Housing Forum Raises Valid Concerns Through Thoughtful Discussion

By Kate M. Kelly

Housing Forum Takeaway: A Home is the Center of Life and Must be Part of New Jersey’s Story

On Thursday, October 12, 2017, a Public Policy Forum on eviction in NJ with Princeton sociologist Dr. Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (NJ-D) was held at Drew University in Madison, NJ. The forum was held at The Concert Hall on Drew’s campus. Over 300 people attended the event and it received television and newspaper coverage.

On October 16, 2017, NorthJersey.com, the USA Today owned papers including the Record and the Daily Record published an editorial on the housing forum “Drew forum on housing raises valid concerns.”

“Public forums like the one at Drew engage both the general public and students – our future leaders – in thoughtful discussion about a statewide crisis that must be resolved. More is needed.”

Dr. Desmond said, “The house is the center of life. It’s part of the America story.”

“It must be part of the New Jersey story as well.”

“As Michael Izzo reports, in 2016, there were 3,054 evictions out of 44,651 rentals in Morris County, meaning 7 percent of Morris County tenants were evicted. That wasn’t even the highest eviction rate in New Jersey.” In fact, Essex County had the eviction rate of 25%.

In his remarks, Dr. Desmond told the audience “We have the richest society with the worst poverty.”

This divide between the rich and poor is a growing issue in New Jersey.

“New Jersey is an expensive place to live for the middle class, which struggles with staggering property tax bills. The battle is harder for low-income families living paycheck to paycheck with no cushion for even small emergencies, as Booker said. And the Trump administration is not focusing on the needs of the poor.”

“The tax code rewards wealth, and we’re told that will help the poor, and that’s just lies,” U.S. Senator Cory Booker told the audience.

“The opportunity to address the affordable crisis exists at both the state and federal level.”

Monarch Housing agrees with editorial’s conclusions.

“Clearly, the federal government must do more in providing housing vouchers that allow low-income families to pay 30 percent of their income toward a home with the federal government picking up the difference. But on the state and local levels, we also must do more to reduce the cost of rental units.”

Sponsoring the forum were Monarch Housing, NJ Policy Perspective, the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, the Supportive Housing Association of NJBridges Outreach, the Mental Health Association in NJ, the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Homeless Solutions and the Drew University Center for Civic Engagement.

The Public Policy Forum was underwritten by a grant from the Investors Foundation.
Follow the event on Twitter with the hashtag #EvictionNJForum


This article was originally published on October 19, 2017 at: https://monarchhousing.org/2017

Where Gentrification Was Held at Bay—Can It Last?

By Don Falk Chief Executive Officer, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation

The San Francisco housing market strains credulity. The median home price has reached $1.5 million.[1] In order to afford a two bedroom apartment at the median rent, a family must earn a whopping $216,000 annually.[2]

If families with six-figure incomes cannot afford to live in San Francisco, then how can low income residents make it here? In many cases, they can’t. They have been squeezed out and have moved to other cities or the exurbs.  Or worse, have ended up on the streets. San Francisco is becoming a city for the wealthy.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. San Francisco’s Tenderloin is a neighborhood that many low-income people still call home. This central city neighborhood, which abuts Toney Union Square, has remained a haven for low-income people for more than 100 years — even as other neighborhoods in San Francisco have gentrified, displacing the poor and more recently, the middle class.

Today, one-third of the housing units in the Tenderloin are preserved in perpetuity as affordable housing, mostly owned by nonprofits. No other neighborhood in the San Francisco, and few anywhere in the country, comes even close.

So, how did the Tenderloin do it? And, is it too late for other neighborhoods — in San Francisco or elsewhere—to slow gentrification, like the Tenderloin?

Let’s pick up the story in 1980. The Tenderloin, historically populated by working class and low-income residents, and with the highest number and proportion of Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs) in the city, was under siege. With the support of the administration of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, three national hotel chains saw an opportunity to build in the Tenderloin. Civic leaders had long seen an opportunity to expand Union Square south and west into the Tenderloin.

But to the distress of the hotels, community activists in the Tenderloin banded together — among them, residents of a fledgling organization, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), founded in 1981.These neighborhood activists forced the hotels to contribute significant funding to build low-income housing units and to sponsor a $4 million federal grant to buy and renovate four Tenderloin SROs for low-income residents.  These were unprecedented concessions at the time, representing arguably the first “community benefit agreement” in the country.

