Housing News Roundup: November 16, 2015
Debate Over Solving Homelessness Continues in Seattle
Despite Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s declaration of a state of emergency to get more funding to prevent homelessness, advocates in the city argue it is not enough. Providers and advocates are asking the City Council to vote to provide $2.3 million in additional funding, potentially from the city’s rainy day funds. Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says “We’re asking the council: ‘Please don’t put this money in the rainy-day fund. It’s raining right now. Use this money to bring homeless people inside, out of the rain.’” Statistics on homelessness in Seattle are dour: a 21% increase in homelessness since 2014, 66 deaths of unsheltered homeless individuals this year, and nearly 3,000 public school children who are homeless. Murray is pushing back on the request, saying that the city needs the rainy day funds for use “when we’re forced to cut services during a recession.” In addition, the Mayor noted that homelessness is not the only pressing issue for the city. “There are poor neighborhoods in this city that need things, too.”
Source: The Seattle Times
Is Banning Smoking in All Public Housing a Bridge Too Far?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is considering banning smoking in all public housing, both within housing units and up to 25 feet outside of all associated buildings. Despite the obvious health benefits associated with a reduction in smoking, or in exposure to second-hand smoke, the policy has detractors. Public housing is only one form of federal housing assistance, yet its tenants will be the only population prohibited from smoking in their homes. The means through which public housing authorities will enforce the policy is unclear, and eviction and fines are likely to be an option. The debate continues on whether a ban limited to just public housing residents is equitable and appropriate, particularly since it affects what residents can do inside their homes.
Pennsylvania Expands Affordable Housing Bill
Governor Tom Wolf recently expanded the Philadelphia Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act (PHARE) by increasing its reach to all 67 counties in the state. The new affordable housing legislation, ACT 58, will expand the Housing Trust Fund to $25 million dollars. According to the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Liz Hersh, “PHARE has proven to be a success in providing housing security and opportunity for those in need. With the governor’s signature, we now have an even stronger and wider reach throughout the commonwealth.” The move was endorsed by State Senator Shirley Kitchen, who views the legislation as an opportunity to help confront blight and address the state’s shortage of affordable housing. According to Kitchen, “The Federal Reserve Bank has said Pennsylvania needs another quarter-million homes to bridge a shortage faced by low-income families.”
Source: The Philadelphia Tribune
"Housing-First" Stabilizes Homeless in Washington, DC
In a policy that adopts a “housing-first” approach, Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is including permanent supportive housing as part of her plan to end homelessness in the district by 2020. The housing-first philosophy holds that the homeless are better equipped and more likely to address the root causes of their homelessness if they are immediately housed. Advocates of the approach say eliminating the need to find shelter enables people to address joblessness, addiction, or other health issues which may be impeding their ability to secure a home. Advocates also note that providing homes to people is a more cost-effective public policy approach than the emergency room visits and jail stays that often accompany homelessness, citing the successes the state of Utah has had with such a policy. Open Arms Housing of Washington, DC, has found that its permanent housing program has enabled the vast majority of its tenants to become self-sufficient and that few have returned to homelessness.
Source: The Washington Post
Increasing Affordable Rentals Is Key to Strengthening Economy
In a commentary, Pamela Patenaude of the Terwilliger Foundation says that tackling the turmoil in the rental housing market is the key to stabilizing the broader housing market and improving the economy. Rising rents are having a cascading effect on single family home sales and market growth, since many first time home buyers are unable to save for a downpayment. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard reported that the number of people paying more than 30 percent of income on rent hit a record high in 2013, and the National Association of Realtors reported that the share of first-time home buyers is at its lowest point since 1987. For demographic reasons, the rental market is expected to stay strong. Patenaude argues that without intervention the rental market will continue to drag down the economy, writing, “Increasing the supply of affordable rental homes through a heightened commitment to policy tools like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit should be priority number one.”