It’s Time to Broaden the Affordable Housing Movement

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By Mike Koprowski, Campaign Director for Opportunity Starts at Home 

A safe, decent, affordable home is a foundation of opportunity, but it’s out of reach for far too many.  The evidence is quite clear that we are witnessing a severe housing affordability crisis in America, and its consequences are spilling over into many other sectors such as education, health care, civil rights, homelessness, and economic mobility.  As acclaimed sociologist, Matthew Desmond, explains: “It is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need.  Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country.  The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”    

I’ve recently taken on the role of National Campaign Director of Opportunity Starts at Home, a new multi-sector housing campaign to meet the housing needs of the nation’s low-income people.  The National Low Income Housing Coalition launched this campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee of partners including the Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS. 

The driving idea behind this campaign is that a diverse range of stakeholders from various sectors will be necessary to make affordable housing a national priority and to effectuate federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.  The federal government already plays a significant role in addressing the housing needs of low-income families, but it is not nearly strong enough considering the magnitude of the problem.  Today, only 1 out of 4 eligible households receive the help they need.  Contrary to the myths and false stereotypes, only 6% of households receiving housing aid are “work able” but not employed.  The problem is that wages are much too low to afford a decent rental home without financial help.  In fact, there are only 12 counties in America where a full-time worker on minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom rental.

The time to act is now: the housing affordability problem has reached disastrous levels; federal housing assistance is chronically under-funded and faces unprecedented threats in the current political climate; housing advocates are increasingly realizing that they can’t do this work alone; many other sectors are increasingly realizing that housing is inextricably linked to their own priorities and goals; and the research continues to mount that housing is fundamental to nearly every social and economic outcome that matters to our country.

Perhaps surprisingly, I personally arrived at these conclusions through my experiences in the education sector – specifically, as the Chief of Transformation and Innovation for the Dallas Independent School District.  There, I became convinced that many of the challenges we face in the education field – low college readiness, yawning achievement gaps, inequitable funding – actually have their roots in housing-related issues.  Like most major cities, Dallas is experiencing a growing affordable housing problem and has long experienced crushing levels of residential segregation, which we know lies at the core of educational inequity.

Through my time on the ground in Dallas, I became convinced that, as scholar Richard Rothstein said, “School reform cannot succeed without housing reform.”  I remain an enthusiastic supporter of many important education efforts, such as raising academic standards, increasing funding for high-poverty schools, investing in professional development and better teacher pay, and focusing on early childhood development.  But still more is needed.  As former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, Paul Reville, said: “Even when optimized with high expectations, strong curriculum, and expert instruction, today’s schools have not proven powerful enough by themselves to compensate for the disadvantages associated with poverty.”

Research consistently shows that achievement differences between students are more attributable to out-of-school factors than in-school factors.  After all, children spend the vast majority of their time in and around their homes.  We know that poor children in affordable housing do better on tests than poor children in unaffordable housing – if rent doesn’t eat up parents’ hard-earned paychecks, they can more easily invest in their child’s development.  We know that poor children who constantly change schools due to housing instability struggle academically and suffer later as adults.  And we know that affordable housing options located in “high-opportunity areas” can lead to mixed-income neighborhoods, which, in turn, can lead to mixed-income schools that consistently produce strong academic and social outcomes for affluent and low-income students alike.

If you look at my résumé, you might see someone who “switched” from the education field to the housing field.  But I reject this notion.  For me, the fight for affordable housing is also very much a fight to advance student success.  It’s time to re-think the artificial organizational silos we’ve created.  The complexities of modern-day challenges require us to be more fluid, to look beyond our respective lanes, to acknowledge our interdependencies, and to implement solutions together.  These issues are too complicated and difficult for one sector to solve alone.  Education advocates ARE housing advocates – and the same could be said for health care advocates, civil rights advocates, veterans advocates, anti-poverty advocates, and many more.

That’s a big reason why I joined this multi-sector housing campaign.  I am enormously grateful for the chance to lead the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, and I look forward to working with our stakeholders to ensure that low-income people have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.

Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at: www.opportunityhome.org

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Congress

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on Preparedness, Response, and Rebuilding:  Lessons from the 2017 Disasters on March 15.  Members will have the opportunity to direct questions to a panel of federal witnesses and state/local stakeholders that include FEMA Administrator Brock Long (his first appearance before the Committee), San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto, and state/territorial government representatives from emergency operations in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.  A full list of speakers along with the option to live-stream this hearing can be found here.

