Putting Housing Back at The Forefront of The National Conversation

Posted by Jonathan Reckford on February 23, 2017

Eric’s family purchased a Habitat for Humanity home in the Florida farming community of Immokalee, Florida, which among many other things, provided stability and quiet. Eric recently earned a full scholarship to Cornell University, where he wants to study business and hotel management and bring his skills back to his hometown. He’s one of a group of Immokalee students who started Taste of Immokalee, a business that highlights their community’s products and produces sauces, salsas, and spice products that are now appearing on the shelves of local Publix stores. “Eric is a great example of what an impact housing makes in the life of a child,” said Habitat Collier Executive Director Lisa Lefkow.

“A safe, decent, affordable home is like a vaccine,” said Dr. Megan Sandel of the Boston University School of Medicine. “It literally prevents disease. A safe home can prevent mental health and developmental problems, a decent home may prevent asthma or lead poisoning, and an affordable home can prevent stunted growth and unnecessary hospitalizations.” Similarly, studies indicate that stable housing leads to better education outcomes.

Folks, we need to drag housing back to the forefront of the national conversation.

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Housing Regulations Are For Neighbors, Not Residents

Posted by Rick Jacobus on February 21, 2017

In a previous post here on Rooflines, I argued that we cannot give up hope that the market will build middle income housing. Granted, over the past decade, most new housing built has been in the luxury segment of the market, yet some argue that this isn’t a problem because the luxury housing naturally ‘filters’ down and eventually offers everyone the benefit of lower rents and prices. I agree that refusing to build luxury housing (in the face of rising demand from wealthy households) will only make the housing problem worse for everyone else, but building luxury housing exclusively is no strategy for addressing the housing problems of low-income or even middle income people.

For low-income residents in high cost areas, there is no substitute for public sector action to provide below-market rate housing, but for middle-income households, the market really should be able to provide appropriate housing without government subsidy. It is not doing that now, but we shouldn’t give up on the idea because ultimately it will bring more benefit to a wider segment of the population than luxury housing can.

So why doesn’t this happen?

I think that this is a surprisingly complex problem that is made all the worse by the fact that everyone seems to expect it to have a very simple answer. In local policy discussions, I hear two grossly simplistic answers that I believe do more harm than good. Some people seem predisposed to conclude that we don’t build more moderate income housing because of developer greed. Another group of people want very much for the culprit to be unnecessary government regulation. I think both explanations stand in the way of really understanding the problem and doing something effective to solve it.

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Shelterforce Stands in Solidarity with #F17

Posted by Rooflines on February 17, 2017










Today, the Shelterforce/NHI office is standing in solidarity with the February 17th General Strike, a national day of action being observed by organizations and individuals across the country that are pushing back against assaults on our shared humanity and democratic principles.

For more information and ways to participate, visit strike4democracy.com.


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Should Online Shopping Change How We Use Space?

Posted by Randy Shaw on February 16, 2017

Should ground-floor use go from retail to housing?

In San Francisco, the closing of once-popular San Francisco restaurants and the decline of longtime Union Square pillar Macy’s raise a question: Have the fundamentals of urban retail changed?

If the answer is yes, San Francisco could move to reduce retail requirements in new housing developments while adding badly needed housing, which would represent a dramatic change in “best practices” for urban neighborhoods.

Jane Jacobs’s support for mixed-use development with “eyes on the street” has long been seen as the best urban design strategy, but this vision assumed that the retail under housing could be rented. What if it cannot? Or, what if the only market for these retail spaces are for offices closed on evenings and weekends? Such uses do not offer the ongoing street activity that created Jacobs’s famed street “ballet.”

As San Francisco and other large cities combat their housing shortages, the requirement that ground-floor space under housing be for retail should to be open to debate. We may conclude that the city should not be giving up housing units for retail spaces that are not wanted or needed.

National Trend

An intriguing article out of New York City found that despite the economic upturn, vacancy rates are up in every Manhattan retail corridor. Some argue that unlike past downturns, this one is not cyclical. Brokers believe that “brick-and-mortar retailers will shrink dramatically during the next few years, so supply of retail space will outweigh demand for it.”

I recall that over a decade ago, Berkeley Daily Planet Editor Becky O’Malley questioned whether Berkeley had too much retail in light of people’s shifting purchasing activity to the internet. Urban America’s buying habits have shifted even more dramatically since that time, raising questions as to whether it’s time to rethink the popular model of mixed-use development.

Like nearly everyone else, I prefer the look of mixed-use streets. I bemoan the Tenderloin’s unusual lack of mixed-use housing, despite challenges finding quality tenants for existing spaces. Jacobs was correct: mixed-use streets are more interesting, and have more energy and foot traffic.

So before we give up on mixed use, let’s consider how San Francisco and other cities can maintain successful retail in an online world.

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Art Matters—In Rural Classrooms and Beyond

Posted by Stephen Sugg on February 15, 2017

I’ve spent nearly two decades working on the intersection of housing, community development, and public policy. I’ve seen the arts bring out the best in us, especially in low-income communities. So when I read the report, “Arts Education Reduces Stress Level of Low-Income Students,” it was not a surprise. What is surprising is that we must continually fight to make sure that the arts have a role in public schools, and that our low-income communities are worthy of arts and culture-related investments.

My academic research focuses on place-based education, which embeds student learning in local contexts, and shows promise as an antidote to deeply rooted social and environmental problems while boosting student achievement.
But how does this relate to art education?

