News & Event
By EMILY BADGER and QUOCTRUNG BUI APRIL 7, 2018
RICHMOND, Va. — Before the first hearings on the morning docket, the line starts to clog the lobby of the John Marshall Courthouse. No cellphones are allowed inside, but many of the people who’ve been summoned don’t learn that until they arrive. “Put it in your car,” the sheriff’s deputies suggest at the metal detector. That advice is no help to renters who have come by bus. To make it inside, some tuck their phones in the bushes nearby.
This courthouse handles every eviction in Richmond, a city with one of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to new data covering dozens of states and compiled by a team led by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond.
Two years ago, Mr. Desmond turned eviction into a national topic of conversation with “Evicted,” a book that chronicled how poor families who lost their homes in Milwaukee sank ever deeper into poverty. It became a favorite among civic groups and on college campuses, some here in Richmond. Bill Gates and former President Obama named it among the best books they had read in 2017, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
But for all the attention the problem began to draw, even Mr. Desmond could not say how widespread it was. Surveys of renters have tried to gauge displacement, but there is no government data tracking all eviction cases in America. Now that Mr. Desmond has been mining court records across the country to build a database of millions of evictions, it’s clear even in his incomplete national picture that they are more rampant in many places than what he saw in Milwaukee.
Mr. Desmond’s team found records for nearly 900,000 eviction judgments in 2016, meaning landlords were given the legal right to remove at least one in 50 renter households in the communities covered by this data. That figure was one in 25 in Milwaukee and one in nine in Richmond. And one in five renter households in Richmond were threatened with eviction in 2016. Their landlords began legal proceedings, even if those cases didn’t end with a lasting mark on a tenant’s record.
For landlords, these numbers represent a financial drain of unpaid rent; for tenants, a looming risk of losing their homes.
In Richmond, most of those evicted never made it to a courtroom. They didn’t appear because the process seemed inscrutable, or because they didn’t have lawyers to navigate it, or because they believed there is not much to say when you simply don’t have the money. The median amount owed was $686.
Inside the courtroom, cases sometimes brought in bulk by property managers are settled in minutes when defendants aren’t present.
“The whole system works on default judgments and people not showing up,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. “Imagine if every person asked for a trial. The system would bog down in a couple of months.”
The consequences of what happens here then spread across the city. The Richmond public school system reroutes buses to follow children from apartments to homeless shelters to pay-by-the-week motels. City social workers coach residents on how to fill out job applications when they have no answer for the address line. Families lose their food stamps and Medicaid benefits when they lose the permanent addresses where renewal notices are sent.
“An eviction isn’t one problem,” said Amy Woolard, a lawyer and the policy coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center in town. “It’s like 12 problems.”
This is a state, Mr. Stoney and others say, that favors property owners, as it has since plantation days. And aid to the poor has been limited.
Mr. Desmond’s eviction calculations are probably conservative: They include only households that touched the legal process, not those in which people moved with an informal warning. The data undercount places where eviction records can be sealed or are harder to collect. In his eviction rates, Mr. Desmond counts the moment when a court delivers a judgment, not when the sheriff shows up. Tenants have often left by that point.
In Richmond, property managers say that filing an eviction is their only recourse when tenants have not paid, and that they allow many to stay even after court judgments if they pay in full before the sheriff arrives. This means the court process also functions as a cumbersome rent-collection system, one that attaches attorney fees and court costs to rent checks, and one that saddles even tenants who don’t lose their homes with lasting eviction records.
Candace Williams experienced the threat, the judgment and the sheriff’s visit when she fell behind on her rent in 2016. She was making $178 a week at a convenience store, a job she could reach without a car. Some of that money went to the space heaters and foam insulation she needed for the holes in the walls on the cheapest home she could find for her family.
She brought photos of the neglected repairs on her phone to court. When she learned she couldn’t bring in the phone, she hid it under a trash can outside. When she arrived, late, to the courtroom, a default judgment had already been entered against her.
“I definitely understand my fault in it,” Ms. Williams, 43, said. “But they don’t allow you any opportunity to make a mistake.”
The process is meant to be efficient, said Chip Dicks, a lawyer in Richmond who works on property management issues and has written provisions in the state’s landlord-tenant law. Efficiency is good public policy, he argues: Neither the landlord nor the tenant benefits from a drawn-out process that would burden renters with even more unpaid rent, late fees and attorney costs. And landlords can’t provide housing if they can’t pay their mortgages, he added.
“The landlords are the victims because they’re the ones not being paid when they’re supposed to be paid,” Mr. Dicks said. “What happens when you don’t pay your car payment? They come and take your car. What happens when you don’t pay your mortgage payment? They come and foreclose on your house.”
