My Rewards as an NLIHC Summer Intern

By Bianca Guerrero, NLIHC Field and Communications Intern

My goal this summer was to learn what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the United States and to see what communities and organizations are doing to address it. After three months interning with the Tenant Protection Unit, a New York State agency that protects rent-regulated residents, I knew I wanted to continue working on housing issues. Dipping my feet in advocacy and organizing on a national level after graduating from college seemed like a good next step and an internship with NLIHC offered just that.

Working at an organization that centers around extremely low income communities have been very rewarding, especially in a political climate that jeopardizing very poor communities’ wellbeing. As a communications intern, I got a firm grasp on what the organization is fighting for. I saw our values and messaging spread during, for example, press calls with Rep. Keith Ellison when NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report was released. Incorporating data from our reports in tweets about HUD hearings on the Trump budget and the #OurHomesOurVoices campaign familiarized me with just how pressing the crisis is. I learned that organizing is truly a team effort. Pulling state-specific outlets from media lists, tracking reporter contacts, and reaching out to civic engagement platforms for the communications team was critical to making sure the National Week of Action was a success.

The field team gave me understanding of what it means to organize. Researching issues and writing articles for Memo to Members to highlight the work and success of our state partners in Minnesota, Vermont, Illinois, and Georgia taught me what obstacles other communities were facing, the solutions they devised to address them, and the work it took to achieve said solutions. Diving into the Advocates Guide’s information on housing programs gave me a sense of what resources are at stake in the Trump and Congressional budgets. Cleaning up membership lists, updating contact information, and checking our website links were also part of my internship. The field team always made clear why this less glamorous work was critical to improving its advocacy efforts.

I feel very grateful for the opportunity to work at NLIHC. This experience has equipped me to continue working on affordable housing issues back home in New York City and has also helped me become a better team player. Lisa, Sarah, James, and Joey have served as great examples. I always felt comfortable asking questions and voicing concerns or support for ideas. Their instructions and goals were always clear and they let me know my work was important. NLIHC’s location in Washington, D.C. was great because it gave me access to webinars and information sessions hosted by the Center for American Progress, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Urban Institute. I was able to learn what other organizations are doing to further the fight against homelessness and to protect the LGBTQ community, women, and others in this issue area. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of learning what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the country and what folks are doing to end it. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned back home!


Bianca Guerrero graduated in May from Columbia University as a political science major. Next year she will be an Urban Fellow with New York City government. She is passionate about cities, and more specifically the experiences of low income immigrant communities in urban housing.

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

Housing Advocates Gather in D.C. to Protest Trump’s Budget

By Benjamin Miller, NLIHC field intern

Trump Budget Cuts Protest 2

NAHT protesters in front of Trump International Hotel

Housing advocates from around the country gathered outside of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 27 to protest President Trump’s proposed FY’18 budget. The budget includes a $7.7 billion or 15% cut to HUD and a complete elimination of the national Housing Trust Fund, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, among others. The rally was coordinated by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) and co-sponsored by Empower D.C. Most at the rally were also attendees at NAHT’s annual conference in Washington, and many are themselves public housing residents or recipients of other federal housing assistance programs, in addition to other federal safety net programs that the president’s budget proposes slashing.

The budget proposal would be devastating to the millions of many low income households who benefit from HUD-administered housing programs. Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, spoke at the rally and expressed agitation by the budget proposal. Pointing to the history of this moment, Hustings noted that the proposed slashing of the HUD budget has not happened since 1981, with the first federal budget implemented by former President Ronald Reagan—and the clear and immediate impact of that budget was a nationwide surge in homelessness.

Many of the day’s speakers shared the belief that housing is an essential human right. Charlotte Delgado, a board member of NAHT said in her speech, “Donald Trump has demolished the right to have a decent life…Housing is a basic human right.” Speakers also addressed the fact that the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, yet our federal budgets year after year still do not make housing accessible and available to all of our nation’s most vulnerable families.

Another spokesperson for NAHT said “You can’t get rid of poor people, you have to make poor people equal people…you can’t trap people in poverty, you have to give us a path out.” The same NAHT representative stated that all of the paths out of poverty starts with a stable home.

