Four Days, Four Reasons

There are only four days left in the year. That means just four days to make a tax-deductible charitable contribution to NLIHC for the 2012 tax year. If you haven’t done so already, here are the top four reasons you should support NLIHC:

We advocate on the issues that matter most.

From the fiscal cliff and sequestration to the housing needs of low income disaster victims, NLIHC focuses on issues that are timely and relevant. Our advocacy and analysis provide the information advocates across the country need to take action when it’s needed most.

We are uniquely committed to serving the lowest income Americans.

NLIHC is the only organization of its kind dedicated solely to socially just housing policy for extremely low income Americans. Often including seniors, children and people with disabilities, extremely low income households are the only population experiencing an absolute shortage of affordable housing.

 Our network connects and empowers housing advocates of all kinds.

NLIHC members include homeless service providers, researchers and policy makers, faith-based organizations, public and assisted housing residents and organizations, and concerned citizens. As a result, NLIHC’s work is informed by a diverse spectrum of affordable housing stakeholders, but our only obligation is to the people most in need of affordable and decent homes.

NLIHC counts on donors like you.

NLIHC is funded entirely by private donations and member dues. Because of this, we retain complete impartiality in our policy analysis and integrity in our policy recommendations. We rely on robust relationships with individuals like you to support our work.

Support NLIHC this holiday season with a donation through our secure website!

As a reader of this blog, you understand the value of decent, stable and affordable housing, especially around the holidays. We appreciate your interest in affordable housing and your advocacy for the housing needs of the lowest income Americans. Please strengthen our advocacy work with a contribution in these last four days of 2012.

Reforming a Deduction to Provide Homes for the Poor

When the National Low Income Housing Coalition first launched our proposal to fund the building and preservation of affordable housing with the savings from modification of the mortgage interest deduction, there were skeptics who told us the mortgage interest tax break was untouchable. With everything we heard about “sacred cows” and “third rails,” it would not have surprised us if we suddenly found ourselves working on a dairy farm or in a subway station.

Just a few weeks have passed, and it seems the cows have shed their halos and the rails are no longer electrified. The reality of our nation’s fiscal challenges has shocked many in Congress into realizing that what was once viewed as untouchable might indeed be a source of funding for many things, including deficit reduction.

Conventional wisdom aside, it just so happens that this is far from the first time the mortgage interest deduction has come under scrutiny. Back in 1984, even President Reagan suggested that it might be worth reconsidering the deduction. But even more relevant to our interests is a 1972 proposal from HUD Secretary George W. Romney (father of Governor Mitt Romney) for a “staged reduction” in the mortgage interest deduction, with a shift of the savings to affordable housing for low income people.

In the midst of the fear and furor over sequestration and the fiscal cliff (and the argument over whether there even is a cliff at all), it is easy to forget one simple truth: as it is, the federal programs that provide safe, affordable housing for the lowest income Americans do not have enough funding to serve all of the people who need them. Housing advocates wish we had the luxury of defending housing programs from “entitlement reform;” while entitlements like Social Security are promised to everyone who qualifies, only about 25% of people who qualify for housing assistance receive it, because the funding just isn’t there to serve everyone who needs help with housing. The result? For every 100 extremely low income renter households, there are only 30 housing units affordable and available to them. This means that 4.3 million renter households stand at the edge of their own fiscal cliff, every day of the year.

So before they go scrambling to fill in holes in the federal budget with money from sacred-cow deductions, we hope lawmakers take a step back and consider the impact investing these savings into people and communities, not just deficit holes, could have. Building and rehabilitating affordable housing means low income renters will have some disposable income to spare, and they can then spend that cash in their communities. Safe, stable housing means kids who can concentrate in school, and go on to lead productive, fulfilling lives. Healthy homes for families and seniors mean lower healthcare costs for all of us.

We think it’s time to reform the mortgage interest deduction and use the savings to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which can build and rehabilitate housing that lower income people can afford. If you feel similarly, we hope you’ll sign on to support our proposal and help us show lawmakers that there is a better way.

News Round-Up: Housing Disasters, Natural and Man-Made

In this week’s News Round-Up, we find news stories showing that both natural disasters, and the disastrous economy, have combined with the nationwide shortage of rental housing affordable to low income people to create a crisis for many American families.

