Posted by Jodi Weinberger on November 20, 2013
The most important part of The Atlantic Cities' piece, "Has Germany Figured Out the Way To Keep Rents Affordable?" isn't whether Germany has figured out the way to keep rents affordable, it's why they care about keeping rents affordable.
As described in the piece, rents in German cities have been on the rise, causing evictions for longstanding tenants. It's also created a situation where aging tenants who want to move into a smaller unit can't because it's more expensive than their current rate, reducing the availability of larger apartments for the people that need them.
But when the German government recognized this problem, something unusual happened—they stepped in and made new rules:
"In Germany's three largest cities—Berlin, Hamburg and Munich—landlords will not be able to charge more than 10 percent of the average rent for comparable housing in the area. Instead of the usual 20 percent cap, rents must rise by no more than 15 percent in three years, with the rise-free first year kept in place.
Some smaller changes are also afoot. From now on, real estate agents' finder's fees must be paid by landlords, not tenants – previously they could cost renters up to around six weeks rent. And while landlords are currently allowed to add 11 percent of any renovation costs to their tenants' rental bill, now they will be allowed to add a very slightly smaller 10 percent"
I don't know if this answers the question posed in the title of the piece, but the article's author, Feargus O'Sullivan realizes it's not the rules themselves that's most critical to keeping rents affordable, it's the mindset in Germany. He writes, "[There's a] tentative national consensus that housing is an essential public resource first, a speculative good second."
Said another way: Housing for people, not for profit,
As Chester Hartman wrote in 2006, the need for a Right to Housing has not been accepted by the political powers, and without that, it's unlikely the holes of in the current solutions for solving the problem of affordability in this country would ever be filled in.
Posted by Alan Mallach on November 19, 2013
While the answer to that question in the title of this piece is obvious, there’s a strong case to be made that a lot of the buildings that make up America’s older cities may have to go, if these cities are to find a path to a new, better future. That was brought home recently by a NY Times article with the misleading title of “Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding.”
The title is misleading, because I know a lot of people in these cities, and I can’t think of a single one who actually prefers razing to rebuilding. At the same time, the article made an important point: for cities like Detroit, Cleveland or Baltimore, demolition has started to become a strategy, not an intermittent response to the individual problem building. This is a tough conclusion to reach, especially for those of us who love old buildings and admire the individual efforts that have saved many of them over the years, but an inevitable one.
Demolition has actually been going on for a long time. Detroit had 60,000 fewer housing units in 2010 than it did in 1990; these buildings didn’t just disappear, they were demolished. The problem is that, after two decades of knocking buildings down, Detroit had over 40,000 more vacant units by 2010 than they had in 1990. What the people working in America’s cities are finally realizing is that they have a basic problem of supply and demand.
It goes beyond what Justin Hollander said in the Times article, that there “just too many structures for the population we have;” the gap keeps growing larger, as populations continue to decline. The numbers in Detroit may be bigger, but almost every older city—other than booming cities like Washington, Boston or Seattle—saw the same trend between 1990 and 2010.
Posted by Chris Herbert on November 18, 2013
Our annual report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2013, issued last June, documented the growing evidence of a solid recovery in the housing market, marked most visibly by widespread increases in home prices and rebounding construction activity. But the report also cautioned that the good news of the long awaited recovery in housing markets should not overshadow the distressing news that the number of Americans with severe housing cost burdens—that is, spending more than half their income on housing—remains at unprecedented levels.
In fact, in 2011 the number of households with severe housing cost burdens reached a new record of 20.6 million, an increase of 2.6 million since the Great Recession began in 2007. But the deterioration in affordability was even worse during the housing boom years, with the number of families and individuals devoting more than half their income for housing costs up by 4.1 million between 2001 and 2007. Overall, from 2001 to 2011 the total number of severely cost burdened households soared by 49 percent.
The timing of these increases has differed somewhat between owners and renters (see figure). Among renters, the number of severely burdened households increased between 2001 and 2007, but really accelerated in the aftermath of the recession. Between 2007 and 2011 alone the number of severely burdened renters increased by 2.5 million, pushing the share with severe burdens to 27.6 percent.
Posted by Barbara Sard on November 15, 2013
Budget Cuts Threaten Rental Assistance to Families Across the Country
Congress has set a deadline of Dec. 13 to negotiate a final budget deal for fiscal year 2014. For low-income families and communities in need of affordable housing, the stakes in these negotiations couldn’t be higher.