Poor tenants here, however, are not ensured access to legal aid or shielded from steep rent increases, as in some cities. And they have no right, as tenants in some states do, to deduct their own repair costs from the rent.
Laura Lafayette, the chief executive of the regional realtors’ association, which has been supportive of more tenant protections, fears that this system can become a “churning machine” that fails to distinguish between the tenant who made one mistake and the tenant who habitually flouts the lease. Today, both walk away from court with the same consequences.
After Whitney Gulley was evicted in 2014, she and her three children passed through many of the places people go when they carry an eviction on their record. They doubled up with family. They stayed in a long-term motel. They moved into a homeless shelter. They finally found an apartment willing to risk an evicted family — with a two-month deposit up front.
Ms. Gulley was evicted over $569, her share of the rent on a home that was subsidized by a housing voucher. Her landlord said she did not receive the check, and Ms. Gulley did not go to court because she said she believed she could not bring her children with her.
Before that disputed $569, Ms. Gulley was in recovery from an addiction to pain pills. She got her G.E.D., her driver’s license and a car while in that home, one she remembers happily. After the eviction, she said, she relapsed.
“I felt stripped down,” she said. In the eviction she lost the writing journals she used as therapy. “It was like the only power and inspiration and the motivation had been taken out of me.”
The sum still nags at her: All this over $569. It has taken years for the family to stabilize, and it will take several more before the eviction recedes from her record.
This part of the process — what happens after the eviction — isn’t efficient for anyone. Landlords, too, have to turn over vacant apartments, and they face a rental pool full of potentially disqualified tenants. The public housing authority in town, which was responsible for about 9 percent of the eviction judgments citywide in 2016, spends on average 50 days turning over apartments, costing the agency more in lost rent than unpaid rent cases are often worth. The median amount owed on a public housing eviction here, according to Mr. Desmond’s data, was $328.
The agency provides housing of last resort. But it is also a property manager. “I don’t think you ever eliminate that tension,” said Orlando Artze, the interim C.E.O. of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
That tension is built into public housing, just as it is embedded in a school system that struggles to serve transient children while producing well-educated ones, or in a court system that tries to offer due process but in mass quantity.
“A lot of people get caught up in: ‘Oh, is it the tenant’s fault? Oh, is it the landlord’s fault?’ ” said Elora Raymond, an assistant professor at Clemson University who has studied eviction in Atlanta, where many of these same forces converge. “I think it really doesn’t matter,” she said. “Because this doesn’t work. As a societal way of renting housing, this doesn’t work.”
Eviction rates for Alaska, Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota are not yet available.
The researchers caution that the eviction rates are underestimated in parts of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. Data for incomplete states is available at The Eviction Lab.
Eviction counts are based on court records collected by The Eviction Lab in 13 states and other records purchased from LexisNexis Risk Solutions and American Information Research Services Inc. Estimates of the number of renter households are based on census and Esri Business Analyst data.
Courtesy of The New York Times
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
2200 Southwood Drive, Nashua, NH
We invite you to be a part of the second New England Lead Conference taking place on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Nashua, NH. Hosted by the New England Lead Coordinating Committee, the conference will include a variety of educational sessions focusing on lead prevention, policy, model programs, outreach, the EPA’s Renovation, Remodeling and Repair Rule (RRP), lead abatement, compliance, and the economics of lead poisoning.
Read more >
October 4, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
The Narragansett Times: Dziobek steps down as Welcome House director
By KENDRA GRAVELLE Sep 29, 2017
SOUTH KINGSTOWN—When Joseph Dziobek accepted the position of executive director of Welcome House of South County nearly three years ago, he had expected the job would make for a simple transition into retirement.
But what was intended as a part-time gig turned into much more than that for Dziobek, who this week left his post.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Dziobek, whose last day on the job was Monday. “And it’s been very satisfying—I feel very close to the people who have been a part of it.”
Dziobek, 66, took the job at Welcome House after retiring from his career as CEO of Fellowship Health Resources. He said he intended only to stay for two or three years.
October 4, 2017 in Local Interest
Final Days to Register: 2017 Housing Fact Book Release
Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Luncheon: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence RI
October 3, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
Rhode Island College: The Defamation Experience
Monday, October 30, 2017
5:00PM - Doors Open
6:00PM - Performance
SPONSORED BY: THE DIVISION OF COMMUNITY EQUITY AND DIVERSITY AND THE DIVISION OF STUDENT SUCCESS
THE PLAY * THE DELIBERATION * THE DISCUSSION
September 27, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
NLIHC: Sign Letters to Support Equitable Housing Recovery after Devastating Hurricanes
Help ensure that low income people and neighborhoods are treated fairly after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. A broad coalition of national, state, and local organizations is calling on Congress, FEMA, and HUD to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest incomes who are often the hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards.
