Posted by Chad Bolt and David Newville on April 28, 2017
This past Wednesday, President Donald Trump released a one-page outline of a tax plan that he says provides tax relief for the middle class, but in reality, the plan is basically a massive tax cut for the rich.
Don’t be fooled: like the American Health Care Act, which actually was also a massive tax cut for the wealthy disguised as health care reform, this plan is also a massive tax cut for people who need it the least. This time, it is merely disguised as “tax relief” and “simplification.”
For starters, the plan consolidates the income tax brackets from seven to three, but in doing so, it conveniently lowers the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans by nearly 5 percent. It does raise the standard deduction—currently $12,600 for couples—to $24,000, but for low-income families that have no tax liability, raising the standard deduction does absolutely nothing to help them get ahead.
Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 26, 2017
In November, at 11p.m. on a Tuesday, a woman in her early 30s walked into our emergency room in East Boston, with her 6-year-old and 2-year-old children in tow. She had gotten home from work that evening to find her front door taped over with caution tape and didn't know where to go. She came to our ER and my colleagues scrambled for an answer. They called social workers at the Boston Medical Center (BMC) ER, who said they see a few cases like this each week. Eventually the emergency room doctor footed the bill for a cheap, local hotel that night.
On another evening in December, the nurse handed me an EKG for the patient in room 7, a 15-year-old girl who had palpitations and nausea. I walked in to find a young woman, her hands gripping the edge of the exam table. Her father was seated in a chair by the door with a worried look on his face. She explained that when she entered her home this afternoon, there was an overwhelming chemical smell, and there were workers inside painting the apartment. She was afraid. No one had told them or asked their permission to send a painting crew into the house that day. She felt nauseated from the smell and her heart was racing. Her younger sister was in another exam room.
Her father explained that week after week their landlady had been asking them to move out. “We pay our rent every month, on time, but it’s hard to save enough money to put together first, last, and security to move into a new apartment.” He explained that the landlady was trying to evict them so she could sell the whole building. “I’m happy to let them do renovations, but why are they trying to evict us?”
—Lara Jirmanus, MD, MPH, attending physician, Emergency Department East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and fellow, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, testimony to the Boston City Coucil support of the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act.
Housing crises are health crises. Toxic mold causes asthma. Lack of heat weakens immune systems. Unaffordability causes stress. Forced choices between paying the rent and paying for medical care or food lead to poor health.
Around the country, health care institutions that recognize this have started to employ lawyers onsite to help patients fight landlords for better housing conditions or qualify for housing subsidies (plus a range of other legal supports that will generally have direct effect on their health).
But lawyers can only go as far as the law goes.
Posted by Brian Levinson on April 25, 2017
Some community development organizations think the foreclosure crisis is over, but there’s a new emergency within the more vulnerable segments of our population—and it is hitting the elderly particularly hard, says Lou Tisler, who recently left Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Greater Cleveland after 12 years as executive director. That new crisis is tax foreclosures—the sale of a property due to unpaid tax liabilities.
In more than a quarter century of community development work, Tisler, who has joined the National Community Reinvestment Coalition as director of its Housing Counseling Network, saw many challenges during his 12 years with NHS, but none greater than the foreclosure crisis that started with the collapse of the housing market 10 years ago.
"Between flipping, mortgage fraud, etc., we saw a lot of people get hurt," recalls Tisler. "At first, when people fell behind (on their mortgage payments) it was easy to get them caught up. Then we saw the recession really kick in and people lost their jobs and there were no jobs to be had, which made dealing with the issue that much harder. Now we have a tax-foreclosure crisis that is increasing at an alarming rate. So you have some of your large organizations saying the (foreclosure) crisis is over, but there is a new emergency now hitting the elderly hard. And that is tax foreclosures."
In fact, he calls tax foreclosure perhaps the greatest challenge facing affordable housing organizations, particularly those in Rust Belt states that have not recovered from the Great Recession as quickly as other states. Cities like Cleveland and Detroit have been hit especially hard.
