Housing News Roundup: February 11, 2016
The Human Side of Evictions
Through a story of a family facing eviction in Milwaukee, Harvard University professor Matthew Desmond shows how unaffordable housing and other risk factors combine to limit opportunities for vulnerable families. Desmond writes: “For decades, social scientists, journalists, and policy makers have focused on jobs, public assistance, parenting, and mass incarceration as the central problems faced by the American poor, overlooking just how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty. Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly everyone has a landlord.” And, as the story shows, life is also not easy for the landlords of poor families.
Source: New Yorker
Focus on the Classics for Fiscal Health
For a city’s fiscal health, the quality of classic city services—such as safe drinking water and solid public schools—matters more than eye-catching amenities. Although riverwalks, bike-sharing services, and technology corridors continue to gain popularity, Michigan State University professor Laura Reese finds that these isolated initiatives do not outweigh a city’s inefficient public services. According to research by Reese and her colleague Minting Ye, economic development policies are often instituted with no evaluation of their impact. Funds allotted for tax abatements and incentives are better invested in schools and safety, which improve the resident’s quality of life, they report. “If this, too, proves to be just another development policy fad or if there is no direct causal link between service investment and growth, the worst that can occur is that the community will, over the long run, be a better place for people to live,” Reese and Ye write.
Source: Next City
North Dakota Faces Life After the Oil Boom
At the peak of the Great Recession, oil drilling transformed remote corners of the Great Plains into economic centers. Although cities like Williston, North Dakota, attracted billions of dollars in investments and thousands of workers seeking good-paying jobs, the drop in oil prices is presenting an uncertain future for boomtowns. Now, significant investments in new roads, schools, hotels, and housing developments are exposing communities to budgetary shortfalls and potential financial crises, which are especially daunting for rural towns that took on debt. Williston, for example, assumed $215 million in debt to build infrastructure to accommodate a growing population. Although some leaders and business owners are confident that the economy of these communities will rebound, the boomtowns now appear to be overbuilt, and workers continue to move away. Despite the industry’s downturn, employment indicators in Williston and other North Dakota cities are near the national average.
Source: New York Times
Seattle Residents Are Slow to Embrace Density
For the first time in its history, Seattle ranks among the top ten most densely populated cities in the United States. However, the issue of density has become highly contested among residents since Mayor Ed Murray‘s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee proposed increasing density in areas zoned for single-family homes. Some residents fear the negative impacts of density, such as overcrowding and the limited ability to use cars. Branden Born, associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington, thinks the word density needs rebranding in Seattle. “If you’re the quintessential suburbanite, density’s a swear word,” he says. “If you’re an urbanist, it’s a buzzword.” Increased density in Seattle could position the city to better accommodate its growing population and boost its attractiveness by increasing walkability and raising the quality of life in neighborhoods.
Source: Seattle Times
The Debate about Inclusionary Zoning in NYC
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed zoning legislation, the City of New York will require private developers to include affordable units in new buildings produced in areas zoned for residential growth. Within the plan, builders will be required set aside units for households from 60 to 120 percent of the area median income (AMI), while units at 120 AMI will be ineligible for city subsidies. Though the plan is expected to move the city towards its new affordable housing unit goal, the program has been met with opposition by housing and community groups who worry about the plan’s failure to address households with the lowest income levels. Such rebuttals did not fall on deaf ears, as city leaders expressed their willingness to find additional options without becoming too aggressive with developers.
Source: New York Times
Westchester County Tries a Game to Achieve Housing Wins
Although Westchester County signed a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to “affirmatively further fair housing” in 2009, the municipalities impacted have not negotiated the required 750 units of affordable housing. Software from a Dutch gaming firm called Tygron may facilitate stakeholder negotiations. The software allows groups to envision the effects of different building heights and zoning codes and gain realistic feedback about the impact on wetlands, views, and other community factors. Although the game does not provide a fully realized solution, participants have enjoyed how it allows them to work together and provides an interactive and time-efficient method of focusing efforts and defining collective community goals. “If I see what a municipality plans in my backyard, I can run many iterations in one session,” says Tygran co-founder Florian Witsenburg. “Instant feedback reduces frustration between stakeholders.”
Mapping Neighborhoods and Life Expectancy
New data and maps confirm the connection between where people live and their life expectancy. The Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University has mapped life expectancy data for ten cities, finding disparities in small and large cities, regardless of population density. The maps of life expectancy variation do not explain the cause, but raise awareness for local inquiry. “It’s a single, broad measure that everyone understands,” says Derek Chapman, the center’s associate director for research. A range of factors, such as poverty, the physical environment, food access, crime, and access to health care, may contribute to the gap.
Source: Government Technology
Housing Authorities Push Back on Smoking Ban
Public housing agencies are requesting more time and resources to implement HUD’s proposed smoking ban in public housing. The proposal only allows agencies 18 months to enforce the ban and does not include any additional resources to educate residents, offer smoking cessation programs or ensure compliance. Although the ban is supported my many public housing officials, a major concern is enforcement of the mandate which would impact almost one million households nationwide. Federal officials want to avoid evictions, but the ban’s inclusion in leases would make smoking a nuisance violation. According to Timothy G. Kaiser, executive director of the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association, “The rule is an unfunded mandate which adds considerable burden, financially and administratively, to programs that have consistently received wholly inadequate funding.” HUD is currently reviewing comments from agencies, public health organization and residents before finalizing the rule.
Source: New York Times
Senior Center Rises After Baltimore Riots
In the Broadway East neighborhood of Baltimore, a senior center that burned down in last year’s riots has been rebuilt ahead of schedule. The Mary Harvin Transformation Center, which will have its ribbon-cutting next month, includes affordable apartments for older adults, a community center, and other services aimed at assisting the local population with health and self-sufficiency needs. After national media attention of the riots’ devastation, Southern Baptist Church, the lead organization involved in the development, received about $300,000 in donations, which they used to support the redevelopment and to acquire additional vacant properties for conversion to affordable housing. “We’re not finished,” says Rev. Donte L. Hickman Sr. of Southern Baptist Church. “You can’t plant one tree and call it a forest. We want to be the catalyst for development that transforms this neighborhood.”
Source: Baltimore Sun
Opinion: Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls for Race-Conscious Solutions to Poverty
In responses to a growing national dialogue on the value, or lack thereof, of paying reparations for slavery and segregation, Coates argues the need for reparations based on the nation’s continued racial disparities, including neighborhood disparities that affect generational opportunities. The central theme of his argument is that African-American and white Americans experience two fundamentally distinct forms of poverty. In the vast majority of America’s largest metro areas and nationwide, the percentage of poor African-Americans living in poverty is consistently higher than similar whites. Additionally, research from sociologist Patrick Sharkey captures data that show that the majority (66 percent) of African-Africans live in neighborhoods with poverty rates over 20 percent, while the vast majority of whites (94 percent) do not. Although Coates concedes that race is not the only determinant that dictates life outcomes for African-Americans, he surmises that a general, nationwide economic solution is not an effective tool to address racial disparities in poverty.
Source: The Atlantic