HUD

HUD is asking for feedback on its draft National Mitigation Investment Strategy. A HUD representative will join the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition’s national call on March 15 to provide an overview of the strategy and suggest ways organizations and advocates can help improve it.  Everyone is welcome to join a special meeting of the DHRC Policy Working Group on Thursday, March 22, at 12:30pm to discuss the National Mitigation Investment Strategy and to collect feedback, comments, and suggestions that we can include in our public comments. If you would like to participate, please let Sarah Mickelson (smickelson@nlihc.org) know so that she can share call-in information with you.  Attached are the draft of that document and a fact sheet.


HURRICANE MARIA

FEMA

The Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) Program for Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria has been extended until May 14.  This program that provides hotel vouchers was scheduled to end on March 20.  The extension does not come without restrictions.  It will only be granted to families who are already benefiting from the program and to those who qualify under new requirements established by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.


Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at: http://nlihc.org/issues/disaster

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Monday, March 12, 2018

General Updates

A Resource for Engagement with State Action Plans.  The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) of more than 700 organizations provided a comprehensive set of policy recommendations that advocates can use with state governors to ensure that Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Action Plans provide a fair and equitable recovery.  The recommendations emphasize:  recovery funding to ensure all households receive the housing assistance they need to get back on their feet; investments in public infrastructure and environmental remediation to meet the needs of low income people and communities; and adoption of transparent data and reporting standards.  Read the DHRC state disaster recovery recommendations at: http://bit.ly/2IhQoMs.


HURRICANE MARIA

FEMA

DHRC submitted written testimony in development of the CDBG-DR-required action plan in Puerto Rico.  A set of recommendations were submitted to HUD on behalf of the DHRC in response to a week-long series of public information sessions held on the island. These recommendations highlight the unique challenges in Puerto Rico, including the large number of homeowners without clear title, the need for alternative methods to provide public input, and the widespread and high rates of poverty–particularly in rural and mountainous regions. 

FEMA Provides Alternatives for Verifying Proof of Ownership in Puerto Rico.  By law, FEMA must require proof of ownership and occupancy from disaster survivors who apply for federal assistance to help with repairs to their damaged homes.  When all forms of verification are destroyed or don’t exist, FEMA may accept a signed self-declaration.  If home ownership or occupancy cannot be proved, some individuals or families may still qualify for other available disaster assistance to cover damaged or destroyed personal property.  Applicants who need legal assistance regarding home ownership documentation and cannot afford an attorney may call the free Disaster Legal Services hotline at 800-310-7029

Deadline Extended for Private Non-Profit (PNP) Organizations Applying for FEMA Funding.  FEMA Public Assistance provides grants to eligible government organizations and PNPs for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities. The program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events with hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process.  The application deadline for PNP organizations in Puerto Rico has been extended till April 3. 


HURRICANE IRMA

FEMA

Long-term Help Remains for Hurricane Irma Survivors.  Twenty-six Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRG) across Florida–supported by a variety of nonprofits and FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons–are helping Irma survivors connect with resources.  The nonprofits work to assist unmet disaster-related needs of people who may need more time and resources to recover.  Specialists from several federal agencies also offer support by working with local groups to help build communities better prepared to face disasters.


HURRICANE HARVEY

Local Perspectives

Experiment with post-Harvey housing helps far fewer than expected.  This Houston Chronicle article outlines how FEMA’s experiment of pushing responsibility on Texas for short-term disaster housing – as opposed to relying on DHAP and other federal programs – has left thousands of survivors without the help they need. It’s a story of unnecessary delays, mismanagement, lack of capacity, and communication breakdowns–all of which leave families struggling to make ends meet. It also underscores the need for congressional action on DHAP and other solutions.

 HUD and City of Houston Reach Fair Housing Agreement.  The City of Houston and HUD announced a joint agreement on March 9 to expand housing choice and mobility for lower income residents, including those experiencing homelessness and victims of Hurricane Harvey.  The set of affordable housing policies resolve a 2017 HUD finding that Houston’s housing policies violate the federal Civil Rights Act.  “For decades, the politicians have made decisions that compelled poor families in subsidized housing to live in racially segregated, high poverty areas,” said John Henneberger, with the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. “Mayor Turner has exercised his power to choose where he wants to live. The Fair Housing Act says that he must stop denying the citizens he governs that same right.”


Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at: http://nlihc.org/issues/disaster

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

FEMA

October Wildfires

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    4,469 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $15,460,632 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $9,417,989 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $6,042,643 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $210,474,340 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $208,830,257 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $203,708 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects

December Wildfires, Flooding, Mudflows, and Debris Flows

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    639 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $3,812,131 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $3,298,177 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $513,954 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed. 


