President Obama will carry several legacies into his final two years in office: a long-sought health care reform, a fiscal stimulus that limited the impact of the Great Recession, a rapid civil rights advance for gay and lesbian Americans. But if Obama owns those triumphs, he must also own this tragedy: the dispossession of at least 5.2 million US homeowner families, the explosion of inequality, and the largest ruination of middle-class wealth in nearly a century. Though some policy failures can be blamed on Republican obstruction, it was within Obama’s power to remedy this one — to ensure that a foreclosure crisis now in its eighth year would actually end, with relief for homeowners to rebuild wealth, and to preserve Americans’ faith that their government will aid them in times of economic struggle.
On one of the coldest days of 2014 I put on long underwear, a flannel shirt, my thickest sweater, a hat, and a scarf, and took the subway two stops down to 1059 Union Street to join the new Crown Heights Tenant Union’s first public action. It was so bitterly cold that I couldn’t help but think about the previous winter, my first in Crown Heights and fourth in Brooklyn, when my heat would mysteriously shut off, often just in time for the weekend when my landlords didn’t answer the phone. My partner likes to say that most New York landlords operate on a continuum between greed and laziness. I figured at the time that mine were hovering closer to the “lazy” end with a bonus bit of cheapness thrown in; they just didn’t want to pay the extra money to really fix whatever was wrong.
More than 2,500 families are occupying six properties in Brazil’s Federal District as part of a protest organized by the MTST Homeless Workers Movement, the organization said Sunday. The coordinated occupation was carried out peacefully in Brazlandia, Ceilandia, Planaltina, Recanto das Emas, Samambaia and Taguatinga, all of them cities in the Brasilia metropolitan area. The protesters plan to occupy the properties until an agreement is reached with the regional government, the MTST said. “We are going to stay here until there is an agreement with the government (of the Federal District). We spoke with them on Saturday and we set a new meeting for Tuesday,” the MTST coordinator in Brasilia, Edson Silva, told Efe.
Thousands of people gathered outside City Hall on Saturday to demand Boris Johnson urgently tackle the lack of affordable housing in the capital and curb the spiralling rents that they warn are “ripping the heart” out of London. An estimated 5,000 encircled the building and urged the mayor to tackle the burgeoning housing crisis by building more council homes, control private rents and called off the proposed demolition of properties on up to 70 London estates. The crowd marched in boisterous spirits, confident that they can make the increasingly divisive issue of housing a genuine general election battleground. Leading the march as it crossed Tower Bridge in driving rain was Jasmin Stone, from Newham in east London, who chanted “social housing not social cleansing” with her friends.
Toronto’s mayor says the city will be turning some motel rooms into shelter spaces for the homeless, with at least 90 spaces to open as early as next week. John Tory says the city will be renting blocks of rooms in two Toronto motels in an effort to make extra space available as needed during the cold weather. It will cost roughly $100,000 from now until March, but Tory says it’s just a short-term solution. A report on the city’s homeless shelter system is expected in a few weeks. Four homeless men died in just over a week in the city, three of them due to the frigid weather.
Twenty-five years ago, the term “gentrification” was largely unfamiliar to the average American. Today, you can’t talk about cities, race, rent or overpriced coffee without bringing it up. It’s a hard phenomenon to measure, yet most agree its harbingers include the rapid influx of young, well-to-do white people into once low-income neighborhoods, often in the inner city, usually populated by people of color. The rest is history. Said people show up, the area is flooded with resources, property value goes up and many former residents are forced to move out. We’ve seen such systems before, those which literally move poor people around, in and out of their homes, at the behest of the wealthy. It’s usually called “colonialism.” And it’s not an inaccurate comparison. This dynamic came to a head last week when a group of Dropbox employees in San Francisco’s notoriously gentrifying Mission District tried to kick a group of local kids off a soccer field they had reserved.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.