In Vermont, manufactured home park residents whose homes were flooded during Hurricane Irene had no other choice but to destroy their own homes, as repair was impossible and the fee to dispose of them was more than the residents could afford. In a state with the second lowest rental vacancy rates and the seventh highest rents, these former homeowners will have a tough time finding a place they can afford. They will also find themselves in competition with other low income families for scarce affordable rental opportunities. As the need grows, service providers have difficulty stretching the state and federal funding available to them, and must cobble together donations and other resources to help their clients.

Franklin County, Pennsylvania’s shelter system is under stress due to the poor economy and lack of housing affordable to low income people. Waiting lists for vouchers and public housing mean the shelters stay full.

We find a similar story in Indiana, where the minimum and low wage jobs available pay nowhere near the $17.84 Housing Wage there. Service providers say they’re seeing an increase in homeless families in particular.

Meet Our Interns: Chelsea Dalziel

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is fortunate to have great interns every semester and summer. Over the next several weeks, each of our summer interns will share their experiences at the Coalition with you. Think interning with the Coalition might be for you? Learn more here!

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about public interest and social justice issues. This passion led me to become an active volunteer throughout my high school and undergraduate career, as well as to my decision to attend law school, where my desire to serve the public interest is reinforced on a daily basis.

As an active member in Charlotte Law’s Pro Bono Program, I have had multiple opportunities to assist vulnerable and underrepresented populations in my community. Being part of this program has led me to develop a desire to serve the underserved on the larger scale through research and policy work. So I was immediately interested in applying for an internship position with the National Low Income Housing Coalition as soon as I learned of the opportunity.

At NLIHC, I am currently one of two research interns. I am extremely fortunate to hold such a position, because it allows me develop a diverse skill set that would be hard to obtain elsewhere. My responsibilities as a research intern vary greatly, including writing articles for NLIHC’s weekly newsletter, Memo to Members; researching low income housing trends and programs in place to assist low income individuals; and updating state housing profiles. I have also had a few opportunities to attend congressional hearings to help show the organization’s support or opposition to certain legislation.

While it can be challenging being a new intern, it is a challenge that should be met head on. The staff at NLIHC is friendly, supportive and very appreciative of all of their interns. They understand that new interns might not be savvy to the inner workings of the organization, or to all of the prevalent issues NLIHC was established to address. They are happy to answer as many questions as you may have, as well as expose you to as much as they possibly can.

Although my internship position has not yet ended, it has already produced multiple benefits for my future. For example, holding such a position has helped me secure an advocacy intern position with the Charlotte Housing Authority that I will begin in the fall. It has also played a part in my acceptance onto the editorial board of a new law journal that focuses on civil and social justice issues, where I plan on utilizing the knowledge I have gained from NLIHC to develop and publish an article focused on low income housing issues.

If you are a public interest-minded individual seeking a diverse and rewarding experience in the heart of D.C., and interested in assisting a distinguished nonprofit organization with their mission, I would highly recommend an internship with NLIHC.

News Round-Up: Changing Priorities

You’ve read it here before: in New Jersey, as in other parts of the country, “The housing bust has not only hurt homeowners — who have lost equity and, in too many cases, their homes — it has made it more difficult for those who choose not to buy a home to find affordable rental properties.”

Let’s set aside the question of whether lower income people are truly “choosing” not to buy a home, and look at some of the consequences of, and reactions to, this ongoing problem.

In Alaska, we find that larger families- those that need apartment with more than two bedrooms- have a particularly hard time finding affordable rentals. According to a representative of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, it doesn’t make economic sense for a developer to build three- or four-bedroom apartments. Unless, of course, there is a subsidy involved.

What subsidies are available have not been able to create enough low-cost housing to meet the demand. In South San Francisco, 3,000 households applied for just 109 apartments in a new low income housing development. Similar waiting lists exist in San Francisco itself, and many people with Section 8 vouchers that allow them to rent apartments in the private market affordably find that landlords don’t want to rent to them. With budget cuts negatively impacting programs like public housing and HOME, there are few other places for low income families to turn.

Public housing agencies have attempted to offset the expense of offering affordable rental housing by creating mixed-income development. But as this article on the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation shows, mixed income can create decidedly mixed results. Just a small fraction of the low income apartments CHA demolished were replaced, and many higher-income units remain unsold, or were never built.

While it may feel like America has always had a large population of people who cannot afford housing, that is simply not the case.  As this article notes, family homelessness only became a problem in the 1980s, in large measure due to changing federal spending priorities.