Posted by Charles MacGregor on April 20, 2017
Half a century ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see asbestos used in everything from tar paper for roofing, pipe insulation, caulking, ceiling tiles, and home insulation. Asbestos was durable, heat resistant, and cheap, making it a perfect home construction material. And though we have since learned how dangerous it is, approximately 700,000 public buildings in the United States may still contain asbestos—tucked away in insulation, acoustical plaster and concrete, fireproofing materials, floor tiles, and dozens of other applications. Frighteningly, this number serves as an indication of how prevalent it may be in private homes.
Today, federal rules prevent newly manufactured products from containing any more than 1 percent asbestos, and the Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating the substance to determine whether it needs to be banned entirely or regulated even more strictly. Considered safe when left alone, asbestos is incredibly dangerous when it is broken or damaged—creating dust that can be inhaled or ingested, often by people who don’t even know they being exposed.
Studies have shone a light on the prevalence of toxins present inside the homes of lower-income families. Chiefly among those toxins are radon and lead, and because lower-income housing tends to also be older, asbestos is another very real threat to the owners and inhabitants of those homes. The cost of lead and asbestos abatement totals in the thousands of dollars, and private homes aren’t usually included in asbestos regulation, so its removal becomes less of a priority for landlords, and is much less likely to happen at all.
Posted by Pamela Bailey on April 19, 2017
In NeighborWorks America’s new five-year strategic plan (2017-2021), one of our most significant transitions is recognition that many members of our network are increasingly broadening and deepening their cross-sector collaborations. We want to support them in advancing this new paradigm to create more opportunities for low-income people and communities.
One of the diverse sectors in which our network members are increasingly active, often through new types of collaborations, is health. A survey conducted by NeighborWorks of 242 of its network organizations showed that nearly 89 percent are engaging in activities that connect housing and community development directly to health—with the most common strategies focused on the home environment and access to healthy foods. A total of 83 percent of those initiatives relied on partners, ranging from hospitals to local public health departments.
A paper summarizing the results of the survey, co-authored by Sarah Norman, NeighborWorks’ director of healthy homes and communities, is now in peer review at the journal Cities & Health and is summarized in a blog post on Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies website.
“What makes these findings striking is the message they send to the nation’s health providers, who are called upon by recent changes in the medical field to pay more attention to the social determinants of health—including housing,” says Norman. “Rather than strike out on their own, we urge health stakeholders to partner with housing and community development organizations already working in neighborhoods across the country.”
Tips For Finding Health Partners
According to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps Program, about 80 percent of a person’s health status can be attributed to non-medical factors such as housing and income. This is increasingly acknowledged and in fact, current law requires nonprofit hospitals to think beyond medical care to community health.
However, don’t expect health care providers to reach out to you. It is up to you to proactively contact hospitals, county departments of public health, etc. Here are some useful facts and suggestions for housing and community development organizations that want to get started in this space or seek other allies in the health sector:
Posted by Lillian M. Ortiz and Keli A. Tianga on April 18, 2017
If you’re up-to-date on your gentrification news, you may have heard that residents of four historically African-American neighborhoods in Atlanta are in the midst of an occupation of Turner Field—the former home of the Atlanta Braves.
The organized resident groups have demanded, since 2013 when the baseball team announced it was leaving, to be considered and included in the planned development of 67 acres of commercial and housing on the land. So far, they’ve reported little to no luck in getting a community benefits agreement considered by the city or the developers, and they have escalated their protest to erecting a tent city on the property. Residents have been camped on the property since April 1 demanding that the proposal be acknowledged and addressed.
In a project called the “deal of the year” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the City of Atlanta sold the land to Georgia State University (GSU) and the Carter, Oakwood Development and Healey Weatherholtz joint venture last year. Two resident groups, the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition and Housing Justice League, have organized community members from the historic towns of Summerhill, Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, and Pittsburgh to push back against planned development they say has purposely excluded them.