September 27, 2017 in Local Interest, National News
Roger Williams University: Social Justice Month Events
Thursday, Oct 19
Mary Tefft White Center
How Housing Works
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Sponsored by Housing Works RI and RWU Chief Diversity Officer
Keywords: socioeconomic status, race, jobs, housing, equity
Workshop with Brenda Clement, Director of Housing Works Rhode Island and Ame Lambert, RWU Chief Diversity Officer.
An overview of housing issues in Rhode Island and connections to the larger social justice agenda.
September 25, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: People on the move for the week of Sept. 17
Posted Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Updated Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Rhode Island LISC
Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corportation has welcomed two new employees. Jeremiah O’Grady, of Lincoln, joined LISC as program officer after spending more than 12 years at ONE Neighborhood Builders as real estate project manager and director of asset management and operations.
Liz Klinkenberg, of Warwick, was hired as communications director. She brings more than 15 years of public relations experience to her new position, including work for The Miami Herald and The Providence Journal.
The Providence American: Reed Announces $300k in Community Development Grants for NeighborWorks Affiliates
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to promote healthy, vibrant neighborhoods across Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced an additional $300,000 in federal funding for three Rhode Island-based affiliates of NeighborWorks America (NeighborWorks). These federal funds will help NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation to provide affordable housing opportunities, generate job growth, and enhance economic stability for working families. Earlier this year, Senator Reed also helped to secure over $750,000 in federal funding for NeighborWorks affiliates in Rhode Island, bringing total NeighborWorks investment in the state to above $1 million for fiscal year 2017.
September 21, 2017 in Federal News, Local Interest
The Providence American: Providence Unveils PVD Gives Donation Station
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined members of the City Council, public safety officials, and community leaders who have been named to the PVD Gives commission for the unveiling of the City’s first Donation Station at Kennedy Plaza. The retrofitted parking meter is one of ten stations that will be installed across the city to collect funds that will support local organizations that provide housing and services to those in need.
“PVD Gives and the new Donation Stations make it easier to give back,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “Our collective generosity can make all the difference in the lives of those striving to get back on their feet. I encourage visitors and residents to chip in and be part of the solution.”
September 21, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: Report: New England losing 65 acres of forestland per day
By Steve LeBlanc / Associated Press
Posted Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
Updated Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
BOSTON — New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day — a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University.
The study found public funding for land conservation in New England dropped by half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels.
Washington, DC – A diverse range of organizations from various sectors announced a new campaign today to increase affordable housing for America’s most vulnerable communities.
The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign launched today at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC’s) Housing Policy Forum in Washington, DC. With financial support from the Funders for Housing and Opportunity, NLIHC launched this new multi-sector affordable homes campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee that includes Catholic Charities USA, Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS.
Stakeholders from multiple sectors are increasingly recognizing the importance of affordable housing to their own priorities and goals. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign seeks to mobilize powerful new constituencies beyond housing to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.
Recent NLIHC research shows the U.S. has a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters, and 11 million ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. There are only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI households nationwide, and no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters. Just one out of four eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.
The consequences of America’s affordable housing crisis are spilling over into many other areas like the education, health care, civil rights, anti-hunger, homelessness, and anti-poverty sectors. By combining voices and expertise, leading organizations from these sectors seek to build a broad national movement that promotes federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
The long-term goals of the campaign are to promote federal policies that:
The campaign will also act to defend against funding cuts and harmful policy changes in existing low income housing programs.
Opportunity Starts at Home is also working to strengthen the capacities of multi-sector state coalitions that share the campaign’s goals. The campaign has already issued capacity-building grants to partners in seven states: California, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.
“The time to act is now,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “The housing affordability problem has reached historic heights. Federal housing assistance is chronically underfunded and faces increasing threats. It’s time for those who believe that everyone in America deserves a safe and affordable home to join in a movement that will ensure fundamental opportunities for people most in need.”
“UnidosUS is dedicated to improving opportunities for Latinos and we’re especially proud of our work over the past 50 years to empower Latinos to contribute and to share in the nation’s economic opportunities,” said Eric Rodriguez, UnidosUS vice president for policy and advocacy. “A good home is the foundation for many of those opportunities: a better education for our children, enhanced employment opportunities, and a safe and stable place for families to live. We joined Opportunity Starts at Home because too many hardworking families struggle to keep a roof over their heads and it will take all sectors of society to make progress and ensure that more Americans, including Latinos, have a place to call home.”