If policymakers fail to reach a deal that cancels or reduces the indiscriminate budget cuts known as sequestration, as many as 185,000 fewer low-income families will be using Housing Choice Vouchers by the end of 2014. Our new report describes this threat, including state-by-state estimates of the potential impact.
Posted by Luisa Dantas on November 14, 2013
When I first came to New Orleans with my video camera in the months after Hurricane Katrina, it was already apparent that, just as the days after the storm laid bare deep and painful truths about race, class, and citizenship in the United States, the story of rebuilding New Orleans would have significance far beyond that time and place.
Over seven years, my team and I amassed an unprecedented archive of hundreds of hours of footage shot in and around New Orleans, encompassing a multitude of stories and perspectives, from homeless encampments to the halls of power. It was our goal early on to use our media to support the work of groups on the ground who were fighting for just and equitable rebuilding. This required assembling and disseminating these stories in ways that extended beyond a linear feature-length film, including online viral videos, a web series, and even art exhibits.
Luisa Dantas and Micheal Boedigheimer
By the time our feature documentary, Land of Opportunity, came out in 2011 (Kalima Rose reviewed it for Shelterforce), the lessons and experiences from post-Katrina New Orleans were increasingly relevant. The Great Recession had begun, as had the BP oil disaster. A year later, Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard. From Detroit to Gulfport; from New York City to northern Colorado, our communities are increasingly becoming contested sites of post-crisis rebuilding. How we (re)build our communities just might be the defining challenge of the 21st century.
Posted by David Holtzman on November 13, 2013
Last weekend there were two ribbon cuttings here in Louisa County. One was for an expansion of the food pantry and the other was to celebrate the relocation of a 1770s-era house to a prominent location next to the Town Hall. The house had been falling in on itself on an isolated lot; now it was rebuilt for the community to visit and learn about its history.
At the opening for the restored house, the director of the historical society related the well-known story of "Stone Soup." The tale begins with a man who has a pot of hot water with nothing more than a stone in it. Not especially tasty, and he's all alone. Then he is approached by various townspeople, each of whom offers a different vegetable to flavor the soup. In the end the community shares a delicious feast.
The story was a way to put a spotlight on the wide range of people from the community who had come together to restore this valuable historical structure, which provides clues to the origins of many of us.
I was struck by the food metaphor, given that the day before they had cut a ribbon to celebrate an expanded food pantry. The community really came together to make that project happen, too. But what a strange thing, if you think about it, that we are excited about expanding a resource to make sure people have enough to eat, because the local economy and society are otherwise unable to help people thrive.
Posted by Eric Oberdorfer on November 12, 2013
No veteran who has risked their life to protect our homes should return to find that they are not able have their own. For their service and sacrifice, it is important that we ensure our veterans have access to safe, affordable, and secure housing.
This can be challenging in rural America.
Although just 21 percent of our nation’s population lives in rural and small town America, 25 percent of all veterans live in rural communities. Providing needed services for our veterans is complicated in rural areas due to vast geographies, fewer resources, and less social service infrastructure.
Housing and service needs vary among veterans, who comprise a diverse population. In rural areas, 83.3 percent of all veterans own their homes. As rural veterans age, they are more likely to experience declining health and physical impairments, and the need for increased assistance with daily activities makes it more difficult to live independently in these homes. Home modifications that increase accessibility are often necessary. Grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), such as the Specially Adaptive Housing grant and the Special Home Adaptation grant, help veterans make necessary retrofits to their homes. These services are crucial, as veterans in rural America are older than veterans nationally.
Posted by Jodi Weinberger on November 11, 2013
Residents in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto, Calif., are fighting to stop the sale of their community to a luxury housing developer. At stake is the loss of precious affordable housing and access to good schools for their kids, along with the destruction of a community.
They're hoping for a success story like the many featured in the pages of the latest issue of Shelterforce, but the battle becomes significantly more complicated when the homeowners don't own the land.
Winton Pitcoff, in a piece titled "Manufacturing Solutions," details the challenges for residents in these type of situations, leading with a story about residents in Minnesota who formed a cooperative to purchase and preserve their homes.