Throughout the 1980s, TNDC and other neighborhood organizations fought a series of land-use battles to stem the gentrification of the Tenderloin. Their persistence, strategic alliances and ingenuity won extraordinary measures: rezoning the Tenderloin as residential and discouraging the conversion of SRO hotels from residential to tourist uses. Their work ultimately removed hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate from the private market to create permanently affordable housing.

TNDC was in the center of that fight, not only as activists, but also as property owners.  TNDC resolved that the best way to ensure affordability forever, immune to changing political winds and capricious zoning policy, was to buy as much property as it could, as fast as it could.

Today, TNDC houses more than 4,000 San Franciscans in 40 buildings across the city, two-thirds in the Tenderloin. It is reminiscent of the American melting pot—10% African-American, 20% Latino, 35% Asian, 6% multi-racial and 29% white. Nearly half of the Tenderloin’s residents over the age of 5 were born in foreign countries; the majority of residents speak languages other than English. Three thousand young people call this neighborhood home, and nearly one-third of its residents are seniors. The Tenderloin represents the kind of diversity San Franciscans want to retain.

Amid San Francisco’s increasing wealth, the Tenderloin remained a predominantly low income neighborhood because of the foresight and commitment of neighborhood activists, public officials and nonprofit organizations who aggressively acquired property continuously over 35 years. As real estate values have skyrocketed and public funding shrunk, it has become much more difficult for nonprofits to secure public funding to acquire property to build or convert into affordable housing. And even today, the Tenderloin itself remains vulnerable to gentrification: its privately-owned housing, comprising 2/3rd of the neighborhood’s stock and the City’s most affordable market-rate housing, is subject to those same economic forces.

It will be challenging for many neighborhoods to replicate this experience. In the face of escalating real estate prices and a retreating Federal government, activists must find new policies and new resources to create permanently affordable housing. While the private real estate market and mechanisms like rent control and eviction protections play essential roles, subsidized housing controlled by the public via nonprofit ownership or other means assures truly long-term affordability.

With political will and a vision of the future that spans decades, it can be done, here in San Francisco and in other cities. Community development organizations, activists and citizens alike will need to continue to pressure city halls, states and the federal government to dedicate funds for affordable housing. Land is forever, so our strategic time horizon must be commensurately long. The Tenderloin has provided the roadmap.


Don Falk is CEO of TNDC. TNDC recently published an organizational history detailing the battle to prevent gentrification and displacement in the Tenderloin. http://www.tndc.org/tndc-at-35-book/

[1] https://www.paragon-re.com/trend/june-2017-crazy-hot-san-francisco-market-again

[2] https://smartasset.com/mortgage/the-income-needed-to-pay-rent-in-the-largest-cities, 2016

Growing Up With and Without Housing Assistance: The Backstory Behind Rachel Robinson’s Advocacy

By Rachel Robinson, Neighbors United for Progress Social Media Director & Housing Advocate Advisor

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When you live in low income housing or communities, sometimes you get lucky but sometimes you don’t. Growing up poor, my family moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, from hotel to motel like it was normal. My siblings and I felt like Child Protective Services (CPS) were our friend when we knew they were not. My neighborhoods had a lot of drama, gun and other violence, and drug activity. We resorted to handling issues in the ‘hood or within the projects because police would most likely treat us like suspects. These and other conditions of my experiences with low income housing are why I became a housing advocate.

Living with my brothers and grandmother on the outskirts of Austin, Texas was a blessing. Oak Hill, the family-oriented neighborhood we called home, was beautiful, full of playgrounds, schools, and stores. The community had plenty of resources and families had back yards. Oak Hill was a low income community at its finest: the crime rate was low and use of drugs was rare there.

In the 1990s, my grandmother decided she wanted to move into public housing in Bouldin Creek, a neighborhood closer to the inner city. While we didn’t have much privacy due to monthly check-ins from the housing authority, we did have access to the city and to bus routes. Bouldin Creek turned out to be very different from Oak Hill: it was in one of the most violent neighborhoods in south Austin. Rapes, gang activity, drunk driving, and fights were common. However, there was a bright side: with our new address I was able to enroll in a prestigious school where I flourished as a competitive student.

