children about bees and beekeeping. It has plans to expand in 2018, which puts a smile on our face.

As consumers, we know that Amazon rules the retail landscape, but its presence in so many areas of life has quite a few industries on edge. Banking and healthcare are the latest. Just earlier this week, there was buzz that the online retailer might be moving into the mortgage space (it already has a presence in consumer banking with an Amazon credit card). It has spread its reach with a rewards debit card program that allows people to link their checking account for seamless buying, which was believed to be designed for younger and lower-income customers who might not want to use a credit card. Also this week, several months after announcing its discounted “Amazon Prime” membership for people who receive government aid, it announced a similar reduced fee for Medicaid recipients. Healthcare companies are watching, wondering if the company might be positioning itself for future moves to sell and distribute medical supplies and drugs to this large part of the populationa potentially lucrative opportunity. Given the company’s past history as a bad employer, we’re not sure how much of this is altruism and how much is Amazon fulfilling its not-so-secret quest to be a presence in every household in America.

If there’s anything you should read this week, it’s this piece from High County News about an indigenous family navigating two housing crises—one on their native reservation and the the city they call home. The piece focuses on Joe Waukazoo, who arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of the federal Urban Indian Relocation Program when he was a child, and his family. Native people, like Waukazoo, are the region’s most impoverished racial group, but they cannot escape the housing crisis because the problem is equally severe on reservations. “For Indigenous people, the crisis of the home is intergenerational. This is what scholars, policymakers, and even activists too often misunderstand about the housing crisis: Today’s problems do not represent momentary inequities. They are structural constants, deeply rooted in the system.”

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