“The United States cannot say we cherish our children when millions of extremely poor children each year suffer through homelessness or are denied access to safe and affordable housing,” said Richard Hooks Wayman, national executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Research shows that half of our intelligence potential is developed by age four. Positive child development is linked to a sense of safety, predictability, and routines. We must do our part to ensure that children have housing stability during a critical stage of development. We must do our part to ensure that housing in this nation is affordable and accessible. And we must do our part to ensure that investments in affordable housing production that keep children safe and secure is continued.”
“NAMI is proud to be a part of this multi-sector housing campaign because access to decent, safe and affordable housing is a critical need for people living with a mental illness,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative and policy advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It is simply not possible to achieve recovery and a full life in the community without stable housing. Given the current threats to rental assistance programs it is critical that NAMI joins with our partners across so many diverse sectors to fight for policies and future investments in affordable rental housing programs.”
“NEA is committed to the three million members and the 50 million students we serve and are pleased to support programs, campaigns and initiatives that are in support of students, educators and families,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “We understand and know firsthand the impacts affordable and stable housing have on student success. We also know that given the wages and income of some of our members, it impacts where they work as well as their own families.”
“The NAACP is proud to join this multi-sector housing campaign as it aligns with our goal of economic equality in housing,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The research is increasingly clear that housing affects all aspects of a quality life; therefore, federal housing policy is very important for the people we serve. We find that threats to federal housing assistance are unprecedented and this campaign will indeed shed a brighter light on the needs of all people.”
“Housing affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. It limits economic mobility, reinforces racial inequities, reduces health and education outcomes, and is a primary driver of homelessness in the United States,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign brings together an unprecedented multi-sector coalition, focused on increasing critically needed federal investments in affordable housing. We are honored to be part of this important effort.”
“No one should be without a safe and stable home, which is why the Opportunity Starts at Homecampaign is so critical, especially now,” said Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room Inc. “By partnering with organizations from the healthcare, housing and education sectors who share our mission, Make Room hopes to accelerate our goal of creating a country where everyone has a home that they can afford. We are honored to be part of this important campaign.”
“Too often, the issues of housing, health, education and income security are considered in silos, separate from one another,” said Doug Rice, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But a home is much more than just four walls and a roof; it’s the pathway to a healthier, more prosperous, and more secure life, and something that far too many Americans cannot attain. We are excited to join forces with leaders in so many fields to advance effective solutions to help our nation’s most vulnerable.”
“A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch. “Children’s HealthWatch is excited to join our colleagues on the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to identify solutions that provide access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.”
Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at: www.OpportunityHome.org
Opportunity Starts at Home is a new national multi-sector campaign to generate widespread support for federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.
Courtesy of Opportunity Starts at Home, NLIHC
These changes could help offset the impact of the lowered corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, which effectively reduces the value of Housing Credits to corporate investors. Some experts estimate that the lowered corporate tax rate will significantly reduce investor demand for the Housing Credit and could result in 20,000 fewer homes being built under the program annually.
Courtesy of NLIHC
By CONOR DOUGHERTYJAN. 18, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO — The last time that Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code, in 1986, it created a tax credit meant to encourage the private sector to invest in affordable housing. It has grown into a $9 billion-a-year social program that has funded the construction of some three million apartments for low-income residents.
But the Republican tax plan approved last month amounts to a vast cutback, making it much less likely that such construction will continue apace. Because the tax rate for corporations has been lowered, the value of the credits — which corporations get in return for their investments — is also lower.
“It’s the greatest shock to the affordable-housing system since the Great Recession,” said Michael Novogradac, managing partner of Novogradac & Company, a national accounting firm based in San Francisco.
According to an analysis by his firm, the new tax law will reduce the growth of subsidized affordable housing by 235,000 units over the next decade, compounding an existing shortage.
Already, developers and city agencies are scrambling for new financing and scaling back longer-term plans.
Don Falk can see the fallout from his window. Mr. Falk is the chief executive of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, an affordable-housing developer in San Francisco’s impoverished Tenderloin district. Directly across the street from his office sits a new project, a rising eight-story building that will have 113 units, a third of those set aside to serve the city’s swelling homeless population.
A year ago, as the market for tax credits started falling in expectation that a Republican president and a Republican Congress would steeply lower taxes, the project developed a $3 million deficit. The city stepped in to cover the shortfall, but the financing problem was an early indication of what affordable-housing groups and developers expect to be a declining pace of new building.