Winter brought tough times for my family. My grandma couldn’t take care of us anymore due to losing her job, so my siblings and I went to live with my mom, who struggled with drug problems. She lived in an abandoned hotel without lights, water, or working toilets. Worried for my brothers, I did everything under the sun to make money to provide school clothes, hot food, and other necessities. My mother is beautiful and smart, but drugs took over her life. CPS interviewed us constantly but never removed us from our mother. While we did not want to be taken away, what we were going through was not right.

My mother eventually ended up in jail, so my family was separated and displaced once again. My aunt took me into her home in a trailer park that felt like the projects.  I attended the poorest and most embarrassing school I have ever been in: it had bugs, holes in the walls, and textbooks in dire condition. In the ninth grade, I ended up getting pregnant. Teen mom was added to the list of labels already applied to me:  black, woman, crack baby, welfare and food-stamp user, a prostitute. I felt like these titles would never change unless I changed them, so I did. I got an apartment, won custody of my child, and eventually graduated with two kids.

Later, I moved to Mason Manor, one of the most dangerous and violent projects in Texas. The living conditions weren’t great: there was a lot of rust, roaches, maintenance issues, faulty air conditioning, and a host of other problems. We lived there for three weeks before moving to live with family. Eventually, we moved into a market-rate apartment in another poor area. This apartment was infested with centipedes, roaches, bees, and other critters. While I didn’t want to live there, we stayed for two years.

We moved to a duplex run by a slumlord, where roaches were embedded into the closets, doors, and any opening or cracks. The windows lacked screens and didn’t lock; the driveway was in awful shape. The tub filled with backflow from the sewer and toilet, so some days we couldn’t take a bath. One day, the breaker caught fire and we lost power in half the house for about two months.

At 28 years old, I was homeless. My entire family of six was living in my suburban and on couches for nine months before finding help from the Foundation for the Homeless. They found a three-bedroom, one and a half bath home with utilities paid for and rent of $1,350 a month. It didn’t matter if we were in market-rate or public housing, we always felt like being low income was the issue. Sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we didn’t. The neighborhoods I lived in were usually drug infested and prone to violence. I was too scared to let my kids play outside and I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Our landlords rarely treated us with respect, convinced that they were giving us a hand out so we should pay our rent and be quiet.

At age 14, I learned that where I live is important. Escaping poverty would be hard, but I knew I had to try. I went to school and got a certification in Medical Billing & Coding.  I’m also a licensed hair stylist. Even so, people assume things because of my address in a low income neighborhood. I want more for my kids: I do not want them to live my childhood realities. They are why I am a housing advocate: I push for better affordable housing in hopes of changing their futures.


Rachel is now the social media director and housing advocate advisor of Neighbors United for Progress (NUP). NUP is a group of neighbors who came together to focus on the betterment of their community and to raise awareness in the areas of affordable housing, crime and safety, and youth development.

Read about NUP’s 2017 NLIHC Organizer Award nomination at: https://hfront.org/category/organizer-awards/ 

Spotlight on Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, NLIHC’s 2017 Organizing Award Nominee

By Mary Burke Rivers, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing executive director 

otrch 1Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) , the owner and manager of a low income housing site in the gentrifying Over-the-Rhine section of Cincinnati, was nominated for NLIHC’s 2017 Organizing Award for their impressive organizing and mobilization efforts, preventing the demolition of a neighborhood park and community public space.

OTRCH has a history of mobilizing the Cincinnati community. Since the 2006 merger of two local housing justice organizations, they have developed over 300 units of affordable housing, have managed over 400 units, and have saved 45 historical buildings from demolition. Over-the-Rhine is a diverse community that has experienced a dramatic loss of affordable housing while also experiencing a dramatic increase in up-scale housing. Neighborhood residents felt excluded from attempts at progress in the area and wanted stability.

In early 2015, OTRCH, its neighborhood Community Council and other residents learned of a plan working its way through the city to sell off 84,000 square feet of public land to a private developer for the purposes of constructing  21 high-end single family homes, in the otherwise dense, low income and mostly black and brown neighborhood. The plan included the demolition of current community assets—a public park and basketball courts where neighborhood kids play, and a community garden maintained by a neighborhood-based nonprofit—with no public input process with residents who would be deeply affected. OTRCH’s Children’s Creative Corner, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Peaslee Neighborhood Center’s Agents of Change program together created their Keep Our Courts/Do Development Differently (KOC/DDD) campaign to convince city officials to abandon their proposed privatization and development plan, and to institute notions of equity and justice in future development efforts.