“We didn’t make this decision to pitch tents lightly,” says Peoplestown resident Columbus Ward in a recent press release. “We have families, we have jobs, we have responsibilities. But at the end of the day, Carter, GSU, and the city are threatening the very existence of our neighborhoods. This is a fight for our right to remain and thrive. We refuse to be seen as commodities. We are real people.”
This community action is but one among several in cities around the country where longtime residents fear displacement at the hand of publicly supported private development, and have begun organizing against it.
Posted by Josh Silver on April 17, 2017
The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a law that requires banks to serve the credit needs, consistent with safety and soundness, of all communities including low- and moderate-income communities. With this requirement, CRA is essentially aimed at making capitalism work better in all communities. Any hardworking citizen with good credit should be able to secure a loan and participate in the capitalist economy by using the loan to buy a home or start a small business. This ethic is consistent with both liberal and conservative notions that all Americans should have a fair chance to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and take responsibility for providing for their families and bettering their communities.
Unfortunately, in the current climate, support for CRA is becoming more partisan, even though prominent Republicans and banks have supported CRA as a positive economic force.
Let’s review the record of CRA supporting robust community economies:
Posted by Jamie Bennett on April 13, 2017
In 2002, Richard Florida published a book that kicked off a wave of urban development efforts based on the belief that architects, artists, musicians, and writers were core members of an emergent creative class who together represented the economic future of our country.
As the ideas in The Rise of the Creative Class circulated among mayors, city managers, economic development officials, and urban planners, the conversation generally settled into a discussion around talent attraction and what would create the conditions to get these creatives to move to one city over another.
Mr. Florida’s thinking has continued to evolve and expand—in fact, his most recent book focuses on housing affordability, transportation equity, and living wages—issues that impact a city’s existing residents from every class. But that initial conversation he started has continued to shape the conditions for our work in at least one unhelpful way.
While The Rise of the Creative Class got many municipal leaders to look at artists as assets for the first time, it did so by positioning them as “others,” as outsiders who were not rooted in any community. They were seen as a roving economic development army that stayed in a place only as long as there was shade-grown, fair trade coffee no more than a bike-share ride away from their live/work loft, and who left as soon as the luxury condos and wine bars moved in.
But that isn't true.
Posted by Lillian M. Ortiz on April 12, 2017
There have been many studies, reports, and articles throughout the years that highlight the correlation between a person's housing and their health. (We even had an entire issue dedicated to this topic.) That's especially true today, where talk of the “social determinants of health” seems to be the hot new catchphrase.
For those trying to convince others—community partners, city officials, hospitals, and health organizations, etc.—to view housing and issues of neighborhood disinvestment through a health lens (and vice versa), the Urban Institute has compiled a helpful one-stop report about the effects of vacant buildings, low-quality housing, and empty lots on the well being of individuals and communities. While there isn’t a lot of new and startling information in Urban Blight and Public Health: Addressing the Impact of Substandard Housing, Abandoned Buildings, and Vacant Lots, the 40-page report does compile various studies related to health and housing issues through the years, some more than 15 years old; others as recent as last year.
The report’s authors, however, point out that several of the studies cited examine only one health impact, like asthma or lead poisoning, in a single place over a short period of time, giving us mostly snapshots of how housing influences health. Also, most of the studies do not provide direct causation, as the methods to do so would take “substantial investments of time and resources.”
Posted by Alan Jenkins on April 7, 2017
How to engage, inform, and fight back against falsehoods.
In an era of fake news, alternative facts, and downright lies, it’s a daily struggle to promote the continued benefit of our social justice work and a positive, inclusive vision for our country that’s rooted in truth and fairness. And when the loudest and most virulent falsehoods come from the highest levels of government, this challenge can feel overwhelming.
Research and experience point to clear ways that we as advocates, journalists, and citizens can overcome the fiction and push reality. Here are 10 of them: