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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.”
Courtesy of The New York Times
Posted:Mar 19, 2018 at 8:31 PM
Updated:Mar 19, 2018 at 8:31 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal Housing Choice Voucher program was created during the Reagan administration to give low-income tenants a way to find housing of their own choosing in the private market, instead of being limited to Section 8-financed projects.
But in Rhode Island, that intended choice and mobility are often pre-empted by landlords who say: “No Section 8.”
Unlike Massachusetts, which outlawed this form of housing discrimination in 1971, and unlike Connecticut (1989), Maine (1975) and Vermont (1987), Rhode Island still allows landlords to proclaim “No Section 8” in advertisements, and they are allowed to say it directly to would-be tenants. In Rhode Island, about 9,300 households have vouchers.
According to Marissa Janton, legal counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, many landlords use a “no Section 8” policy as a “proxy” for discrimination based on other factors, including gender, family composition, disability, and race and ethnicity. She said that 70 percent of voucher holders in Rhode Island are families with children, 87 percent are households headed by women and 20 percent are black.
New legislation (H7528 / S2301) would prohibit discrimination against renters based on their “lawful source of income,” including a rental assistance voucher, Social Security payment or disability benefits. The law would not apply to owner-occupied buildings with three or fewer units, and it would not prevent landlords from asking prospective tenants about their income level.
Similar legislation was introduced in Rhode Island last year, and was passed in the Senate. Hearings were held on this year’s bills March 1 in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Feb. 27 in the House Judiciary Committee.
The House panel is chaired by a lawyer and Section 8 landlord, Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville. Last year, Keable recused himself from proceedings on the legislation, but he led a hearing on the bill on Feb. 27. Keable did not respond directly to a request for comment, but spokesman Larry Berman emailed The Journal with a response from the chairman about why he recused himself last year, but not this year.
According to Berman, Keable recused himself last year out of “an abundance of caution.” Keable’s message said: “I attended Jason Gramitt’s ethics training earlier this year and I developed a better understanding of the class exemption, which I clearly fall under regarding this bill.”
According to Berman, Gramitt is the education coordinator for the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, and he conducts a yearly training seminar for legislators.
Berman added that state Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, D-Providence, the bill’s sponsor in the House, also owns rental property.
Keable had more to say at the Feb. 27 hearing, noting that while he supports the Section 8 program, and personally rents to people with vouchers, he worries about the right of property owners to not be “forced” to participate in the federal program, with all of its responsibilities and requirements, including a yearly inspection of the property.
Carlos Lopez, executive director of the Westerly Housing Authority, and a former Section 8 tenant, replied that public policy should support the “common good,” which, he said, should also include the interests of people who need housing.
Rep. Williams, speaking at the House Judiciary hearing, asked her colleagues to end the “blatant discrimination that has been occurring throughout the state of Rhode Island for a number of years.” She added that “many of you are very uncomfortable talking about discrimination ... But it’s real. It’s very real.”
Amy Rainone, intergovernmental relations director for Rhode Island Housing, told the House Judiciary Committee that “over 50 percent of our voucher holders have been turned down” for housing because of a “no Section 8″ policy, many after waiting “5 to 8 years to get a voucher.” Rainone said this discrimination is “completely unacceptable,” and the legislation would “remove an important barrier to housing affordability” at no cost to the state.
Housing activists say the law is especially necessary in today’s tight rental market.
The legislation has been supported by many groups, including Rhode Island Housing, the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, Progreso Latino, the Economic Progress Institute, the United Way of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rhode Island Kids Count, DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island, SouthCoast Fair Housing, and the Rhode Island Community Action Association.
At the March 1, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Senate sponsor, Sen. Harold M. Metts, D-Providence, said he found the “No Section 8” ads “very, very troubling,” given the stagnant wages and rising rental costs faced by many in Rhode Island.
“There’s a shortage of housing not just in Providence, but all over the state of Rhode Island,” added state Sen. Paul Jabour, D-Providence.
“This legislation is needed to make this despicable practice of discrimination against poor people illegal,” Metts said. “We must stop the negative stereotype as it relates to poor people, struggling low-income families” and the “stigma of Section 8.”
With a voucher, tenants pay 30 percent of the rent out of their own pockets, and the voucher covers the remainder, up to limits set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The voucher program is the federal government’s major housing assistance effort.