Those in mobile homes are among the most vulnerable, with low incomes, few assets, and the uncertainty that comes with the looming possibility of eviction. Pitcoff urges community developers to see the possibilities of manufactured homes as solutions in the affordable housing crisis and to use models like community land trusts and co-ops to help homeowners.
Manufactured homes today are very different from the ones made in the '60s and '70s and should be embraced as real solutions for affordability, Pitcoff says. "HUD regulations implemented in 1976 imposed construction and safety standards on manufactured housing that ultimately moved the industry away from metal-on-metal travel trailers to today’s factory-built frame homes that conform to the same building codes as, and look much like, site-built houses, with asphalt-shingled roofs and vinyl siding and windows," Pitcoff writes.
Resident Owned Communities USA (ROC USA) has been working with communities to form co-ops, but there are many challenges, one of the first being that residents can't purchase the land unless it's offered to them.
That's the struggle for residents in Buena Vista, who attempted to buy the property but were turned down in favor of a luxury housing developer who would pay double, as reported by NPR.
The residents are petitioning the city government to stop a sale, pushing the value of diversity for the whole community. This stands as another reason why community developers, as some have written on Rooflines, should return to their organizing roots.
Has your organization considered manufactured homes when it comes to affordable living options or is there still a negative bias against them?
(Photo courtesy of Next Step)
Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on November 7, 2013
Three weeks ago I went to Philadelphia to attend the annual conference of the Opportunity Finance Network, the trade association for CDFIs, or community development financial institutions.
I go to a lot of conferences in the field, and the difference in the energy of this one practically knocked me over. While every gathering is packed with dedicated, creative, optimistic, hard-working folks, it's no surprise that many gatherings that have to do with affordable housing and neighborhoods recently have had their somber moments. Traditional sources of funding are shrinking, while need and economic inequality are rising, regulations and finance systems are shifting, and the federal government may be abandoning us all together. Sequestration, tax reform, mergers, telling our story better so we can convince people that what we do is actually important... these are the sorts of the things on people's lips (in-between wonderful success stories).
OFN's conference, on the other hand, was clearly a gathering of a sector concerned with growth. There were 1200 people there (not counting the 50 odd federal employees who couldn't come thanks to the shutdown); 7:30am breakfast networking sessions drew crowds of 60, breakout sessions were maxed out, and at one point you weren't allowed upstairs to the lobby outside the ballroom where lunch was being held at all because it was too full.
But more than the actual people who showed up, the difference was in the tone and topics. Individual attendees spoke of adding staff and programs, and shopped the vendor tables seeking software to handle their new volumes of loans.
Early in the conference, Mark Pinsky, OFN's CEO, delivered a rousing "State of CDFIs" speech on the "opportunity revolution" in which he exhorted the field to stay true to its mission as it takes on greater influence and amounts of capital. Most organizations that fail do so "from indigestion, not starvation," he cautioned, and claimed that CDFI challenges right now "are more internal than external." "We may still be fleas on the tail of the dog," he said, "but we're wagging the tail, if not the dog." CDFIs challenge capitalism, said Pinsky, and can return the United States to the principle of opportunity from which it has strayed.
What does it mean for the community development field that the lender portion of the field is feeling its oats, while the borrower side is still hunkered down against a coming storm?
Posted by John Atlas on November 6, 2013
Cory Booker was just sworn in as a U.S. Senator. His introduction to the lunacy of Senate procedure was swift.
In April, the well regarded Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) was nominated by President Obama to replace acting director Ed DeMarco—a Bush-era appointee—as permanent director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA.)
Fannie and Freddie together control more than half the mortgages in the U.S. DeMarco has been a disaster. An immediate appointment of Watt is needed if we are to keep families facing foreclosure in their homes by FHFA doing things like reducing principal on underwater mortgages.
Right after Booker was sworn in, the Senate took a cloture vote aimed at defeating the GOP's filibuster to keep Rep. Watt from being confirmed. Fifty-six senators voted to confirm Watt, but Republicans blocked his nomination because it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.
Now is the time for Booker to show some leadership in the Senate. There are 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans, but the filibuster means that despite having a 10 seat majority, Democrats can't actually get the senate to act unless they pursue what some call the nuclear option, and vote to end the filibuster. If Booker supports such an effort, he will be acting like a leader and helping New Jersey's endangered homeowners.