Shelter Shorts, The Week in Community Development—Aug. 24

Shelter Shorts, news from—and affecting—the community development world. This week: Philly's fight for affordable housing, HUD targets Facebook in complaint, an eviction app, a "massive" multifamily housing fraud, and more

A mural at MacArthur Park Primary Center, in Westlake. A new affordable housing development in the neighborhood will replace ... affordable housing.
A mural at MacArthur Park Primary Center, in Westlake, 2011. Photo by Doran via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A planned $64 million affordable housing development in the L.A. neighborhood of Westlake looks like it will be replacing . . . affordable housing. Thirty-six existing rent-controlled bungalows will be demolished to make way for an affordable housing development that will have half of its units set aside for the homeless, and whose representatives say the disgruntled, displaced residents will have a right to return to—if they meet income and citizenship criteria. Many do not. The layers of irony in this story are not lost on us.

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny for over a year, and now its HUD’s turn to call them out. The department filed a discrimination complaint against the company last week, alleging that Facebook allows housing providers to discriminate by letting them pick which users see their ads. If you advertise on Facebook, you know this to be a feature—you know who’s most likely to buy what you’re selling and can thus select certain geographic and demographic criteria in hopes those consumers will click. But HUD claims that by allowing these advertisers to also exclude who sees ads—based on things such as race, religion, sex, disability, family status, and ZIP code (including the ability to draw a red line around ZIP codes and then not display ads to Facebook users who live in specific ZIP codes)—Facebook is violating the Fair Housing Act. These allegations were first made in 2016 by ProPublica, but Facebook didn’t respond adequately. The company now has the opportunity to respond to this formal complaint.

Fraud indictments of several owners of multifamily housing developments in New York and Pennsylvania have led the Wall Street Journal to call a federal investigation into the wrongdoing “one of the biggest mortgage-fraud probes since the financial crisis.” A group of multifamily development owners are charged with falsifying records and lying about the number of occupied units, among other things, in order to inflate income for loan applications. Over $160 million in loans were received, which were in turn sold to Fannie and Freddie Mac. If this case is indeed “the tip of the iceberg,” the market may be headed for trouble.

Evictions. There may soon be an app for that. Evictions are horrific for families and bad for a city’s long-term economic health, but can be a windfall for landlords, especially in states like Utah and Arizona. Law students at Brigham Young and Arizona State universities are being tasked with applying design thinking to come up with a way to provide legal help to tenants facing eviction—hopefully leveling the playing field and putting some power back in their hands.

Philadelphia’s city council and housing advocates are worried that the mayor’s silence regarding their support for and approval of a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing means that he will veto it. Hopes are that these measures will truly affect affordability before Philadelphia goes the way of other large cities.

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