Housing News Roundup: March 10, 2016
Boston's Housing Innovation Lab Unveils Pilots to Reduce Costs
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh recently unveiled a new batch of pilot programs to address the city’s growing housing affordability issue. Functioning as an arm of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, the Housing Innovation Lab will implement innovative new zoning rules, housing types, and land uses to spur the development of affordable housing for middle-class families. The project will promote increased development by offering density bonuses, reducing minimum square-footage requirements, assisting community land trusts, and introducing a city-run first-time homebuyer’s website. Marcy Ostberg, of the Housing Innovation Lab, is optimistic about introducing concepts to reality as she says, “We do believe they’ll have an impact on housing costs.
Source: Boston Globe
Negotiations on NYC Inclusionary Housing Intensify
The de Blasio administration has indicated it is willing to compromise in order to ensure the success of its affordable housing plan. As the New York City Council vote on a rezoning plan approaches, the administration has offered to require developers to build some new units for households that make 40 percent of the city’s area median income (AMI). The city’s initial offer of 60 percent of AMI concerned housing activists, according to Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change. “The city needs to get down to 30 percent,” he said. “If not, you’ll see a huge part of the New York City population left out of the housing plan.” However, requiring affordability for lower-income households will reduce the financial viability of the developments and could exacerbate the city’s affordable housing crisis, opponents say. The administration remains confident that the groups will reach a feasible compromise. According to de Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan, “We continue to have productive discussions with the council. We are all committed to providing housing affordable to low-income families.”
Source: Wall Street Journal
Addressing the Eviction Economy
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, sociologist Matt Desmond describes the severe housing instability that leads to routine evictions among low-income Americans. Yet three-quarters of eligible households for federal rental assistance do not receive federal rental assistance. “What if food stamps only covered one in four families?” writes Desmond. Using stories from his book Evicted, Desmond describes how trapped poor families are—and how vulnerable they are to exploitation. The country can remedy this problem through a universal affordable housing program for all families earning less than 30 percent of area median income, he writes. Before accounting for savings in other programs that deal with the aftermath of a lack of affordable housing, he estimates the cost would be $22.5 billion per year—substantially less than the $171 billion in federal subsidies for homeownership provided through the tax code. “If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources. We lack something else,” writes Desmond.
Source: New York Times
The Loss of Naturally Mixed-Income Neighborhoods
Since 1970, mixed-income neighborhoods in the Boston metropolitan area and elsewhere have become increasingly homogeneous as the concentration of affluence and poverty increases. According to an analysis of census data by researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities, economic segregation is rising in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Families in the poorest census tracts earn less than two-thirds of the median income for their region, while those in the wealthiest earn more than 150 percent. In metro areas like Boston, poverty is concentrated in just a handful of places because a combination of high costs and exclusionary zoning lock lower-income families out of the suburbs. Merrimack Valley YMCA administrator Frank Kenneally tries to bridge the economic divide through recreational activities and programming that expose youth to their peers from different backgrounds. After participating in one of the YMCA’s programs, 14-year-old Sydney Pensavalli reflected, “I didn’t really think that kids my age, kids in my grade, kids that like the same things as me, could go through that—just 2 miles away from my house.”
Source: Boston Globe
Researcher Asserts the Continued Constitutional Mandate to Desegregate
Segregation in today’s schools and neighborhoods is often attributed to informal forces, such as racial prejudice, income disparities, and demographic trends, however, Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute challenged this assumption in a speech at the Missouri History Museum Symposium. Rothstein argues that current patterns of segregation are linked to the legally -enforced segregation of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Because these patterns of segregation were a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Rothstein asserts that policies that desegregate neighborhoods and remedy the resultant economic inequality by race are constitutionally mandated. Rothstein suggested requiring that Section 8 vouchers and low-income housing credits be used exclusively in wealthier neighborhoods.
Source: St. Louis Public Radio
Opinion: Children Face Heightened Lead Risk due to HUD's Lax Guidelines
Lead poisoning from paint in older homes is perhaps the most well-known home health hazard, yet the lead hazard guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are too weak to protect children from harm, according to Emily Benfer, director of the Health Justice Project at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Benfer is part of a coalition petitioning for federal change. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends intervention at blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter, HUD’s recommended interventions are delayed until there are at least three months of readings exceeding 15 micrograms per deciliter or a single reading of 20 micrograms. The Chicago Housing Authority, which previously followed federal guidelines and denied families’ requests to move out of homes due to lead hazards, has now adopted CDC guidelines to strengthen its efforts to prevent lead poisoning. Benfer is part of a coalition seeking federal changes to strengthen lead protections. “The question is whether we as a country are up to the challenge of ending the scourge once and for all,” writes Benfer.