The landlord receives the housing subsidy directly from the local Housing Authority. If the local housing authority approves, vouchers may even be used to buy a modestly-priced home. Rhode Island has 25 different public housing authorities, and Rhode Island Housing serves as the public housing authority for 15 communities that don’t have their own housing authorities.
“There is nothing in this legislation that would prevent landlords from denying tenancy due to non-discriminatory criteria such as poor credit, bad references, or a failed reference check,” wrote Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, in a letter of support of the bills. “What it will do is prohibit reliance on stereotypes about recipients of public assistance in determining an applicant’s suitability as a tenant.”
Courtesy of Providence Journal
By Pat Tengwall
Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:00am
The Harbor Church is seeking Town approval to convert the unused third floor of its Water Street building into four one-bedroom apartments to be rented year-round at “below-market” rates. If completed as proposed, the new apartments would be counted toward the Town’s state-mandated quota of affordable housing units.
For the new apartments to qualify as “affordable housing,” they must be approved under the Affordable Housing provisions of the Town’s Zoning Ordinance (Section 405), which requires a Special Use Permit. The Zoning Board of Review received the church’s application for that permit at its November 15 meeting and scheduled it for a public hearing at its January meeting.
Architectural plans show four apartments with full kitchens and bathrooms, a living/dining area and a separate bedroom, intended for one or two persons. The units share a central hall and would be accessed by an existing interior staircase and a new exterior stair leading down to an existing deck on the second floor. There are already two apartments on the second floor of the church, one for the pastor’s family, the other for the church’s sexton.
The new project is in its preliminary stages, according to documents filed with the town. It was first unveiled in a letter from Tony Pappas, a Trustee of the Harbor Church, to the Block Island Housing Board requesting that the Housing Board write a “letter of sponsorship” for the project to the Zoning Board.
In his Oct. 25 letter, Pappas said: “The apartments will be offered for year-round occupancy only, and at below-market rental rates, in order to help further a 12-month a year viable and vibrant community.”
(No “market rate” was cited by the Harbor Church in its filings. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website, the 2018 “Fair Market Rent” standard for a 1-bedroom apartment in New Shoreham ranges from $874 to $890 per month.)
“We are aware that one of the top priorities going forward of the Block Island Housing Board is to create year-round affordable rental apartments,” the letter continues. “It is our request that the Board compose a letter of ‘sponsorship’ of the church’s endeavor. We believe that is fully within the intent of the Board’s goals, and if a letter should so state, that would be of significant benefit in our permitting and funding processes. Such language would allow us to proceed under the ‘Affordable’ provisions of the town’s zoning ordinance.”
Members of the Housing Board had questions about the church’s intentions and the meaning of “sponsorship” when they considered the request on Nov. 8. Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas confirmed that the church intends that the new apartments count towards the state’s requirement that 10 percent of each municipality’s housing stock be set aside as affordable. She also said that the church planned to have an “arms-length” relationship with the tenants through a separate corporation, a contract with a property management company, or both.
The Housing Board voted unanimously to send a “letter of support and sponsorship” of the Harbor Church’s proposal to the Zoning Board. (Cindy Pappas recused herself from voting on the issue.) The November 13 letter said, “The Board feels that the proposal is compatible with its purpose and mission, and that the provision of small, stable, affordable rental units in the downtown area, utilizing an already existing building, is of great potential benefit to the community.”
The letter stated that the Housing Board’s expectations” were that the proposed rental units would remain affordable “in perpetuity” and “never be sold or converted to market rate or seasonal use,” and that they would be managed by “an independent organization” charged with ensuring compliance with applicable rules.
At the Zoning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting, Chair Elizabeth Connor noted that the proposed design would not change the building’s exterior except to add a new fire escape, so no Historic District Commission review will be needed. The Special Use Permit process requires advisory opinions from the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board. The church sought a waiver from the requirement for a Development Plan Review by the Planning Board because no site work is needed for the existing structure.
Connor also asked the Harbor Church’s representatives at the meeting to “make a proposal about what ‘sponsorship’ means” at the public hearing, as a “heads up” on possible questions.
The plan’s review by the State Fire Marshal’s office is already in process, Tony Pappas told The Block Island Times in an email after the meeting: “We have an open application at the Fire Marshal’s office as we complete all the submission requirements. The Fire Marshal is not likely to say no; he may add a number of coding requirements that will raise the costs. So we are trying to navigate that aspect.”
The hearing on the First Baptist Church’s application for a Special Use Permit under Zoning Ordinance Section 405 — Affordable Housing for Plat 7, Lot 17, will be on Jan. 24, 2018.
Courtesy of The Block Island Times
Published July 30. 2016 6:38PM | Updated July 31. 2016 7:29PM
Tiverton, R.I. — Melissa Pacheco, a single mother of a 7-year-old daughter, says there is a certain stigma attached to public or subsidized housing because it often conjures images of unsavory characters.
But she counts herself among “the good people on Section 8 that just need help.”
“It’s just a few that lead to that stigma,” she said.
Struggling at the moment to find work, Pacheco has made her home at Bourne Mill Apartments in Tiverton, R.I., for the past seven years.
Unlike the high-rises of the 124-unit Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue in New London, Bourne Mill looks like any market-rate apartment complex.
“Most people don’t know this is Section 8. People will ask, 'How can you afford this?'” Pacheco said.
Bourne Mill Apartments was completed in 2009 by Peabody Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Inc. — the same partnership that wants to convert the site of the former Edgerton School in New London into a $40 million affordable-housing complex.
The plan is to move residents there from the Crystal Avenue high-rises.
As the result of a class-action lawsuit, the New London Housing Authority is under a court order to demolish or fully renovate the outdated high-rises and hand over management.
A property manager stands in a walkway of a series of apartments with private entrances at the Bourne Mill Apartments in Tiverton, R.I., on Friday, July 8, 2016. The building was developed through a partnership of Peabody Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Inc. The companies have proposed a 124-unit affordable-housing development for the former Edgerton School property at 120 Cedar Grove Ave., New London. (Greg Smith/The Day)
As it does in many of its collaborations, Peabody would co-own and manage the New London complex.
Representatives from the two companies recently provided a tour of the sprawling former textile mill, located on the border of Fall River, Mass., as an effort to illustrate how affordable-housing has evolved and the type of housing they plan to provide for families in New London.
The same company that designed the Bourne Mill renovation project, The Architectural Team Inc., would design the units at the former Edgerton School site.
With its restored wooden floors, chic common areas and attention to historical details, the Bourne Mill received an award for excellence in historic rehabilitation using low-income housing tax credits from the National Housing and Rehabilitation Association.
While the proposed project in New London is not exactly comparable, “it’s a transferrable concept,” said Elizabeth Collins, the vice president of development for Peabody Properties.
Despite the obstacles of a historical renovation, Collins said, many of the units at Bourne Mill have their own entrances — similar to the goal in New London.
Proposed conceptual plans for the New London development show clusters of townhouse-style two- and three-bedroom units with their own entrances surrounding a larger, taller building of one-bedroom apartments with elevators and handicap accessibility, mostly reserved for older residents.
“It’s family housing, and kids in corridors is just not as conducive to making a better family site,” Collins said.
A one-bedroom apartment at Bourne Mill Apartments in Tiverton, R.I., is seen on Friday, July 8, 2016. The building was developed through a partnership of Peabody Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Inc. The companies have proposed a 124-unit affordable-housing development on the former Edgerton School property at 120 Cedar Grove Ave., New London. (Greg Smith/The Day)
The Bourne Mill is a mixed-income housing complex of 165 units with one-, two- and three–bedroom apartments where most residents are receiving some type of subsidy, either through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, or a project-based voucher program where residents like Pacheco pay 30 percent of their income.
Thames River Apartments is federally subsidized, and while the funding source will be altered, Collins said, the goal is a smooth transition where residents will continue to pay 30 percent of their income.
Peabody and Affordable Housing have yet to present a site plan to New London's Planning and Zoning Commission but said they hope to have the process well underway by the end of the year.
Public records show that Bourne Mills Rental 9 LLC, the name used for the development by Affordable Housing and Peabody, paid $160,503 in property taxes in 2015.
The proposed New London project also would be a tax generator.
While there are similarities, there are also differences between the two projects.
Tiverton is a town of about 15,000, but Bourne Mill Apartments residents said they are more closely connected with Fall River, Mass., an urban town of 88,000 and also formerly a hub of the textile industry. By comparison, New London has a population of about 27,000.
The former Edgerton School on Cedar Grove Avenue is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The Bourne Mill is somewhat secluded.
