Housing The Homeless In Baltimore’s Vacants

Sleeping in a doorway a block from City Hall last winter.
Photo by: Fern Shen

Housing the homeless of Baltimore in the city’s vacant rowhouses is being floated again by local affordable housing activists whose idea forms the core of an article in the current Atlantic. Their idea is “to create a community land trust – a non-profit that will hold the title to the land in order to make it permanently affordable.” according totoday’s piece by Alana Semuels. “Structures on the land can be bought and sold, but the trust owns the land forever,” she writes about the proposal by Housing Is A Human Right Roundtable, a coalition of labor activists and homeless people affiliated with the United Workers. “A community land trust essentially takes the ‘market’ part out of the housing market, allowing people to buy homes but restricting their resale value in order to make them affordable for the next buyer.”

How Public Art Builds Safer, Stronger Neighborhoods

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Art that merges with the landscape brings human presence, safety, and physical activity into the city’s spaces. This kind of art triggers more than one sense: it is something you move in, touch, and, in some cases, even eat. In Detroit, a spread-out city of single-family homes that is difficult to traverse and pockmarked by vacancy, these artistic interventions are an uncommonly powerful nexus of community life. They create welcoming traffic, as well as opportunities for neighbors to interact and work together. And rather than being a temporary show, in the style of a traveling exhibition or ephemeral installation, this is art for the long-term. It is for a city with a future.

The Long Road From C.J. Peete To Harmony Oaks

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By the time her organization landed a contract to do work in New Orleans, Sandra Moore had felt the city’s tug for more than a year. Moore is president of Urban Strategies, a nonprofit community development company that often partners with developer McCormack Baron Salazar, which specializes in mixed-income and affordable redevelopments. Urban Strategies got a contract in early 2007 to provide services for residents from C.J. Peete, a shuttered New Orleans public-housing complex. When she thought of New Orleans, Moore vividly recalled images broadcast during the wake of Hurricane Katrina: New Orleanians were pleading for water, medical help, and long-delayed buses to take them out of the devastated city.

‘Unstoppable’ Homeowners Fight Foreclosure Fraud In Los Angeles

Foreclosure protest in Los Angeles

Another group is blooming – one that is refusing to remain silent, refusing to helplessly watch what is happening to families around the country, and to our country as a whole. From this group I have learned that our lives are interconnected, and that every single step, every decision, can change the outcome of not only our personal lives but the lives of those we don’t even know. I have learned that hope can never be destroyed, even in the midst of the biggest and darkest fights we’re facing. The following is an interview with Maegan Donovan Nikolic and Carlos Marroquin, two people in California who lost their homes due to mortgage fraud and wrongful foreclosure – and who, in the aftermath, decided to stand up and demand justice. Their work is a great example of how all our communities should follow their lead, unite, and support each other.

Disability Community Rejects Appointee Who Supports Subminimum Wage And Segregated Housing

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The Center for Disability Rights is deeply concerned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has appointed Bob Brown, a proponent of subminimum wage and segregated housing, to serve on the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities. While NCD appointees have previously been appointed by the President, a new provision in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act allows four Council Members whose terms are about to expire to be replaced by appointments made by the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Minority Leader. NCD’s membership will also be reduced from fifteen to nine as the next six Council members will not be replaced when their terms expire.

UN Coming To Detroit To Investigate Human Rights Violations

Detroit Water is a Human RIght

United Nations human rights investigators are coming to Detroit on a fact-finding mission to learn more about the shutting off of water and other likely human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur on Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation; and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing will listen to witnesses describing the situation in Detroit. International and locally known panelists will hear testimony at this town-hall from Michigan residents regarding water, sanitation, and housing issues offered by victims of this crisis.

Exposed: Tax Evictions Could Displace 20,000 Detroit Property Owners

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On Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes made a landmark decision to authorize continued water shutoffs for unpaid water bills, leaving thousands of Detroiters without access to water. At the same time, and less reported on, some 20,000 Detroit residents stand to lose another basic human right — their housing — as the Wayne County Treasurer prepares to carry out mass tax foreclosures across the city. If Detroiters facing foreclosure knew they could buy their home for as little as $500, they’d jump at the chance. But local government does the bare minimum to inform those people who could benefit most. Foreclosure notices don’t even mention the auction, let alone the auction website.

Occupy Chicago Unites To Fight Eviction

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Rallying around longtime resident Vernell Rowell, 62 years old, and her family, neighbors and local supporters rally to keep her from being evicted by the Cook County Sheriff’s deputies. Two weeks ago, supporters of the Rowell family held a vigil to highlight this family’s plight, calling on Reverse Mortgage Services, Inc., to keep the family in the home, only to find out that their eviction had been scheduled for the morning of September 25th. This eviction is part of worrying trend, where, according to the Woodstock Institute, foreclosure auctions have continued to rise in South Side neighborhoods like Ashburn (up 29.8 percent), Calumet Heights (up 36.7 percent), and Auburn Gresham (up 20.9), during the first six months of 2014.

New Study Demonstrates Dramatic, Immediate Energy Shift Needed

Wind turbines

This new research means the human race needs to move rapidly into a very different way of using and producing energy. This means, for example, that by 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again, unless they’re either replacements for old ones or carbon neutral. This is the first study to look at “carbon commitments” (a term coined by the authors) and is sure to result in more information being developed for other sectors, e.g. not examined is agriculture which is a major carbon producer or land use planning and building codes designed to reduce carbon use. Hopefully, it will also result in more information and action for reducing waste and increasing efficiency as this has been much neglected even though it is the essential first step toward rational climate policy. It has always been evident that the more we delay in responding to the climate crisis the steeper the cost will be to ameliorate and adapt to it. The alarm bells on climate have been ringing for two decades but political and economic leadership has for the most part been frozen and unable to adequately act. Now, the bill for those mistakes are coming due and the need to act is constantly becoming more urgent.

