Airbnb Should Copy Fair Housing Activists

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on December 1, 2016

Airbnb, as with some other of its fellow peer-to-peer "disruptive" tech solutions, has come under fire from a few directions over the past years. Along with concerns that it could be causing needed housing to be taken off the market in areas where prices are already tight, and essentially allowing commerical hotel operators to operate unregulated and untaxed, it has also faced such strong accounts of racial discrimination that entrepreneurs saw a market niche for Airbnb alternatives for Black travelers.

In response, Airbnb has recently announced a set of anti-discrimination policies, including a "community commitment," which basically involves having hosts promise not to make decisions based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation. As a statement of principles, it's a fairly clear and explicit one, and that's a good thing. Using your leadership role to set a tone for your organization does matter. But I think other proposals are likely to matter more, and Airbnb could go further.

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Come Together: Reweaving America’s Social Fabric Using the Arts

Posted by Joyce Fernandes on November 30, 2016

The election has shone a powerful spotlight on the myriad ways in which the nation is divided. The weakening of our social fabric has been lamented and analyzed through multiple lenses: politics, religion, race, age, and class. For decades, social scientist Robert Putnam, among others, has demonstrated gains and losses in social capital and widening gaps in income and educational attainment. At the same time, technology has imprinted the culture with new ways to communicate, creating an impression that we are all “friends” (or enemies), connected and networked across cyberspace. This post-election hangover leaves us struggling to locate the truth of our connection—and disconnection.

We know more than ever that we are connected to those who think like us, shop like us, pray like us, and vote like us. We communicate compulsively in the echo chamber that is social media, iterating and reiterating the infinitesimal sameness of our opinions, only to realize that we do coexist with an “other,” unrecognizable tribe, and that we are disconnected from those who are different from us.

Here in Chicago, that division can be mapped across the city’s neighborhoods. Economic, health, and education indicators are just a few of the statistics that show extreme differences between communities and reflect our deep history of racism and division. Affordable and public housing developments are isolated within certain neighborhoods in a way that makes poverty invisible to those those who live and work within and near our central business districts.

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Who Is Still Unbanked, And What Can We Do About it?

Posted by Bob Annibale on November 29, 2016

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has now published four reports, spanning six years of research, that quantify how Americans are accessing banking and alternative financial services. The recently-released 2015 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households found that approximately 7 percent of U.S. households, a group roughly the size of the population of Australia, were "unbanked" in 2015, meaning they have neither a checking nor savings account. This is the lowest unbanked rate recorded since the survey was first launched in 2009, and a significant improvement from its peak of 8.2 percent in 2011.

Progress has been unevenly distributed, however.

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Malign Neglect? Urban Policy in the Trump Era

Posted by Alan Mallach on November 28, 2016

To paraphrase physicist Niels Bohr, (or maybe it was Yogi Berra), "predicting is difficult, especially when it’s about the future." One would think even more so, looking at this subject, when it is just one of the many issues that Trump has never put out a position on nor shown any particular interest in. Actually, that might make prediction easier, not harder. Why? It seems pretty clear that Trump doesn’t have much policy bandwidth; in fact, he may be the least policy-minded person to serve as president since Warren Gamaliel Harding.

What that means, I believe, is that when it comes to issues that don’t engage him on a gut level—and are not red meat to his base—he’s not likely to push any policy ideas of his own. Instead, he’s more likely to leave those issues, one of which is urban policy, to the Republicans in Congress, along with whichever right-wing apparatchik or mortgage lender becomes HUD secretary.

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On Clinton, Obama, Trump, and the Failures of Liberal Urban Policy

Posted by James DeFilippis on November 25, 2016

In the closing days of the seemingly endless 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, it became increasingly clear to political observers that Hillary Clinton was explicitly adopting a platform of continuity with President Barack Obama’s administration. This interpretation is helpful in understanding Donald Trump’s victory, despite his earning fewer votes than Mitt Romney did when he lost the presidential election in 2012. While turnout figures are still being analyzed, early estimates suggest that the decline in voter turnout was particularly pronounced in swing state cities; Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in Detroit was 70,000 votes smaller than Obama’s margin of victory in 2012. Those 70,000 votes by themselves constitute over five times the margin of victory for Donald Trump (12,000 votes) in Michigan. Similar drop-offs were reported in Cleveland and Toledo in Ohio, and Milwaukee in Wisconsin.