The Bourne Mill was a renovation project while the New London project would be built from the ground up. Both strategies present their own challenges, Collins said, but new construction would allow designers to better fit the project to the site.
While there are complaints about the potential for an increase in traffic, noise and crime and a lack of parking options, many opponents in New London cite the small size of the property — 3.3-acres — as the major hurdle.
Peabody and Affordable Housing, however, have made moves to expand the footprint and frontage.
Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Executive Director Michael Mattos said Friday the partners have purchase agreements with three abutting properties on Cedar Grove Avenue and another on Colman Street.
He did not give specific addresses and said the purchases are contingent on certain factors.
The companies are working with members of the city’s planning department in preparation for submitting plans in the coming months.
It is an overall effort, Mattos said, to try to improve the quality of the site design.
Hoping to alleviate some concerns from nearby residents, Collins said Peabody, with its own management team, stresses on-site property management. The building manager and superintendent will have a presence in the building, she said.
“We’re not looking to just minimize the management presence on the site. We feel overall it helps the asset to be able to spend a little more, or reserve a little more to be prepared to keep it maintained,” Collins said. “We primarily manage for the long run. We don’t look to flip properties.”
Pacheco said for the most part she agrees that management is responsive and friendly and that the complex is clean.
She is advocating, however, for a playground or some sort of children’s space outdoors. Otherwise, she said, it’s a good area to ride bikes and fish at a nearby pond.
Others at the complex say there are many dog owners, which can at times lead to an inordinate amount of dog waste outside when owners do not clean up after their pets.
Shacora Carter, 24, moved to Bourne Mill earlier this year and called it “quiet, secluded and safe.”
She said there is a school nearby for her daughter, people are friendly and there are local retail developments in neighboring Fall River.
The single mother of a 2-year-old moved from a Boston-area shelter and said she is still adjusting to the quiet, clean environment. She said she had entered the shelter when she found out she was pregnant, as a way to get a new start.
She has since obtained her GED and is looking at options for furthering her education.
“It’s better for her. It beats staying in a shelter,” she said, motioning to her daughter, Zyinejah. “I love it.”
Courtesy of The Day
Updated: Sep 26, 2018 at 3:24 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Massachusetts fair housing advocacy group is arguing that a Rhode Island Supreme Court rule requiring that nonprofit organizations only represent indigent clients is preventing it from providing legal assistance to people who are facing housing discrimination.
The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed suit against in U.S. District Court on behalf of SouthCoast Fair Housing, an organization with offices in New Bedford and Pawtucket whose stated mission is to promote fair equal, affordable housing for all, with an expertise in handling claims brought under the Fair Housing Act. The suit names Debra Saunders, the clerk of the state high court, as a defendant and asks that the court declare the rule unconstitutional and order the judiciary to issue the license.
According to the ACLU, the housing agency represents clients who are poor as well as those above the poverty line, some of whom complain they are being denied housing because they have young children.
In May 2017, SouthCoast applied to practice law in Rhode Island, but the application was rejected because the agency’s mission is to serve all people who allege they are facing housing discrimination, not just those who are poor, according to the ACLU. That determination barred SouthCoast from representing clients in Rhode Island.
SouthCoast argues that the rule requiring nonprofits to restrict their clientele to indigent people is unreasonable, arbitrary and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. In addition, the suit accuses the court of violating the agency’s rights as well as those of its potential clients under the First Amendment to freely associate and to seek “redress from grievances.” In addition, the suit charges that the rule violates due process and equal protection rights.
“Housing discrimination that violates our state and federal fair housing laws can impact anyone, regardless of income. Victims of discrimination face numerous obstacles to enforcing their civil rights, not the least of which is securing affordable legal counsel,” Kristina da Fonseca, SouthCoast executive director, said in a news release. ”[SouthCoast] is uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive fair housing services to Rhode Island families and residents, and is eager to add legal representation to its existing advocacy.”
Mark Freel, a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU, added: “As the Rhode Island Supreme Court recognizes elsewhere in its own rules, the cost of legal services is not just an impediment to people who are defined as ‘poor.’ It is a barrier to many average people whose rights are at stake. In that context, any attempt to limit the critical services of non-profit legal organizations to only certain people identified as ‘indigent’ is not only a violation of multiple constitutional rights, but it is a disservice to the people who rely on those organizations.”
The courts declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.
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