Kate Hartley, director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development — the agency that backstopped Mr. Falk’s development when it needed help — said the lower corporate tax rate had increased the cost of building affordable housing in the city by roughly $50,000 per unit. That adds up to a lot of multimillion-dollar leaks, she said, “and we have less money to build the units we want to build.”
For renters like Sandy Hernandez, who lives south of San Francisco in a two-bedroom apartment with her ex-husband and two children, this is coming at the worst possible time. Her building was recently purchased by a group of investors, and next month her $1,900 rent is scheduled to go up $850 — more than 40 percent — to $2,750. Ms. Hernandez said there is no way she can pay that much, but she’s stuck because the list for affordable housing is so long.
“It’s hard because there’s a lot of people in the same situation,” she said.
Programs to build subsidized rental housing date back to the Great Depression, and were greatly expanded during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty.” Support for these programs started to wane under President Richard Nixon, and they were vastly scaled back under President Ronald Reagan.
But unlike public housing programs, which tended to expand under Democratic administrations and shrink under Republican ones, tax credits proved enduring and politically popular.
Conservatives saw the approach as a tax break and a way to use private markets to solve public problems. Liberals saw it as a way to direct federal money to local communities. Since 1987, it has funded construction and rehabilitation of about 30 percent of the nation’s 10 million affordable units, which are defined as units that people making 60 percent or less of a city’s median income could afford.
“It’s the most successful social program that nobody has heard of,” said David Erickson, director of community development at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the author of “The Housing Policy Revolution.”
It works like this: State governments award credits to affordable-housing developers, who transfer them to corporations in exchange for equity in rental buildings whose units are set aside for low-income tenants. Corporations use the credits as a coupon against future taxes. Low-income housing tax credits are particularly popular among banks because affordable-housing investments help satisfy their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act.
The need is particularly great today. The number of renters has surged over the past decade, with the country adding about one million renters a year since 2010 — about twice as many as the previous rental peak in the 1970s and ’80s, according to a 2017 report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Developers have responded with an apartment building boom. But since renters tend to have higher incomes than in years past — households making more than $100,000 a year accounted for a third of the growth in renters over the past decade — many of the newer units are in the pricey glass and steel buildings that have sprouted in downtowns across the country.
There are some indications that the rush of building is helping increase affordability, especially at the upper end of the market, where vacancies are rising and rents are falling. Still, low-income housing remains undersupplied. About half of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and a quarter pay more than half.
In California, legislators have proposed a range of fixes, from more money for affordable housing to fewer building regulations and increased tenant protections. State Senator Scott Wiener, the author of a recently enacted law that makes it harder for cities to block housing developments, has followed up with several proposed bills that would, among other things, increase construction around train stations and other transit hubs.
At the federal level, Senators Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, sponsored a proposal to increase the number of low-income housing tax credits by 50 percent.
For now, there is little to suggest the rental burden will get better anytime soon. Over the next decade the younger half of the millennial generation will move into their 20s and 30s, adding to the pool of renters. Over that same period, more than a million units of affordable housing financed by low-income housing tax credits and other government programs are set expire and shift to higher rents, according to the Joint Center.
One result of the surge in higher-income renters is that units that policymakers politely refer to as “naturally occurring affordable housing” — run-down buildings where lower-income residents can afford an apartment without subsidy — are being pulled toward the higher end of the market.
In Redwood City, on the peninsula between San Francisco and the heart of Silicon Valley, private equity firms have been snapping up buildings that house lower-income service workers and repositioning them for higher-income tech workers. The pitch to investors is straightforward: With housing scarce and demand rising, there are returns to be made buying old buildings, marketing to new tenants, and steadily increasing the rent.
That has put a squeeze on tenants like Ms. Hernandez, a 41-year-old holding down two low-wage jobs, one cleaning houses and another at an elder care facility. She has spent a decade waiting for a subsidized rental apartment to open up.
Jesshill Love, an attorney for the investors who now own Ms. Hernandez’s building, said that with demand exploding, the rents could have actually been raised even more. “The decision was made by the property management company not to raise the rent to full market value in an effort to minimize the impact upon the families,” he said.
The backlash has been fierce. Rent-control measures have popped up in cities across the Bay Area. Last week, Ms. Hernandez and other tenants in her building gathered at the offices of Redwood Landing, the building’s management company, chanting things like “Hear our cry, rent’s too high,” while holding signs that read “Stop Displacement Now.”
The protest attracted lots of honking horns and a visit from Redwood City’s mayor. Directly across the street from the hubbub sat a recreational vehicle parked for the evening. Its two homeless residents popped their heads out to see what was going on.
Lisa Hannibal, 52, who lives in the vehicle and is unemployed, said that she was also on a list for affordable housing, but that nothing had opened up.
“We’re at the hard-suffering point,” she said. “But it can happen to anybody these days.”
By EMILY BADGER and JOHN ELIGON JAN. 4, 2018
Undermining another Obama-era initiative, the Trump administration plans to delay enforcement of a federal housing rule that requires communities to address patterns of racial residential segregation.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, in a notice to be published Friday in the Federal Register, says it will suspend until 2020 the requirement that communities analyze their housing segregation and submit plans to reverse it, as a condition of receiving billions of federal dollars in block grants and housing aid. The notice tells cities already at work on the detailed plans required by the rule that they no longer need to submit them, and the department says it will stop reviewing plans that have already been filed.
The move does not repeal the 2015 rule, a product of years of pressure from civil rights groups and review by the Obama administration. HUD argues that it is trying to respond to cities that have struggled with the rule’s requirements, delaying it for several years while the agency further invests in the tools communities use to assess their housing patterns.
“Early in this administration, HUD embarked upon a top-to-bottom review of the department’s rules and regulations,” the agency said in a statement. “As part of this regulatory review, HUD asked the public to offer comment on those rules that might be excessively burdensome or unclear. What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well.”
But advocates say the notice effectively strangles the federal government’s first major commitment in decades to address racial inequality in housing, burying it in calls for more analysis and preparation. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the move misguided and shortsighted.
“It’s terrible news,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who was the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD during the final three years of the Obama administration. “I am concerned, though, that this is not actually the worst news.”
During the delay, he fears that the Trump administration will entirely undo the rule, which has been a goal of many Republicans in Congress ever since it was adopted. Critics of the rule — including Ben Carson, before he became HUD secretary — argue that it amounts to an aggressive intrusion by the federal government into some of the most intimate decisions local citizens and communities make: about where to live, who lives next door and how to design their neighborhoods. Since joining the agency, Mr. Carson has said that he wants to “reinterpret” the rule.
HUD’s notice argues that a delay is necessary because local communities need more technical assistance from the agency and have struggled to figure out how to measure their progress toward affirming fair housing. The agency notes that among the first 49 assessments submitted, about a third were initially returned by HUD as unacceptable. But the system was designed to include that kind of back and forth, former HUD officials said.
Sara Pratt, a former deputy assistant secretary for fair housing at the agency, said HUD had provided consultants and a hotline that jurisdictions could call for help. Many of the communities that fell short on their assessments had simply failed to follow HUD’s road map, said Ms. Pratt, who left the department in November 2015 and now works as a civil rights lawyer in private practice.
“It’s like having a teacher in a classroom saying, ‘Too many people aren’t passing the test, so I’m just going to change the test,’ ” she said.
What worries her most, she said, is that HUD will allow cities to revert to prior standards for assessing fair housing. Under the old system, many cities submitted assessments that were of poor quality and lacked basic data, she said.
Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, said the 2015 rule had spurred local and statement governments to understand their housing patterns and make smarter policy decisions around them.
Some cities, like Philadelphia, have already finished their assessments.
Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Division of Housing and Community Development, said the process was critical in getting comments from the community and from a range of sectors — like education, transportation and banking. One important thing they learned was that residents did not want to move from their distressed neighborhoods, but wanted to see them improved, he said. That led to programs to expand pre-K and to improve libraries, parks and recreation centers, he said.
New York City is scheduled to begin the community outreach for its review this year. “We’re confident in the approach New York City is taking,” Leila Bozorg, the deputy commissioner of neighborhood strategies for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said in a statement. “This will include working closely with a diverse group of experts, practitioners and advocates and hearing directly from New Yorkers about their housing needs and how where they live impacts their life.”
The Obama rule was devised to address unfinished business of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The original language of the law also required communities to “affirmatively further” fair housing — to, in effect, promote desegregation in addition to prohibiting discrimination.
The federal government never fully enforced that element of the law, however. And 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed, many communities have made little progress toward desegregation, while some programs funded with federal support have had the effect of reinforcing segregation.
The 2015 rule — the “affirmatively furthering fair housing rule” — required communities to analyze policies that contribute to segregation. These might include locating low-income housing projects only in black neighborhoods, or barring multifamily housing from neighborhoods with good schools. The rule broadly required analysis of housing opportunities available not just to minorities, but also to the disabled, the poor and other disadvantaged groups.
