Shelter Shorts, The Week in Community Development—July 13

DOJ Rescinds Guidance on Discrimination | Community-based Payday Lending | How Much Density Will Support Good Transit? | Are Cashless Businesses Discriminatory? | More . . .

Nutritious fruits and vegetables at a supermarket.
Photo by Andreas Komodromos via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Two for one: A New Jersey supermarket chain is joining others in about two dozen states in launching a food-incentive program that would help low-income families bring nutritious foods to their tables. The program, Double Up Food Bucks, will double the value of NJ SNAP dollars spent on fruits and veggies. We only wish the program were done automatically. In order to participate in the program, participants must ask cashiers to Double Up before swiping their EBT cards.

Funders for Housing Opportunity’s policy change grants are swinging into gear. The National Low Income Housing Coalition–led effort is busy bringing non-housing partners like the Children’s Defense Fund and Children’s Health Watch (CHW) into the conversation—including this week’s CHW announcement that housing instability will cost the country $111 billion in avoidable health care costs over the next 10 years.

A Brookings Institution report that reviewed building and renovation permits in Washington, D.C., concludes that single-family zoning is distorting the housing market by preventing the development of new housing in high-demand areas. This, the authors suggest, pushes even more new construction into the neighborhoods surrounding those with restrictive zoning in those areas, hastening gentrification and displacement. It’s basically exclusionary zoning, but looked at in the context of supply and demand within a city. Not sure this report will quell the response from homeowners who will insist demand is only strong in their area because of the zoning, but it’s an interesting look at the data nonetheless.

You can have any two, but not all three—If you want enough density to support good transit, this Planetizen blog post argues, you need either very tall buildings on your main streets (as happens in the U.S., to many people’s chagrin) or three-to-five story multifamily buildings all along your side streets (as is common in Europe) rather than single family, or even row houses. Either works, but you need one or the other.

More branches! Bucking what has felt like a pervasive trend, Connecticut’s United Bank, having just completed a merger with Webster Bank, is increasing its total number of branches, having heard that’s what customers wanted. Thank you United!

The DOJ is rescinding 24 guidance statements regarding discrimination, according to the ACLU. The ACLU notes that rescinding these statements doesn’t change the equal protection and civil rights laws, but it does indicate a lack of willingness on the part of DOJ to stand up to people violating those laws. It’s almost like this administration doesn’t care about creating an inclusive society or something . . . 

Tiffany Manuel wrote about it in Shelterforce in early 2018—that our narratives surrounding safe, affordable housing, and who is deserving of it need to change in order to truly shift outcomes. And this week, The National Housing Trust and Enterprise Community Partners have partnered to create Where Will We Live?, a campaign designed to “change housing advocacy by building a broader coalition beyond traditional housing stakeholders.” The campaign plans to take the stories of community members, affordable housing residents, and property managers, among others, amplify those voices and equip them with practical advocacy resources.

Thanks to organizations and their legislative advocacy (and the media, Shelterforce included), the payday lending industry has been well-vilified—and for good reason. But this story in The Nation was interesting for showing another side: a nonprofit community-based payday lending/check-cashing business in Oakland, California, that looks much like its predatory cousins, but serves the practical needs of low-income clients, and is designed to not turn a profit. The article presents an interesting answer to the question of how to best serve the unbanked.

Denver could join about a dozen states that ban landlords from discriminating against tenants who use Section 8 vouchers to pay for rent. The practice, known as source-of-income discrimination, makes it difficult for voucher holders to move to low-poverty neighborhoods that have better access to quality jobs and education. In a recent study, 10 percent of voucher holders in the Denver say they’ve face discrimination when they tried to use a voucher to pay for rent, according to the Denverite. We’ll have more about source-of-income discrimination in the next issue of Shelterforce magazine, which comes out at the end of the month.

Is a publicly owned bank that could offer financing for cannabis businesses headed to Los Angeles? Maybe. The city council wants to put the question out to voters in the November election. (To put this into context, there’s only one public bank in the U.S.) The council says the bank could offer accounts “to scores of city cannabis businesses that are shunned by commercial banks because of federal drug laws. It also could help finance affordable housing.” We’ll certainly be following this story.

If a business doesn’t accept cash from customers, is it discriminating against lower-income people? Officials in two cities—Washington, D.C., and Chicago—are debating just that. One official pointed out that not accepting cash “effectively closes a restaurant’s door to the 10 percent of D.C. residents who . . . do not have access to a bank or other mainstream financial institutions. It also is discriminatory against youth, who are ‘often unable to obtain a credit card.’”

Urban sprawl decreases life expectancy, according to a new study by University of Texas researchers. “What the study shows is that the United States is not among the countries with the highest levels of life expectancies despite the highest levels of expenditures on health care,” said one researcher. “Changes in urban planning and the way we build things have to be made to help with this challenge.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.