Housing News Roundup: December 15, 2016
For Crimes Related to Homelessness, Minnesota Court Offers Social Services
In Hennepin County, the Housing Outreach for Minneapolitans Establishing Stability (HOMES) court offers defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes associated with homelessness, such as public drinking and loitering, the opportunity to resolve their cases with housing. Defendants can get charges reduced or dropped by working with attorneys and social workers to find housing and address any underlying issues in need of treatment. HOMES court’s docket has quadrupled since 2013, when the court heard 50 cases, and the program has halved the average number of arrests, days in jail, and days in detox for program participants. The court has saved taxpayers $315,000 since 2014. According to Judge Marta Chou, who presides over the HOMES court, the program works because, “you’re selling something people want. People want the basic human rights of safe and stable housing.”
The Great Recession Increased Cost Burdens for Older Americans
Forty-five percent of older homeowners with mortgages have rising housing cost burdens, according to a study conducted by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The study examined the Great Recession’s effects on Americans ages 65 and older, a population that is expected to increase from 48 million to 79 million as baby boomers age. This rising population will also increase the demand for home retrofits to accommodate aging in place, as only 3.5 percent of homes currently have “zero-step entrances, single-floor living, and wide halls and doorways.” But the sharp decline in household worth during Great Recession makes it harder for homeowners to pay for these necessary modifications. The pressures of housing cost burden and the expense of retrofits cause some owners to reduce expenditures on other items, including transportation, medicine, and food. Chris Herbert of the Joint Center for Housing Studies said, “The housing implications of this surge in the older adult population are many and call for innovative approaches to respond to growing need for housing that is affordable, accessible, and linked to supportive services that will grow exponentially over the next two decades.”
Morris School District’s Integration Shows a Model and Challenges
A 1971 court ruling in New Jersey created a merged school district that serves Morris Township, a majority-white community, and Morristown, a more racially diverse community. The Morris School District is one of the few court-integrated districts that still exists. Over time, a rise in immigrants from Colombia, Honduras, and El Salvador has combined with gentrification in parts of the district to change the school’s student composition. In response, the district has hired more Spanish-speaking teachers, created a Spanish-speaking group within the parent-teacher association, and invested in translation headsets. Some local residents and parents have criticized the district’s efforts, claiming that English-speaking students suffer. Rates of private school enrollment in the district outpace statewide averages, suggesting that some parents are opting out of integration. Through robotics, advanced placement classes, and other programs, the schools try to prevent “white flight.” While technology and small-group approaches allow teachers to guide students through material at different paces within the same classroom during elementary school, the honors and advanced placement classes in later years are much less diverse. Morris School District superintendent says, in the face of criticism and ever-changing school dynamics, “we are doing the best we can, but the challenges keep coming.”
Source: The New York Times
Evidence on the Social Determinants of Health Calls for Scrutiny of Trump’s Cabinet Choices
Research on the social determinants of health, including a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that the president-elect’s impact on health will extend beyond efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In the new study, the nonprofit Health Leads and Massachusetts General Hospital partnered to examine how basic social needs, such as heating, electricity, food, and medicine, affect health. For the 1,774 Massachusetts General patients who had lacked these elementary needs, 1,021 participated in Health Leads programs to connect the patients with community resources to fill their service gaps. Participants experienced blood pressure improvements comparable with adding a new medication. Thus, the president-elect’s appointments to cabinet roles that address social needs, including secretaries for the US Departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development, will affect Americans’ health, as will congressional appropriations for food stamps, housing assistance, and other social programs.
Computer Algorithms Further Real-Life Segregation
Computer algorithms and targeted advertising are combining to enable segregation and discrimination, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Google, Facebook, and other online services that allow targeted advertising can enable discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, and other protected classes. Algorithms combine generalizations from Internet activity and social connections to determine a person’s likely race. This information can then be used to allow discriminatory housing advertisements by showing different options depending on who inquires. But researchers would have to violate websites’ terms of service, punishable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, to test for online discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint seeking to lift this ban for researchers. “Some of these tools, if they were being used in a civil rights–conscious framework, could actually be helpful for breaking down barriers to segregation,” says Tom Silverstein of the Fair Housing and Community Development Project.
Redfin Study Analyzes Eviction Prevalence
A new Redfin study, which combined court records from 19 states, estimates that three million households were evicted through the courts last year. The actual number of renter households forced to move because of housing affordability problems is much higher, as many families leave before any court proceedings. “I think the scary thing, from a policy standpoint, is we don’t really understand how big the problem is,” said Nela Richardson of Redfin. According to Donald Rheubottom, a sheriff in Baltimore whose workload includes carrying out evictions, “I might evict someone from one property one month, and then three months later I’m evicting them from another property. I’m always booked at least a month out.” Rheubottom brings flyers with city service information, but a tenant facing eviction said the services don’t help where she needs it most—finding an affordable place to live.