The new HUD notice reiterates that local communities still have a legal obligation to further fair housing, and to pledge that they’re doing so. But a reversion to the policies in place before the 2015 rule makes critics fear that the government will go back to a time when it turned a blind eye to segregation, giving taxpayer dollars to communities actively thwarting a central goal of the Fair Housing Act.
“It says ‘segregate as usual,’ ” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
The 2015 rule was imperfect, he said, but it also amounted to the federal government’s first major effort to strengthen civil rights around housing since the Lyndon Johnson era.
“Residential segregation is at the heart of racial inequality in the country,” Mr. Orfield said. “All of the disparities in the U.S. — in education, in income, wealth, employment, health — between the races are all fundamentally linked to residential segregation. There’s no real way to deal with disparities between black and white people without dealing with this.”
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is attempting to scale back federal efforts to enforce fair housing laws, freezing enforcement actions against local governments and businesses, including Facebook, while sidelining officials who have aggressively pursued civil rights cases.
The policy shift, detailed in interviews with 20 current and former Department of Housing and Urban Development officials and in internal agency emails, is meant to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects. The move coincides with the decision this month by Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, to strike the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement.
But Mr. Carson dismissed the idea he was abandoning the agency’s fair housing mission as “nonsense” in a memo to the department’s staff earlier this year, and reiterated that point during recent congressional hearings. A spokesman for the agency, Jereon Brown, said any programmatic changes are part of the routine recalibration undertaken from administration to administration, rather than a philosophical shift.
Advocates for the poor and career HUD officials say that Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and his political appointees have begun weakening the department’s fair housing division at a critical moment. The agency now has its greatest leverage to right past wrongs thanks to the $28 billion in disaster recovery Community Development Block Grants that Congress has appropriated to rebuild the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
In an email in November, a top HUD official relayed the news that the head of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity division, Anna Maria Farías, had ordered a hold on about a half-dozen fair housing investigations given the highest priority under Mr. Carson’s most recent predecessor, Julián Castro. The freeze would be in effect “until further notice,” the official wrote.
The investigations, known as “secretary-initiated cases” to indicate their importance, had been used in the past to set precedent and to put other localities and developers on notice.
One of the delayed investigations looked at an ordinance in Hesperia, Calif., that prevented the siting of neighborhood group homes for parolees and former offenders throughout the city’s neighborhoods. HUD investigators saw the case as an important test of the federal resolve to rehabilitate low-level offenders, who often face housing and job discrimination when they are released, leaving them in need of government assistance.
Other cases that were held up involved questions about the accessibility to the disabled of new dwellings built by a pair of large residential construction companies, Toll Brothers and Epcon Communities, in New York City and Ohio, according to a department official.
One high-profile case never made it to that stage.
HUD had opened a case in late 2016 in response to a ProPublica article that said Facebook gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “ethnic affinities” from seeing their ads when their social media habits identified them as black, Hispanic or Asian-American.
But even before Ms. Farías was appointed, Mr. Carson’s aides ordered fair housing division officials to cancel a planned negotiating session with Facebook executives, leaving HUD to take Facebook at its word that the company’s “policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate.”
Then, after taking office, Ms. Farías sent a one-page letter to Facebook ordering, without explanation, the termination of a preliminary investigation into the company’s advertising practices.
Fair housing groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan saying that Facebook continues to discriminate against certain groups — including women, veterans with disabilities and single mothers — in the way that it allows advertisers to target audiences for their ads.
Ms. Farías, an official at HUD in the George W. Bush administration, has not initiated any high-priority cases of her own, according to agency officials. And she has made it clear that she does not intend to aggressively pursue cases that are not instituted “by my secretary,” meaning Mr. Carson, according to an official who spoke with her last year.
“For all intents and purposes, this administration is stopping the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws at the worst possible time,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who served as assistant secretary for fair housing during the last three years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“It’s not just the lack of an agenda, which is what I thought we were dealing with for the first year or so, but an attempt to reverse all the advances we made through regulations and enforcement actions,” said Mr. Velasquez, who now works for the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan progressive think tank in Washington.
This is not the first time critics have accused Mr. Carson, the only African-American man in President Trump’s cabinet, of trying to stymie civil rights enforcement. Shortly after he was confirmed last year, Mr. Carson tried to reverse an Obama-era program that would make it easier for recipients of housing vouchers to use them in affluent neighborhoods.
The move was struck down by the courts, and Mr. Carson abandoned the effort.
Last week, Mr. Carson told members of the Senate Banking Committee that he planned to delay another Obama-era rule that would have required local governments to create detailed plans to integrate racially divided neighborhoods.
And a provision barring localities from using federal funding to undertake such programs was stealthily inserted into the 2018 spending plan passed last week by Congress.