The RAD-ical Shifts To Public Housing

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Traditional public housing is out of favor and substantially out of funds. It’s bureaucratic, concentrates the very poor, and is literally crumbling due to a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Yet despite real catastrophes—such as Chicago’s bleak, crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes, dynamited over a decade ago—public housing provides low-rent apartments to some 2.2 million people, and much of it is reasonably well run by local authorities. For half a century, presidents, legislators and housing developers have sought alternatives, involving supposedly more efficient private market incentives. However, these alternatives, too, have been far from scandal-free. The Johnson-era Section 236 program (named for part of the housing code) gave private developers tax benefits and direct payments to build low-rent housing, underwritten by subsidized thirty-year mortgages. But then, as the mortgages started being paid off in the 1990s, many developers kicked out poor tenants and converted the buildings to middle-class and even luxury apartments—taking low-rent units that had been built and maintained with taxpayer money and removing them from the pool of affordable housing.

The Holder Doctrine: Bank Settlements Without Criminal Prosecutions

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Even though there is tacit acceptance, or perhaps more accurately, sullen resignation, about regulators’ failure to make serious investigations into financial firm misconduct (probes on specific issues don’t cut it), occasionally a pundit steps up to remind the public of the farce that passes for bank enforcement. Today William Cohan tore into Attorney General Eric Holder, and by implication the Administration, for its raft of bank “settlements” which have come is a sudden spurt, no doubt intended to boost the Democrat’s flagging standing in the runup to the Congressional midterms. We’ve pointed out that the comparatively few commentators who have looked past the overhyped Department of Justice press releases into the details of the agreements have been appalled at the embarrassing lack of detail, meaning the almost total absence of any admission of wrongdoing. It’s critical to understand why this silence is important. It means that regulators have accepted as a condition of the settlement that they are to protect the bank from private suits by remaining as silent as possible about precisely what horrible things were done. The absurd part is that regulators and prosecutors could easily call the banks’ bluff by threatening to go a few rounds in court: “Would you rather have us start discovery and see what we can get in the record, or would you rather make some admissions right now?”

Ferguson Highlights The Black-White Housing Gap

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On the surface, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was about local police using deadly force on an unarmed young man. But on a deeper level, it reflected the increasing poverty and economic decline that affects ethnic communities all over America. Despite rosy reports in the media about the end of the national foreclosure crisis and the recession that followed, all is not well in our inner cities and suburbs with largely minority populations, like Ferguson. The foreclosure crisis was hard on many Americans, but it was a disaster for communities of color, including the citizens of Ferguson. Half of Ferguson Homes Underwater In the zip code that encompasses Ferguson, half (49 percent) of homes were underwater in 2013, meaning the home’s market value was below the mortgage’s outstanding balance. This condition (also called “negative equity”) is often a first step toward loan default or foreclosure, according to the recent report, “Underwater America,” from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ferguson Violence Exposes America’s Political Decay

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For anyone with a consciousness of American history, the events of the last week and a half in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American suburb outside of St. Louis, should seem all too familiar. A police officer murders an unarmed black man. As days go by and more information on the shooting is released, residents take to the streets to protest. Their protests are met with force utterly disproportionate to a free society. In response, the protests turn sporadically violent themselves, producing and even more violent response on the part of authorities. Harlem, 1943; Philadelphia and Rochester, 1964; Watts (Los Angeles), 1965; Newark, 1967; Camden, 1971; Tampa, 1987 and 1989; Washington, D.C., 1991; Los Angeles, 1992; Cincinnati, 2001; Benton Harbor (Southwest Michigan), 2003; Brooklyn, 2013 – all these incidents, and many others, contain the basic contours of the situation in Ferguson. By now many in the United States and across the world have weighed in on the underlying causes of the escalating violence in Ferguson. Analysts have rightly pointed out the massive build-up in American police militarisation, the depths of poverty that are endemic to many American neighbourhoods, a broad culture that equates young African-American men with criminality, a failed war on drugs that has led to the incarceration of generations of the American poor and the corresponding transformation of much of urban America into a police state.

A RAD-ical Housing Experiment

Baltimore residents staged a Speak-Out to Rethink RAD on June 11. (Photo courtesy of Right to Housing Alliance)

After decades of decay, public housing in the United States could soon be relegated to the dustbin of history, thanks to a new Obama administration initiative called the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. A pilot launched last year in response to a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs, RAD will hand over 60,000 units of public housing nationwide to private management by 2015. Though that’s only a fraction of the nearly 1.2 million public housing units that provide a safety net for more than 2 million people, housing advocates worry that RAD’s reforms are a Trojan horse for sweeping privatization of a crucial public asset. In the wake of the Great Depression, a surge of tenant activism helped usher in public housing as a federally funded, locally administered program to address poor living conditions in urban areas. But the program came to be viewed less as a public good and more as housing of last resort, giving rise to a cycle of demonization and neglect, followed by pernicious “reforms.” RAD is the latest in a series of initiatives to address the underfunding of public housing with a familiar free-market solution: handing off state-owned assets to private actors who receive public subsidies in exchange for an increasingly involved role in managing housing for low-income tenants. Though public housing residents have been assured that RAD will fund long-overdue repairs while keeping housing affordable and preserving tenants’ rights, similar promises have been broken by would-be free-market saviors before. Critics say RAD shares key features with past privatization initiatives that have displaced hundreds of thousands of public-housing residents. In the last decade and a half alone, more than 100,000 units of public housing have been lost to demolition or sale.

The Typical Household, Now Worth A Third Less

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Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too. The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households. For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets.