Disclosure Remains Our Right

Posted by Ted Wysocki on March 6, 2017

Black and white cover scan of magazine from 1976 shows a picture of the capitol building partially obscured by trees, with the words I was interviewed last month for a book on redlining that took me back to the ‘70s. Going through my file of the national newsletter DISCLOSURE, which I edited for Gale Cincotta from 1974 to 1984, got me thinking: government has always required challenging by its citizens. In fact, you can say that is the citizen's job. This and a robust media are essential for enabling citizens to exercise their rights.

Disclosure remains as much our right today as it was as a national demand in 1975 for Congress to pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, or HMDA. (As we all prepare to file our 2016 tax returns, what’s the betting pool on whether the president ever discloses his?).

I still wonder why the U.S. Senate couldn’t have waited a week to see what Scott Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry disclosed before confirming him as head of the EPA. I’m not even going to speculate on the Russian spy novels being written in the absence of full disclosure of what Michael Flynn was up to before he resigned as national security adviser. And now, there’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Congress used to insist on its own right to know as our elected representatives. Midterm elections in 2018 should be interesting if members of Congress don’t get over their self-imposed “don’t-ask-the-emperor-about-his-clothes” behavior.

Then there is the forthcoming effort to repeal consumer protections, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sits in the crosshairs. This year marks 40 years since Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to ensure fair and responsive investment, yet redlining is alive and will be rampant again if the Trump administration and Congress collude to deregulate financial services. The effectiveness of CRA has always been subject to vigorous enforcement by its regulators. Our country won’t be "great again;" it will be "broke again," by Wall Street greed.

For all these reasons, I’m looking forward to convening with other community development colleagues in Washington, D.C., at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) 2017 Annual Conference, Creating a Just EconomyIt may be “last call” to hear from responsive bank regulators, like keynote speakers Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve; Thomas Curry, comptroller of the currency; and Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB. It’s not clear who President Trump will nominate to these crucial positions; perhaps the highest bidder?

In this new era of "fake news," the inherent value of independent journalism institutions like Shelterforcethe nation’s oldest continually published community development magazine, is even more imperative. Since 1975, it has been our forum as organizers, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers. Shelterforce remains a place where we can share, on a weekly and quarterly basis, our strategies and stories in addressing the challenges and advancing best practices in affordable housing, equitable economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and community organizing for those most vulnerable.

We must persist in doing so if our communities are to endure a Trump administration. As Gale would remind us, the next move is always ours.

(Image: A cover of the Disclosure newsletter, courtesy of the author)

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Carson Confirmed. So About Those Other HUD Jobs…

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 2, 2017

Ben Carson has been confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the weak congratulations of housing organizations that didn’t want to waste their political capital fighting a done deal and did want to make the case for their concerns on the off chance that something might get through.

But the lay of the land looks different now than it did when Carson was first nominated and vetted by the Senate.

At the time, many observers tried to put a silver lining on Carson’s total lack of relevant experience by noting that the assistant secretaries could make a huge difference.

“Regardless of the chosen secretary of HUD, there will be much less to fear if assistant secretaries come with credentials like [Pam] Patenaude’s. Cameras may focus on hearings for secretary nominees, but all of us should focus on the next tier in each federal agency,” wrote Martin French in a comment on my first post about the HUD secretary nominations.

“If he surrounds himself with good people, [his lack of experience] becomes less important,” Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Policy Finance Center at Washington’s Urban Institute, told The Real Deal. “You need the expertise within the agency.”

And HousingWire noted on Dec. 7, 2016, “As the country at large debates the readiness of former neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing insiders are closely watching nominations for the position that could prove even more pivotal at HUD—the deputy secretary.”

The short list for that nomination, revealed by HousingWire, which claimed it might "reassure" people worried about Carson's credentials was (is?):

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Arts in Public Schools: Essential. Life Saving.

Posted by A. Adar Ayira on March 2, 2017


This is dedicated to that Little Girl
who experienced the first part of life in such a hard way
who used to retreat to her world of books and daydreams just to help her survive the day…



Schools are not always emotionally or physically safe spaces for children, and the lower-resourced the community, the more stressors there are for children to deal with. The lower-valued the school and community, the truer this statement becomes.

When I was a primary school student, literature and the arts were understood to be essential to the overall growth and development of a child. They were understood to provide value to the educational experience, and teachers and administrators knew that the world was not all math and science. Imagination, along with the ability to think critically and analyze, were just as important to the development of society and industry as the “3 Rs,” and that literature, arts, and physical fitness were non-negotiable building blocks in nurturing well-rounded individuals.

This is dedicated to her
the one who traded in words until life
choked the voice out of her
The one who, mute, closed her eyes and began to
paint on the masterpiece that would become her blueprint for life
using all the words on which she choked and left unspoken
This is dedicated to that Little Girl …

With the rise of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the testing rigors of No Child Left Behind, and budget cuts, academic electives such as music, drama, and the visual arts have been reduced or dropped altogether in schools, although in a 2011 study, an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of teachers affirmed the belief that “… electives are necessary–they give students something to look forward to and are essential to a well-rounded education."

As tragic as it is, being relegated to the back burner of the educational experience (or out of the curriculum entirely), and further removed from all students' experiences in general, cuts to the arts are particularly devastating for public school children in under-resourced communities.