Despite these moves, Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the department was merely “looking to streamline” its enforcement efforts and to focus on new, neglected areas of discrimination.
“There is no mission shift. We are, in fact, putting more emphasis in sexual harassment” complaints, Mr. Brown wrote in an email. “In addition, 60 percent of the fair housing complaints we receive are disability related, and the majority of those have to do with service animals.”
The most significant fight over fair housing under Mr. Trump is taking place in Houston, a sprawling metropolis ranked in numerous studies as one of the United States’ most segregated cities, where overt opposition to a housing development based on race and income has drawn the attention of career HUD investigators.
In January 2017, before Mr. Obama left office, HUD lawyers accusedHouston officials of violating fair housing requirements cited in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, had killed a 233-unit mixed-income, mixed-race housing development slated for an affluent white area known for its high-end shopping and excellent schools.
HUD told the city to undertake specific remedies as a condition of continued funding, including the approval of the development, known as the Fountain View Project, and the adoption of tough new zoning laws.
In a scathing letter, HUD officials accused Mr. Turner, who is African-American, of succumbing to “racially motivated local opposition,” claiming that he caved to protests by white business owners and residents.
Mr. Turner has denied the accusation, arguing that he opposed the development because only 23 apartments were set aside for low-income families. He also objected to the idea of forced integration, putting him in agreement with Mr. Carson.
“I have chosen to stay in the neighborhood where I grew up, and I will not tell children in similar communities they must live somewhere else,” said Mr. Turner, who grew up in an all-black development.
But he might have had other reasons for opposing the project. In one meeting, Mr. Turner privately admitted that he hoped his position on the project would coax white Republican state legislators to support a bill needed to restructure Houston’s ailing pension system, according to a former federal official who attended the meeting.
The mayor denied that account.
“He never told anyone he opposed the Fountain View Project to win votes for his pension overhaul,” said Mary Benton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Turner.
Still, few Democrats have done quite so well in negotiating with the Trump administration as Mr. Turner, who began pressing Mr. Carson to release the city from the order shortly after Mr. Carson was confirmed.
Ms. Farías, with Mr. Carson’s blessing, began negotiating directly with Mr. Turner and other city officials. She largely excluded the career lawyers who had already begun drafting a tougher order — one that required the city to pay the Houston Housing Authority, Fountain View’s developer, as much as $14 million if it insisted on blocking the deal, according to an official in Houston.
But Mr. Turner, who believes the case to be a distraction from his city’s rebuilding effort, prevailed.
This month, Ms. Farías signed a new, less stringent agreement that other Houston officials eager to get federal money flowing into hard-hit neighborhoods — including Representative Al Green, a Democrat and harsh Carson critic — hailed as a victory.
But a coalition of local advocacy groups and national organizations are suing to block the disbursement of $5 billion in HUD recovery money unless the city abides by civil rights-era fair housing laws.
“If this isn’t a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then damn it, I don’t know what is,” said John Henneberger, a director of Texas Housers, an advocacy group that filed a lawsuit last week in Federal District Court to enforce the original HUD letter.
“Fountain View was kind of the last stand,” he said. “We spent eight or nine years documenting systematic and pervasive racial discrimination in Houston — it is an open-and-shut case.”
Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the agreement required the city to “put in place new procedures for the building of affordable housing” and a study on how to increase affordable housing in the city’s Galleria district, where Fountain View was to be built.
There are other signs of change within HUD that could make it far less likely that similar cases would ever be pursued.
Ms. Farías, according to six current department officials, has told HUD managers that she intends to replace her top subordinate, Timothy Smyth, who played a central role in the Houston case. Bryan Greene, another senior manager, will be reassigned as part of the shake-up, the officials said.
Mr. Brown, in an email, said no one had been reassigned yet — but he added that it was “well within the assistant secretary’s authority after 120 days to reassign senior-level personnel.”
Morale at the division is sinking. At a meeting this month of HUD regional housing directors in Atlanta, Ms. Farías — a former vice chairwoman of the Bexar County, Tex., Republicans and a Trump campaign supporter — told one of the directors that she preferred older HUD employees because they were more likely to have had experience working for Republican administrations.
Earlier, according to two aides who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, she had told her staff that it was her intention to root out people she viewed as “Obama plants.”
Ms. Farías, through a spokesman, denied making those statements.
Stay in the loop by subscribing to our newsletter!
Newsletter Sign Up
Newsletter Sign Up
One Empire Plaza, Ste. 327
Providence, RI 02903
HousingWorks RI is a proud partner of RI Alliance for Healthy Homes