Housing News Roundup: February 9, 2017
Cato Institute and the National Low Income Housing Coalition Call for Mortgage Interest Deduction Reform
In a jointly written op-ed, Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, call for Congress to reform the mortgage interest deduction, which they describe as as “a wasteful use of federal resources.” Three-quarters of federal housing subsidy dollars benefit homeowners through regressive tax expenditures, of which the largest is the mortgage interest deduction. The authors’ proposals for reform differ. Yentel would convert the deduction to a credit and reduce the amount of an eligible mortgage. This would open the program to 15 million lower-income homeowners who do not take itemized deductions, while saving $241 billion over 10 years. The savings could further advance families’ stability by expanding rental assistance or the Housing Trust Fund. Calabria would eliminate the deduction and use the savings to reduce tax rates. Congress could achieve bipartisan support with a blended approach that both cuts taxes and reallocates federal housing resources to households most at risk without them.
Source: The Hill
Charlotte, NC, Pledges to Boost Affordable Housing Construction and Preservation, But How?
With falling incomes and rising housing costs, there is consensus in Charlotte, North Carolina, that more affordable housing units are needed, but debate continues about how to best meet this need. The city’s median income decreased from $56,120 to $53,919 in 2015, but median rents and home sale prices rose 10 percent and 26 percent, respectively. This led nearly half of Charlotte renters to become cost-burdened. Following protests last September that brought issues of gentrification and displacement to the surface, the city council pledged to create or preserve 5,000 affordable housing units in the next three years, but has not announced how. Several proposals are on the table, including reducing regulations that drive up housing costs, using public land for developing affordable housing, seeking new bond funds for the city’s housing trust fund, and requesting the state to authorize mandatory inclusionary zoning.
Source: The Charlotte Observer
Even with Low Unemployment, Many in Sioux Falls Still Live in Poverty
Despite a jobless rate below 3 percent, Sioux Falls’ poverty rate continues to grow. The city’s poverty rate has steadily risen since 2013 and reached 13.9 percent in 2015, while the national poverty rate moved in the opposite direction. Janet Kittams-Lalley of the Helpline Center explains, “Something to keep in mind is somebody can be in poverty and still be working.” This growth in poverty is attributed to stagnant wages and new residents arriving in search of work. Meanwhile, the cost of living, including rents, has been rising. Local leaders work to improve access to resources (e.g., affordable housing) that lessen poverty’s effects, but as Dane Bloch, executive director of a nonprofit in the city, points out, “The challenge we see is finding employment that’s going to sustain a family.”
Source: Argus Leader
Homeless College Students Face Challenges Despite Support Systems from Universities
In 2013, 58,000 of 19.9 million college students identified themselves as homeless. Homelessness is likely underreported because of stigma, a misunderstanding of what constitutes homelessness, and administrative barriers. To help homeless students graduate, some universities provide additional supports. For example, West Chester University, located in a Philadelphia suburb, allows homeless students to remain in the dorms and receive meals when school is not in session. The university trains staff to recognize indicators of homelessness or financial instability, and school officials review rejected FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications for signs of homelessness, such as missing parent information. Tori Nuccio, a financial aid official at the university, said, “It’s mind boggling when you explain to people that [these students]…still made it to college. But they don’t have the basic essentials, and it starts stressing them out as soon as they get to college.” Even with these supports, covering the costs of attending school is challenging. Nicole, a sophomore at Duquesne University, has considered dropping out, but the fear of student loan repayment holds her back. “If I quit school, I have to start paying,” she says. “If I stay, I’m racking up the amount I need to pay.”
Source: Pocono Record
High Line’s Mistakes Could Help Similar Projects Be More Inclusive
The High Line, an elevated park that repurposed old elevated train tracks in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, has outperformed its expectations in terms of visitors and fiscal impact, but has not served local residents’ needs. “We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighborhood,” says Robert Hammond, executive director of Friends of the High Line. “Ultimately, we failed.” During the park’s planning phase, Hammond and cofounder Joshua David tried to be accessible and obtain input from residents of the public housing developments at either end of the park, but realized that they asked the wrong questions. “Instead of asking what the design should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’” says Hammond. They have since tried to correct this through listening sessions, paid job training programs, and engaging public housing residents in developing programming at the park and hosting events at the public housing developments, but some lessons were learned too late. Recognizing the missed opportunity, Hammond created the High Line Network to bring together leaders of 17 adaptive reuse parks around the United States and Canada to discuss strategies regarding inclusion, financing, and marketing. Hammond explained, “I want to make sure other people don’t make the mistakes we did and learn how to deal with these issues.”