Crellin Elementary School, a small Appalachian school in Maryland that serves largely low-income students and where I focused much of my research, is a national model for school turnaround, and it regularly claims national and international plaudits for environmental education, place-based education, and character education. Headlines on Crellin’s state-leading test scores are commonplace. But Crellin’s stakeholders are adamant: the Crellin way is about teaching students to think critically, learn authentically, and contribute to the community’s social capital. Disadvantaged kids with over a decade of jaw-dropping test scores are merely a side effect. And contrary to popular practice, in American education, this success is achieved as the school and community embrace art.

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Housing and The “Flyover” Mentality

Posted by Alan Mallach on February 14, 2017

Right around the New Year, an article by Wired’s Emily Dreyfuss popped up on one of my newsfeeds titled, “The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live In Cities Anymore.” My reaction was skepticism, and that skepticism was confirmed when I read the article, which was yet another piece about the same hot coastal places that everybody keeps writing about–Boston, New York, San Francisco, and so forth. That, in turn, started me thinking about what has been derisively called “flyover country” (everything between the coasts), which seems to have become largely invisible to much of the American media, and how so much of the information we get about so many of the issues that concern us is reflected through a distorted coastal lens.

First, let's get some basic information out of the way. The middle class, by any reasonable definition, can clearly afford to live in most of America’s cities today. Not all, but most. Let’s define "middle class" as families earning 100 to 150 percent of the national median family income, which was $68,260 in 2015. Assuming that a family spends 33 percent of their income for mortgage, taxes, and insurance, they can usually afford a house costing roughly four times their gross income. With Zillow’s help, I created a graph of the median single family house value at the end of 2016 in 200 of the nation’s largest cities, and superimposed the results of my affordability analysis.

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Tenant Protections Are a Cornerstone to Solving the Housing Crisis

Posted by Aimee Inglis on February 13, 2017

I’ve read far too many think pieces, op-eds, and reports that neglect the role of tenant protections as a tool that is vital to solving our local, state, national, and international housing crises. Recently, California’s Housing & Community Development office released a report on our state’s housing crisis, and it failed to even mention “tenant protections,” “rent control,” or “just cause for eviction.” Despite a national Renters’ Day of Action last September where thousands took to the streets, the passage of two rent control laws in California at the ballot, and more of these campaigns in the pipeline, the conventional wisdom on solving the housing crisis remains conformed to the simplistic frame of “supply and demand,” and if we’re lucky, acknowledgement that some of that supply must be affordable units. We must do better.

It is not enough to organize around one particular policy. We must protect people who are in their homes AND increase the number of deeply affordable homes AND work to get to the root of the problem: financial speculation on land and housing. While tenant advocates are often leading fights for improved housing conditions, rent regulations, and eviction protections, we recognize that it’s not good enough to freeze things as they are. While we know we must fight for new homes that are deeply affordable and for greater community control of land and housing, we don’t feel that same recognition on the importance of tenant protections from most politicians and the “supply” community.

In a recent video, in which Assembly Democrats in California said they would stand up with our communities against President Trump’s proposed policies, Assemblyman David Chiu declared the importance of “affordable housing,” but no one said anything about tenants’ rights and displacement protections.

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Three Dangers and an Opportunity

Posted by Michael Bodaken and Ellen Lurie Hoffman on February 10, 2017

If it seems like we're approaching a domestic policy pivot point, it might be because we are. Since November 9, we’ve been thinking about the near- and long-term implications of the election results, and while the future cannot be predicted, we do know that it could have severe consequences for low income communities.

Now that Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as President and the 115th Congress has begun, in the coming months and years, a number of high stakes policy decisions will pose significant threats to core affordable housing and community development programs, while others could create opportunities to expand much-needed resources. A few specific policy debates on the horizon include:

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New Bills Would Enforce Ignorance on State of Housing Opportunity

Posted by Debby Goldberg on February 9, 2017

The 115th Congress has just gotten underway and already several of its members have launched an attack on some fundamental American values: the belief that choices about where to live should not be limited by the color of one's skin or the country of their ancestry, and that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should have an equal shot at access to opportunity. 

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced bills in their respective chambers to dismantle the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted in 2015. 

These bills would set back efforts to overcome the harm caused by housing discrimination and segregation, created in large part over many decades by government policies and practices. They would take away new tools designed to help communities better connect their residents to opportunity and fuel economic prosperity. And they would limit public access to a potentially wide array of government data on which public officials, policymakers, researchers, and citizens rely to understand and improve conditions in their communities.

The “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017,” (H.R. 482 in the House and S. 103 in the Senate) has just a few provisions.

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Not All Asian Elderly Are Well Off

Posted by Kelley Lou on February 8, 2017

Video of Fox News personality Jesse Watters disrespecting Chinese people on the streets of New York’s Chinatown went viral last October. In the segment on the network's "The O'Reilly Factor", Watters mockingly interviews an elderly woman who apparently can’t understand him. As she stands there in silence, the piece cuts to a clip of Madeline Kahn from the movie “Young Frankenstein,” shrieking, “Speak! Speak! Why don’t you speak!” 

The clip was viewed over 2 million times, and people voiced outrage over how Watters treated the elderly Chinese woman and generally mocked Chinatown residents. For me, the video highlighted how little mainstream Americans understand Asian Americans and its older population. It also sheds light on how our communities are often disparagingly treated like the older woman in the clip by both media and policymakers—who often assume that we remain placatingly silent to injustice.

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