Why did Democrats in these cities not come out to vote? Before addressing this, I want to make a few things clear. First, analysts are invoking many factors to explain Trump’s victory. I do not claim to understand why it happened. Given the surprising outcome, clarity is probably not possible at this point. Second, it is probably true that a plethora of factors explains Trump’s win; no single story is likely to be the explanation. I am therefore not making a casual argument that “because of uninspiring urban policies under liberal Democrats, Donald Trump won the election.” Third, and importantly, blaming Obama for the election’s outcome would be both unfair to the President and far too easy. This post is meant to be read instead as a critique of the Democrats’ urban-policy frameworks for the last 25 years. It is a critique of these frameworks’ smallness and uninspiring-ness, and of their contribution to a withering of the organizational infrastructure necessary for more equitable and progressive urban life. That critique, which many academics have leveled for some time, has found some validation in the significant decline of voter turnout in core urban areas in this election (and in the 2012 election as well, relative to the 2008 election).

So why did urban turnout fall so dramatically?

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Some HUD Secretary Possibilities Are Serious—Others Laughable

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on November 23, 2016

[Edited to add: As of 11/28, We learned that Ben Carson accepted this position. We'll have more on what this means in weeks to come.]

Attention has been rightly focused this past week on the fact that the incoming administration has been proving itself completely uninterested in governing in a decent or appropriate manner. Between the president-elect's refusal to make even a nominal show of avoiding conflicts of interest with his businesses and his appointments of an explicit, proud white supremacist and misogynists to positions such as strategy advisor and attorney general, this is not a normal situation of settling in for four years of figuring out how to find common ground across political differences. That can still happen with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are willing, but no one should treat appointees like Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions as business-as-usual.

So far, some of the names floated as potential HUD secretaries fall into the camp of being a giant flyng middle finger to everything the department stands for, or to the idea that any experience might be needed to run a cabinet-level agency. Others seem more along the lines of extremely ideologically conservative, but nonetheless at least relevant.

The Bad

In the first camp was Robert Astorino, the county executive of Westchester County, New York, who has made his name fighting tooth and nail against a fair housing lawsuit and the consequences of losing that lawsuit. He does not currently seem to be under consideration, but that Astorino's name might even have been floated is a slap in the face to the idea of fair housing and the idea that cabinet secretaries ought to come with more qualifications than a bitter grudge against the agency they might head. It also makes clear where President-elect Donald Trump stands on fair housing in general, no matter who he appoints.

The Baffling

Currently, Ben Carson is being discussed, which again seems to be an indication that the president-elect does not care about the work of the agencies he is appointing people to, nor in fact to anyone's opinion of the people whose names he is floating. Carson has already turned down an open-ended offer of some cabinet position, with an advisor telling The Hill, "Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency." Of course I wouldn't expect Trump to understand no means no. He probably thinks Carson is playing hard to get. Maybe Carson thinks so too.

It's hard to speculate what Carson would bring to HUD beyond staggering incompetence—it would be a question of whose agenda he was implementing. (Edited to add: Not surprisingly, he has attacked the affirmatively furthering fair housing regulations.)

Until Carson's name was floated, two people with actual experience on the topic had been under discussion (and might well still be). 

The "Culture of Poverty" Conservative

Robert Woodson Sr., though a full-fledged conservative with some ominous views about how many poor people have "character deficits" and are "harmed" by too much government assistance, has at least been working in the community development field for a long time. And he has some critiques of it too.

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Stop Subsidizing Bad Landlords

Posted by Paula Franzese on November 22, 2016

Esperanza Menendez-Jackson is a single working mother who lived with her three children in a government-subsidized apartment building in Newark, New Jersey. Early into the lease, she discovered that the apartment was infested with bed bugs and was without heat, hot water, and a working oven. The apartment’s one bathroom had a serious mold problem.

She and her children wore layers of heavy clothing and on the coldest nights, sought shelter with family and friends. To avoid the spread of bed bugs, the family endured the daily ritual of shedding, bagging, and changing their clothes in the hallway each time they left home.

Over the course of a year, the landlord did little to address the significant problems and health hazards on site. When Menendez-Jackson finally withheld rent in an attempt to correct the problems herself, the landlord moved to evict her. Throughout the protracted court proceedings that followed, she was ordered to deposit her portion of the rent with the court to show good faith.

Astonishingly, however, during those many months and thereafter, the landlord continued to receive the lion’s share of the $1,800 monthly rent payment from the NJ Department of Community Affairs.

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An Opportunity to Shed Sunlight on Lender Legal Compliance is Missed

Posted by Josh Silver on November 21, 2016

Bank regulatory agencies including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and others missed a critically important action to encourage lenders’ compliance with consumer protection law. I’ve previously described how the agencies proposed to reform their consumer compliance rating system, which assigns ratings to lending institutions based on the extent to which they adhere to consumer protection laws. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) has advocated that the agencies should make public their ratings to reveal the extent of compliance.