otrch 2

The campaign earned the support of other organizations and movements, including the city’s chapter of Black Lives Matter. Activities of the campaign included public education and mobilization components; a neighborhood cookout, kid’s basketball tournament and block party at the public park and proposed development site; lobby visits with numerous public officials; and testimony before the city council by advocates, residents, and children who would be impacted by the demolition of their neighborhood park. KOC/DDD was successful in pressuring the City of Cincinnati to re-examine the terms of its exclusive development contract with the private, for-profit developer; as a result, the developer opted not to renew this contract. The city is now working to improve community input processes for more inclusive community preservation and development proposals in the future.

To learn more about OTRCH’s community mobilization and work on resident-centered developmental proposals, visit http://otrch.org and http://peasleecenter.org/agents-of-change/

NYers Join Forces at #NoCuts Rally to Protest Proposed HUD Cuts

By Jessica A. Facciponti, New York Housing Conference (NYHC) director of policy & programs

Schumer Press Conference in Support of NoCuts

Senator Schumer Press Conference in Support of #NoCuts

The #NoCuts Coalition organized a rally on Thursday, April 20th, protesting the $6.2 billion in HUD cuts nationwide that were proposed by the Trump administration. Under President Trump’s Budget Blueprint, New York State is estimated to lose over $1 billion in annual funds for critical housing programs.

New York State is already in the midst of a growing homeless and affordable housing crisis with 88,000 homeless New Yorkers and close to a million families paying more than half of their income towards rent each month.  New York City’s irreplaceable public housing infrastructure is deteriorating after years of federal disinvestment and is in dire need of a federal capital infusion to restore decent, healthy and safe living conditions for its residents. In addition, more than 200,000 of New York City’s senior citizens currently wait an average of seven years on Section 202 waiting lists for affordable housing.  Trump’s cuts would woefully exacerbate NY’s affordable housing problem by forcing many senior citizens, disabled households and families with children out of their homes and onto the streets or into shelters. To oppose these harmful and draconian cuts, elected officials, tenants, religious leaders, union workers and affordable housing advocates joined forces to form the #NoCuts Coalition and rallied in protest.

Based on the Budget Blueprint projections, 20,293 Section 8 households in New York would be at risk of homelessness. New York State would lose $430 Million in Public Housing Operating & Capital Funds, which includes New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) operating funding loss of $100-150 million and capital funding of $216 million. NYCHA already has a $17 billion Capital repair backlog. These cuts would further inhibit NYC’s ability to maintain and repair this critical affordable housing infrastructure. Given these needs, the federal government should be increasing the housing budget not cutting it.

Moreover, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) programs were completely eliminated in Trump’s Budget Blueprint. New York City’s neighborhoods would be hit hard by the loss of CDBG funding for homeless services, senior center upgrades, daycare services, building code enforcement and emergency building repairs among other uses. In Upstate NY, CDBG is a critical program used to leverage investment in economically disadvantaged communities. HOME funding supports new construction of housing for very low-income renters including supportive housing for the formerly homeless and senior housing. It also provides direct rental assistance for homeless families.

Trump’s proposed HUD budget cuts would not only harm New York’s vulnerable and working families, but it will negatively impact New York’s economy. A HR&A 2017 report funded by NYSAFAH[i] calculated that affordable housing development and preservation activities in New York generate $11 billion in annual economic activity during construction. It also creates 66,000 annual jobs.  It also would effectively halt the production of affordable apartments in NY which have been created at a pace of 26,000 units over five years and would further limit the amount of available affordable units for low income households for years to come.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and several local Council Members spoke at the rally denouncing the unconscionable cuts while highlighting the disastrous impacts they would have on NY and its residents. Senator Schumer showed his support by hosting a #NoCuts press conference on Tuesday, April 18th. He is also a member of the #NoCuts Coalition.

Velazquez Denouncing HUD Cuts

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez Denouncing the HUD Cuts

If enacted, the President’s budget would contribute to a rise in homelessness, accelerate the decline of public housing infrastructure and curb production of affordable housing across the country. Join NYHC and NLIHC to protect federal housing funds!


[i]HR&A Advisors, Inc. (2017). Economic Impacts of Affordable Housing on New York State’s Economy. New York, NY: HR&A Advisors, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.nysafah.org/cmsBuilder/