Shelter Shorts, The Week in Community Development—July 23

Serial Eviction Filings in Atlanta | Rent Control for Seniors | HUD Wants Examples of Housing Discrimination | Worker-Owned Cooperative Triples Workforce

Close-up of the back of a t-shirt that says "Because the rent won't wait." Serial eviction filings are up in Atlanta.
Photo by Kendra Sundvall

Eviction hasn’t been a last-resort option for landlords in Atlanta, according to a recent study by this newspaper, in fact, it’s been the first option. Serial eviction filings have increased by 17 percent from 2010 to 2016 as landlords file eviction papers to collect on overdue rent, even if a tenant is late by only a few days. “For thousands of working-class tenants, covering the rent and other bills is a monthly scramble. Repeated filings threaten to push struggling families even further to the margins of poverty.” This story is on our list of must-reads.

A New Jersey city passed rent control for seniors and disabled residents, and officials say its law is the first in the state to apply to all senior citizens, regardless of income. (There are dozens of NJ municipalities that have passed rent control measures, though they are fading.) “Seniors have a fixed income and it’s not fair for their rent to increase when their income isn’t increasing,” says Ted Green, who was elected mayor of East Orange in 2017. For the past several years, the area has gone through many changes with development—including luxury complexes—popping up on various vacant lots in the city, especially near East Orange’s train line.

You asked, Mr. Secretary. And Texas delivered. HUD Secretary Carson told the House Financial Services Committee that he wanted to know any examples of housing discrimination that HUD has been ignoring, and promised to “be on it like white on rice.” Texas Low Income Housing Information Services quickly came up with a list of 17 examples—just from their state. Do you want to add to the list from your state?

Fees for opening a checking account at small banks are much higher in communities of color than in white neighborhoods, according to these professors, who analyzed 1,344 community banks. “When we add up minimum opening deposits, maintenance fees, minimum balances, and overdraft fees, the average checking account costs are $190.09 higher for Blacks, $25.53 higher for Asians, and $262.09 higher for Latinos than they are for whites.” Wow, that’s a startling difference. To make matters worse, the new banking law is only going to exacerbate the situation.

Careful with the knee jerks. We could be forgiven for being suspicious about news that HUD is pulling back on an Obama-era practice of going after banks. However, National Housing Conference CEO David Dworkin says that FHA commissioner Brian Montgomery’s announcement that HUD is “easing” use of the False Claims Act with regard to FHA lenders is actually a good thing. The sampling for mortgage defects to bring the lawsuits had gotten too picky, he says, and the lawsuits brought under the act were being used more to win showy settlements from banks with a lot of assets (who then stopped participating in FHA) rather than going after truly bad actors. Dworkin says a legislative fix would be better, as mortgages outlast administrations, but that this is a step in the right direction of getting more banks back to FHA lending.

When we first wrote about Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives in 2010, the idea of forming worker-owned cooperatives that served the needs of large anchor institutions—especially hospitals—was exciting and heady. It was also challenging. For Evergreen’s first co-op, an industrial laundry, potential clients were locked into long contracts and the new way of working was unusual for all involved. But the laundry persisted and has just tripled its workforce by taking over the management of an in-house laundry at the Cleveland Clinic, with a plan to fast track existing workers into worker-ownership. And the model is spreading. Springfield, Massachusetts, has followed up its worker-owned reupholstering cooperative with a worker-owned cooperative greenhouse.

Two New York-based nonprofits will join forces to provide housing for people who have chronic illnesses. “Housing is health care, and we need to embed that housing together with primary care and behavioral health care so it becomes an integrated part of the care-delivery system,” says Charles King, co-founder of Housing Works, one of the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS service organizations. We’ll have more about health and housing partnerships in our next issue of Shelterforce magazine, which comes out at the end of the month.

Correction: The Shelter Shorts item about rent control in East Orange was updated to reflect new information. East Orange is not the first municipality in New Jersey to pass rent control.

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