Trump Budget Cuts Protest 1

Another point that was echoed in speeches and protest signs was that our multimillionaire president is himself a public housing resident. In fact, he does not pay any portion of his income toward the cost of living in the White House—an ironic observation, given the protest’s location in front of the gilded-sign reading “Trump International Hotel.” This point was intended to highlight that one piece of the president’s budget proposal includes a policy change whereby public housing residents would move from paying 30% to 35% of their already limited monthly income rent. In total, approximately 50 attended Tuesday morning’s rally, after which NAHT conference attendees traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue for an afternoon of lobby meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress.

What Affordable Housing Means to Me…

Affordable Housing Success Story: Florida

Ability Housing 

Mission: Ability Housing’s mission is to build strong communities where everyone has a home. To fulfill this mission, we develop and operate quality rental housing affordable to people with extremely limited incomes, focusing on the needs of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and adults with disabilities. Ability Housing partners with area service organizations so our residents have the supports they require to ensure housing stability and increase their independent living skills. In 2015, Ability Housing’s housing stability rate was 95.5% across its affordable developments. This exceeds the HUD Continuum of Care performance benchmark (80%) for permanent supportive housing.

Story: Consuello lost her housing in 2012 due to several setbacks caused by her anxiety and depression. After weeks in transitory motels and shelters, she lost custody of her daughter. Michael was forced to leave his grandmother’s home due to family conflict. When he and Consuello met, an immediate bond of faith and love was formed between them. But they could not find housing as they were unable to find work and were forced to live outside of an abandoned warehouse. Jacksonville, like many communities, has a crisis with affordable housing with more than half of the city’s renters being cost-burdened and 337 people identified as chronically homeless. When they met Joe Johnson, the program manager at Ability Housing, Consuello and Michael said that their prayers had been answered. The Village on Wiley was developed specifically to provide 43 units of permanent supportive housing for the community’s highest users of crisis services. The couple moved into their new home at this beautiful complex in 2015. With the support resources provided by HUD Continuum of Care program (CoC) funds, they found the capacity to rebuild their lives and married in early 2016. Consuello and Michael are now receiving benefits that have further stabilized their income and Consuello is now supplementing their income with work at McDonald’s, having gotten her license and a car to help her get to work. They have moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Ability Housing’s Mayfair Village so they can have their children back in their lives. Education seemed like an unattainable dream when Consuello and Michael were experiencing homelessness, yet they are planning to attend Edward Waters College to study music, with the goal of teaching children. With the support of Ability Housing, their future is as bright as their smiles.

consuello_and_michael_ability_housing_village_on_wiley_2016_2

Contact:

Tanya Adams; 904-359-9650; tadams@abilityhousing.org

abilityhousing.org

Organization Information:

City: Jacksonville

Congressional District: FL-4

Use of Funds: Rental Assistance

Federal Programs: CoC: $925,414

Total Federal Dollars: $925,414


Success stories from the A Place to Call Home report are available at: http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/A-Place-To-Call-Home_Profiles.pdf 

2017 Organizing Award Nominees Series

Neighbors United for Progress Empowers Austin Residents

By Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer

NUP Picture

Neighbors United for Progress (NUP), a resident-driven community leadership development project, has been nominated for this year’s 2017 Organizer Award for their adept community engagement in Austin, Texas.

In the past year, NUP has hosted 3 affordable housing forums engaging participants and informing them of their rights as residents. They also represent the interests of low income families at monthly Austin City Council Meetings, capitalizing on relationships with council members in order to best advocate for residents’ interests.

NUP’s work is extensive and aligns with NLIHC’s goals in a variety of ways. As noted in the nomination, “Through community conversations, bilingual housing workshops, training, and building relationships with city, state and national advocacy organizations and policymakers, NUP is furthering NLIHC’s mission to educate, organize, and advocate to ensure decent, affordable housing for everyone in the United States.”

To learn more about the NUP’s efforts to build the awareness and capacity of community members to navigate the issues and structures related to affordable housing, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/NUPATX/ and their website at www.nupatx.org.