Housing News Roundup: February 25, 2016
Funding LA County’s Homelessness Reduction Plan
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to direct the county’s CEO to identify long-term revenue sources for the county’s plan to reduce homelessness. Los Angeles County supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich proposed the study. Although currently unfunded, the homelessness reduction plan has been praised as a comprehensive effort to unify county departments that engage homeless individuals, such as health, criminal justice and social services. “Current county resources are simply not sufficient to fund these initiatives and services to combat homelessness on an ongoing basis,” says Ridley-Thomas.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Charter and Neighborhood School Dilemma in Baltimore
The Baltimore City school board will allow the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School to reserve 10 percent of its seats (around 50 total) for students from the local neighborhood. Many children who live near the school in the gentrifying yet struggling Greenmount West neighborhood had been unable to attend due to the competitive lottery system and the school’s lengthy waiting list. Opponents of the preference argue that the move may weaken the traditional neighborhood school, Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School. Director of Baltimore Montessori Allison Shecter says “It is not our intent to take kids from Dallas Nicholas, but to give students a choice.” Baltimore Montessori had initially requested a neighborhood preference for up to 20 percent of its seats. Six students at Dallas Nicholas have requested to enter the Montessori school in the fall.
Source: Baltimore Sun
Harvard Researchers Look to Roots of Health Inequality
According to researchers at Harvard University, reducing health inequality requires comprehensive solutions that extend beyond insurance coverage. Health inequality includes disparities in health insurance, health care, and health conditions. Reducing health insurance disparities on its own has not substantially improved health care access or reduced disparities in health conditions among diverse populations. While overall health is improving in the U.S., disparities in life expectancy by race and ethnicity are stark. “It’s not only a question of racial disparities,” says Ichiro Kawachi, chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “At the root of it are unequal economic opportunities, unequal education, and despair.” America’s poor face numerous health risks, including substandard housing, unhealthy neighborhood environments. “There are huge inequalities in this country that often get overlooked,” says Kawachi. “If you want to observe the problems of poverty and inequality, you don’t need to travel all the way to Malawi. You can go to a rural house in America.”
Source: U.S. News & World Report
Portland Housing Crunch Affects Vulnerable Households
A rise in rental demand in Portland, Maine, is increasing both multifamily rehab projects and the displacement of residents of the city’s older apartments. One of the apartment complexes slated for renovation was mostly occupied by low-income or mentally disabled residents receiving housing assistance. Although tenants were notified on December 23 of the March 1 deadline to move, 14 of the 24 affected households remain unable to find housing in their price range. Rents in the city increased by 40 percent over the last five years. Portland mayor Ethan Strimling and attorney Katie McGovern of Pine Tree Legal, a local legal aid provider, want to adopt new policies to increase tenant protections, such as a ban on no-cause evictions. Rents in the area have risen above the level supported by housing vouchers. “These are low-income and vulnerable tenants who are in a very high-priced market,” says McGovern. Social service providers are assisting vulnerable residents with the move.
Source: Portland Press-Herald
Steepest Income Drop in County Specializing in Housing-Related Manufacturing
Located in the Atlanta suburbs, Rockdale County, Georgia, is a former manufacturing hub trying to create a new economic model. Like many manufacturing-dependent counties, the county’s median household income dropped after 2000, but Rockdale County faced the steepest drop among U.S. counties. By 2014, the county’s median income was one-third less than it had been in 2000. When the housing bubble burst, the bulk of employment in the county shifted from housing-related manufacturing to lower-paying jobs in retail, health care, and hospitality. The combined loss of income and property tax revenue continues to affect county budgets and services. While the county has seen an increase in school enrollment and 911 calls, public sector employees have not received a raise in years.
Source: Detroit News
Can Accessory Dwellings Improve Affordability in San Francisco?
In the San Francisco Bay area, high demand and a shortage of supply have fueled a protracted housing affordability crisis. Hundreds of homeowners are stepping in to increase the housing supply one unit at a time through accessory dwellings that may be attached or adjacent to the main house. “The secondary unit has the potential to create a new paradigm for density and affordability in cities,” says Neeraj Bhatia, a professor at the California College of the Arts. Homeowners looking to add a source of rental revenue and modestly increase density in their neighborhood may find the process easier due to recent legal changes and the presence of supporting companies, such as New Avenue Homes, that help owners identify architects and contractors for the jobs. Pre-existing accessory units were legalized in San Francisco in 2014, and the city began allowing new units in two districts in 2015. Berkeley adopted a streamlined approval process for accessory dwellings in 2016.
Source: The Atlantic
Complexities of Employer-Assisted Housing
As housing costs continue to outpace income growth in urban centers, some employers, particularly in the tech industry, are exploring rental subsidies for employees who live close to work. Such programs can benefit companies by increasing their ability to recruit employees otherwise unattainable, while reportedly increasing employee retention and the number of hours worked. However the benefit to employees isn’t as clear. Americans have longer work weeks and less vacation time compared with other developed countries. These working conditions can elevate stress levels, trigger insomnia, and even decrease life expectancy. Employers in the Bay Area, while adding affordable housing to address their workers’ needs, are also fueling demand—and therefore costs—through growth in the tech industry.
Source: Huffington Post