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VASH and LIHTC Can Work Together to Support Veterans in Housing and Beyond

Posted by Quinn Gormley and Flynann Janisse on March 1, 2017

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate advanced Ben Carson's nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), setting up for a final vote later this week. As we await this vote, it's a good time for those of us in the field to carefully assess existing housing programs in an effort to effectively advocate not only for their continuation, but enhancement. An example of this is the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher (VASH).

The VASH voucher program is a partnership between the Veterans Administration (VA) and HUD. VASH enables not only housing rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher program, administered by local Public Housing Agencies, but also provides essential case management and clinical services through the Veterans Administration at participating VA medical centers and authorized community-based outreach clinics.

Combined with the Housing First approach, VASH’s primary goal is to not only end veteran homelessness overall, but to sustain veterans in permanent housing. Overall, the program has been extraordinarily successful in meeting these goals. Since its inception, over 85,000 vouchers have been awarded, motivating Congress to provide new funding in 2012, making an additional $75 million available that fiscal year. Per the latest data available, 80 percent of those enrolled in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program were transitioned to permanent housing.

In light of this accomplishment, the continued careful execution of this program should be a priority for HUD. More than 700,000 veteran households are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing—an unsustainable percentage. Such a burden results in high housing turnover rates which harms the financial performance of a housing asset, and leaves unstable communities in its wake. This is where VASH proves to be instrumental.

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Making It Easier to Build Won’t Generate Affordable Units

Posted by Murtaza Baxamusa on February 28, 2017

It is often convenient to blame city planners for the affordable housing crisis. After all, those affected have no other public forum to vent their concerns, least of all toward those who are profiting off of the crisis on a project-by-project basis. Sadly, this blame is often misguided because planners do not produce housing.

A case study of the profit-maximizing, decision-making that is driving the affordability crisis is downtown San Diego. Construction cranes are up all over, and a $6.4 billion development juggernaut is rolling through. Nearly 10,000 new units have been permitted by the downtown planning board over the last four years, and the fast and generous permit approval process is cited as a model by developers for other regions. Underlying this process is a programmatic master plan that eliminates the need for project-level environmental review, lax standards on deviations from the zoning code, and a public hearing process that is limited to design review, often bypassing complex questions about density and community impacts. The process is overlaid with myriad incentives in the form of density bonuses for affordable housing and green building.

This kind of permit streamlining that supply-siders clamor for in state and local legislation for land-use planning and zoning reform is a developers’ dream come true. Yet, this same socially blind approach to planning has led to more affordable housing units being demolished than being built, and a 60 percent spike in unsheltered homeless downtown in the last two years. This is compounded by the fact that with the dissolution of redevelopment in California, there is no requirement that 15 percent of the housing stock within downtown be set aside for affordable housing, and no requirement that 20 percent of the tax increment generated in that area fund affordable housing.

Some believe that the affordable housing crisis is caused by a supply shortage that will be solved by allowing any housing to be built with fewer restrictions. That is simply not happening in downtown San Diego.


















Fig. 1: Downtown’s zoning plan has generous development entitlements, incentives, and bonuses. Courtesy of the City of San Diego.

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How Data Disclosure Will Help Prevent the Next Financial Crisis

Posted by Josh Silver on February 23, 2017

It seems like an overstatement, but data disclosure can help prevent the next financial crisis.

In the run-up to the Great Recession, subprime and other abusive lenders made loans beyond borrowers' abilities to repay. They got away with this because sellers, particularly in the lending marketplace, know exponentially more than buyers about the terms and conditions of contracts. When and if data is available, it can expose and unlock the traps sometimes present in these contracts.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition operates a housing counseling program that, in the years before the financial crisis, was focused on helping people hold onto their homes and refinance their loans. One example from NCRC congressional testimony in 2006 makes plain the imbalance in knowledge between the lender and borrower. NCRC assisted an elderly woman in Chester, Pennsylvania. In 2000, she responded to a mail solicitation and sought a refinance loan. The mortgage company financed single premium credit insurance and disability insurance into her loan amount, contributing to total fees of over 14 percent on her loan.

Despite developing a serious health condition that rendered her unable to work, the borrower did not receive regular payments from her disability insurance. In spite of her reduced income, she remained in her home, but finally sought help from NCRC. She lived in a predominantly lower-income neighborhood of color, which are often targets of predatory lenders who calculate that residents of these neighborhoods will be less familiar with deceptive and complicated loan terms and conditions.

In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in order to prevent widespread abusive lending, which was the leading cause of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Part of the law required lenders to make loans that borrowers could actually afford to repay. This would have helped our elderly client because had Dodd-Frank been the law of the land in 2000, fewer abusive loans would have been peddled in traditionally underserved neighborhoods.

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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 commodities 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 Lisa Lefkow, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County.

“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 because the benefits of stable housing are undeniable.

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Why Aren’t We Building Middle Income Housing?

Posted by Rick Jacobus on February 21, 2017

In a previous Shelterforce blog post, I argued that we cannot give up hope that the market will build middle-income housing. Granted, over the past decade, most new housing has been built 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 exclusively building luxury housing 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?

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 the culprit to be unnecessary government regulation. 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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