Agency staff informed me that regulatory agencies are statutorily prohibited from disclosing these ratings. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) classifies these ratings as confidential supervisory information that are prohibited from disclosure. Nevertheless, in last week's final ruling about reform to the consumer compliance rating system, the agencies could have stated that they will seek public comment on lenders’ compliance with consumer law, which could influence their examination and rating of lenders. Even if law prohibits disclosure of ratings, the agencies could still seek information from the public on the extent of a financial institutions’ compliance with consumer protection law.

The agencies proposed to rate financial institutions on 12 assessment factors, which are grouped into three categories: board and management oversight, compliance program, and violations of law and consumer harm. The ratings would be on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 representing the highest rating, and 5 the lowest rating. The final rule enacted the 1 to 5 scale.

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Building Community Power in the Age of Trump

Posted by Tracey Ross on November 18, 2016

On Nov. 8, Donald Trump was elected to be our nation’s 45th President. In an attempt to understand his rise, a familiar narrative has emerged in which so-called “elites”—the media, politicians, and even people living on the coasts—have once again failed to understand the economic anxieties of the white working class. They supposedly failed to understand how factories moving overseas have crippled small towns. Or how rural America—“real America”—has been forgotten. While these communities certainly warrant increased public attention, exit polls show that Trump won white voters of all income levels, and did particularly well with voters making over $50,000.

Receiving less attention are the vast majority of people of color who cast votes for Hillary Clinton, third party candidates, or who didn’t vote at all. No national narrative has emerged about the need to understand working class people of color. No calls to truly understand the economic anxiety of people living in urban and metro regions. And certainly no labeling of racially diverse places as “real America”—even in the face of our country’s changing demographics.

With Trump’s win, we can expect proposed cuts to critical programs helping low-income people of all backgrounds, and Obama’s groundbreaking place-based initiatives—Choice Neighborhoods, Promise Neighborhoods, and Promise Zones—will be threatened. As the national dialogue continues to overlook communities of color and the issues they care about, it is more important than ever for local leaders to not only listen to and publicly acknowledge the concerns of these communities, but work with them for true change.

Communities of Color and Economic Anxiety
Despite the fact that white working class economic anxiety has been the central theme to analyze the 2016 election, communities of color face extreme economic challenges. Rising inequality disproportionately affects workers of color, who are concentrated in low-wage jobs, and racial wage gaps remain among workers with similar education levels. Further, communities of color are more likely to live in disinvested communities with low social mobility.

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Housing Assistance for *All* Is a Matter of Racial Justice—and It’s Achievable

Posted by Michael Bodaken and Ellen Lurie Hoffman on November 16, 2016

Project-based Section 8 has been a successful public-private partnership that helps provide affordable housing to very low-income households while also investing in jobs and improving communities. Any rational housing policy starts with such place-based strategies. However, place-based strategies, while absolutely essential, are not sufficient for a national housing policy. More is needed, and it starts with tenant-based Section 8 assistance.

Tenant-based Section 8 vouchers, commonly known as Housing Choice Vouchers, are provided directly to very low-income households to find an affordable home in the private market.

Over 3 million extremely low-income senior, disabled, and family households reside in project- or tenant-based Section 8 assisted housing in every nook and cranny in the United States. The public policy lesson of this reality is that with public support, the private market is an excellent vehicle for the delivery of affordable housing.

One might presume that such a successful, market-based program would deliver basic housing affordability for eligible households, but that’s not the case. Being eligible for Section 8 assistance does not guarantee that a household in need will receive it. Securing Section 8 assistance is more akin to winning the lottery—the odds are always against you. Less than one in four households actually receives Section 8 assistance. Put another way, 74 percent of U.S. households who are eligible do not receive Section 8 assistance. Usually, the household is placed on a very long Godot-like wait list, and the household waits. And waits. And waits. The average wait time on such a list is not months, but years.

According to HUD’s Picture of Subsidized Households, a renter household that used a voucher in 2015 waited more than two years on average to move into a unit, with the wait time in the San Diego metro area as long as seven years. Waiting lists in Cleveland, Detroit, and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas were about two years, while the wait in Los Angeles was four. This lack of universal application of Section 8 is a housing injustice. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), 20.7 million U.S. renter households are cost burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This number represents slightly more than half of all renter households.

And yet there is another pernicious outcome of the dearth of Section 8 resources for every eligible household.

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