Housing News Roundup: August 31, 2016
The Dwindling Supply of Rental Housing for Large Families
The supply of rental housing for large families is rapidly shrinking in Washington, DC. Four- and five-bedroom units only account for 8 percent and 4 percent of the city’s available rental residences, respectively, and most of these units are located in high-poverty neighborhoods. For families like the Hollomans, searching for an apartment with more than three bedrooms can be almost impossible while trying to stay within a tight budget. This multigenerational family is soon to be without a residence as their current apartment complex, Brookland Manor, plans to rebuild and eliminate four- and five-bedroom units. A representative for the owner, MidCity Financial Corporation, has described those unit sizes as “not consistent with the creation of a vibrant new community.” Because of this change, Ms. Holloman will need to leave the neighborhood to find a new apartment of equivalent size, mostly likely moving to a high-poverty area. Large families often strike out in their search and wind up in homeless shelters. Many of Brookland Manor’s apartments are subsidized, but the subsidy period is expiring. MidCity and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development have negotiated an agreement in which no subsidized units will be lost, although the unit mix will change.
Source: Washington Post
Lead-Contaminated Soil in East Chicago Displaces Residents, Poisons Children
Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex, a public housing complex operated by the East Chicago Housing Authority, must relocate because of highly contaminated soil. Built on the site of a closed lead-smelting operation and near an even larger former US Lead smelting plant, residents only recently learned that “the top six inches of soil in their yards had up to 30 times more lead than the level considered safe for children to play in, and that it also had hazardous levels of arsenic.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified lead hot spots around the housing development as early as 2008, removed contaminated soil, and retested and removed more soil in 2011, before finally developing a widespread cleanup plan in 2012. However, testing the soil related to the cleanup plan did not begin until November 2014, and the EPA did not receive the results until May 2016. At that point, East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland decided to close a local elementary school and demolish the housing complex. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 19 children under age 8 who live in the complex have elevated blood lead levels. In September, residents will be able to use housing vouchers to move elsewhere. Despite wanting to move away from this contaminated site, many residents like Akeeshea Daniels face a similar problem: the places where they can move “all want deposits, large amounts, which [they] don’t have lying around.”
Source: The New York Times
Education Advocates Call for Antipoverty Measures to Close Achievement Gap
In Wisconsin, education advocates are pressuring lawmakers to address issues related to poverty as a way to close the achievement gap. A recent report from the state’s Task Force on Urban Education recommended several ways to address the achievement gap, but the task force did not address the education challenges posed by poverty. Lori Cathey, president of the Green Bay Education Association teachers’ union, described how poverty manifests itself in the classroom: “Many (students) came to school hungry and are unable to focus. I had students whose clothes were always too small, students who didn’t know where they would be sleeping that night.” The task force’s findings are expected to lead to new state legislation in 2017. Among those interested in expanding the scope is Green Bay School Board member Mike Blecha, who noted the education challenges posed by housing instability. “It’s difficult for kids who are moving constantly to keep up with their peers,” he said.
Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette
For the Housing Affordability Crisis, Turn to Preservation Solutions
Preserving affordable housing “holds significant advantages,” according to a new brief by the Urban Institute. Only 28 affordable units exist for every 100 rental households that earn less than or equal to 30 percent of the area median income. Instead of trying to “build our way out the problem,” this brief suggests preserving the affordable housing stock that already exists. Compared with new construction, preservation can cost less, does not require a change in land use, and is less likely to displace residents. Despite the apparent advantage of preservation, it is difficult to raise the necessary capital for preservation efforts. According to Mark Treskon, an author of the report, preservation efforts remain “an uphill battle, but preserving affordable housing carries with it a lot of advantages that builders, as well as lawmakers could really focus on.”
Source: City Lab
Homeless Shelter Waits Lead to Sleepless Nights
In New York City, a 1999 law has had unintended consequences for families experiencing homelessness. The law mandates that families applying for housing at Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) intake centers must be given a bed for the night if their application is not finished by 10 p.m. According to Steven Banks, a proponent for the law before its passage and now the commissioner of the Department of Social Services for New York City, the law’s goal “was to end the practice of using a welfare office as a de facto shelter with families with children sleeping on the floor for days on end. That was the intent of the law, and that’s the practice that it has eliminated. But it didn’t eliminate the lack of affordable housing. It didn’t eliminate poverty. It didn’t eliminate domestic violence. Those are the drivers that result, that cause people to seek shelter from us.” In an attempt to avoid having families in overnight shelters for multiple nights, applicants at PATH centers may not be transported to the overnight shelter until well after the 10 p.m. cutoff. They are then bused back to the center after only a few hours of sleep to continue the application process, an exhausting process for those without stable housing.
Source: The New York Times