HURRICANE MARIA

FEMA

Puerto Rico

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    438,815 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $1,061,765,242 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $580,169,644 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $481,595,598 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $561,594,909 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $543,594,909 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

U.S. Virgin Islands

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    10,760 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $36,594,557 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $24,966,782 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $11,627,775 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $257,255,825 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $248,521,380 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $1,320,897 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.


HURRICANE IRMA

FEMA

Florida

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    772,587 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $991,537,336 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $686,058,987 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $305,478,349 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $20,064,318 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $7,361,663 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $333,358 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects

Additional Numbers. A FEMA update provides additional numbers regarding the recovery efforts in Florida. The Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program, which funds emergency home repairs, has approved 189 projects with 69 under construction and another 69 completed. FEMA provided direct housing, travel trailers, and apartments to 318 households in Collier, Hendry, Lee, and Monroe counties. More than 27,000 households stayed in FEMA/state funded hotel room, and survivors received $173 million for home repairs and $497 million to help pay rent.

TSA Deadline Approaching. The Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program ends March 10 for Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida. This program provides temporary emergency housing through FEMA-funded hotel rooms. FEMA reports that of the 27,303 households who have participated in the program, more than 26,000 have exited the program into longer-term housing.

Georgia

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    9,365 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $13,412,868 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $9,920,408 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $3,492,460 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $6,992,088 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $3,563,815 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $2,864,561 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Puerto Rico

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    1,432 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $6,337,859 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $4,780,310 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $1,557,549 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $4,157,749 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated, all for emergency work (Categories A-B)**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

U.S. Virgin Islands

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    8,422 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $33,992,534 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $24,199,464 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $9,793,070 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $5,249,064 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $5,207,183 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $19,335 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Local Perspectives

Housing Search Resource. Several Florida housing groups have created FloridaHousingSearch.org, a website specifically designed to help people displaced by Hurricane Irma find housing.


HURRICANE HARVEY

FEMA

Texas

By the Numbers: (as of 3/7)

o    371,155 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*

o    $1,569,048,557 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*

o    $1,187,889,255 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*

o    $381,159,302 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

o    $625,497,223 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**

o    $561,800,298 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

o    $758,800 Permanent Work (Categories C-G) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

TSA Extension. FEMA has granted an extension of the TSA program for survivors in Texas. The extension is approved through April 23 with an eligibility review on April 2. 


Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at: http://nlihc.org/issues/disaster

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Monday, March 5, 2018

General Updates

  • Mortgage Relief Guide. The National Consumer Law Center released a resource guide for obtaining mortgage relief following a disaster. The guide provides an overview, some essential resources, and details for the various forms of relief available to survivors.

HURRICANE MARIA

HUD

  • Foreclosure Moratorium Expanded. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced a 60-day extension of a foreclosure moratorium for FHA-insured homeowners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lenders and servicers will suspend foreclosure actions until May 18, 2018. FHA has several other options and resources to help homeowners impacted by Hurricane Maria.

HURRICANE IRMA

FEMA

  • Prescription Assistance Extended. A FEMA program that provides prescription assistance for uninsured disaster survivors has been extended through March 14 for survivors in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The program provides free 30-day replacements of certain drugs and medical supplies for eligible survivors.

Local Perspectives

  • Florida Housing Fund Sweeps. Florida lawmakers are moving to sweep money from the state’s affordable housing trust fund in favor of increased spending in response to the recent school shooting. The Legislature had been advocating for providing much more funding for affordable housing, particularly after Hurricanes Irma and Maria tightened the already tight market. After the February 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, however, lawmakers hope to increase school resource officers, child welfare case managers, mental health programs, and training for teachers who volunteer to carry guns in schools. Many Democrats have objected to sacrificing affordable housing, even if they support much of the other legislation.

HURRICANE HARVEY

Local Perspectives

  • TSA Extension Requested. Texas Governor Abbott has requested an extension of the FEMA Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program. The current deadline is March 12. FEMA has not yet granted or denied this request.
  • Houston Tenant Rally. A group of tenants and advocates held a rally outside of Houston City Hall on February 27. Community members shared testimony about hazardous and subpar housing conditions and the impact Harvey had on their already poorly maintained housing. The rally received mixed reactions from City Council members. Houston area tenants are encouraged to share their stories using the hashtags #OutofOrder and #descompuesto.

Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at: http://nlihc.org/issues/disaster