MacArthur Genius Dr. Matthew Desmond Discusses Poverty and Evictions at NLIHC Event

xdesmondBy Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer, NLIHC

Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius Dr. Matthew Desmond discussed his critically acclaimed book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, to an audience of housing advocates and others committed to ending housing poverty at an event sponsored by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Coalition on Human Needs, and the National Housing Conference hosted on April 28, 2016. Published in March of 2016, Evicted became an immediate bestseller and has lifted the national rental housing crisis and the reality of housing poverty into the national spotlight. The event was designed to connect Dr. Desmond’s groundbreaking scholarship with larger discussions regarding housing policy. The Ford Foundation sponsored the event.

Dr. Desmond dedicated his address, which drew large number of attendees both in person and over livestream, to explaining the scourge of evictions and the broader rental housing crisis in the U.S. He wove together the story of one family who experienced a cycle of evictions in Milwaukee with compelling statistics on the plight of low-income families nationwide. Dr. Desmond met Arleen, a mother of two boys, while he lived in a trailer home and later in a boarding house in the lowest-income areas of Milwaukee.  The story of Arleen and her children was a heart-rending account of how small mistakes can lead to an eviction and how a first eviction can prevent a family from finding a new place to rent because of the stigma of eviction records.  Mr. Desmond interspersed his discussion of the effect of eviction on Arleen and her sons with research reminding his audience of the pervasive reality of housing poverty.

xd2If Arlene’s experience gave Dr. Desmond’s statistical analyses of housing poverty a human face, his discussion of the high rate of black women in Milwaukee who have faced eviction—20%—and the rising costs of housing and eviction rates nationwide showed how common Arleen’s experience is.   Dr. Desmond noted that in Milwaukee alone, there are forty evictions every day.

Dr. Desmond stated that eviction contributes to poverty, instability, and joblessness. He said that his most important message was: “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”  But Dr. Desmond also emphasized that eviction is not inevitable.  The cycle of eviction and housing instability is, he said, a result of deliberate policy choices. “We already have a housing assistance program in this country,” Mr. Desmond said, referring to the mortgage interest deduction. “It’s just not a program for low income people. It predominately benefits the wealthy.” Dr. Desmond concluded: “There is no moral code, or ethical principle, or piece of legislation, or piece of scripture, or holy teaching that can be summoned to defend what we’ve allowed to happen to the least among us” before advocating for policies designed to expand affordable housing.

P1000173Throughout his presentation, Dr. Desmond acknowledged the presence of many affordable housing policy experts in the audience. This depth of knowledge allowed for a vigorous discussion following Dr. Desmond’s remarks, first during the question and answer period and later on Twitter.  Attendees engaged Dr. Desmond on an array of questions ranging from how to make affordable housing a presidential campaign issue to how advocates can combat the use of nuisance complaints as cause for eviction, a practice that disproportionately effects victims of domestic violence and families with children.

P1000235Dr. Desmond continued the conversation on a Twitter chat using the hashtag #EvictedDC. Answering questions from Twitter users, Mr. Desmond tweeted: “If we care about homelessness, family, work, opportunity…then we should care about affordable housing;” “Affordable housing is central to human flourishing.  Fix that and we fix a lot;” “NHTF = Natl Housing Trust Fund = important solution to house poor families;” and much more.  In all, the Twitter chat with Mr. Desmond engaged 227 users and included 500 posts. The Twitter chat reached 422,075 users and created 2,026,580 impressions while the hashtag #EvictedDC trended on Twitter, which was a testament to the attention Evicted has brought to the critical issue of housing poverty.

To follow the Twitter chat, please go to: http://bit.ly/1r3jeWW

To view a recording of the event, go to: http://bit.ly/1TARrXA

Top Entrees for NLIHC’s 2016 Organizing Award

 

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Stephen Glaude, Executive Director of CNHED, speaking at NLIHC’s Housing Policy Forum after winning the 2016 Organizing Award 

By Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer at NLIHC  

Across the country, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) organizational members are working to expand housing opportunity, empower residents, and increase the accessibility and affordability of rental housing. Each spring, we recognize an organization that has gone above and beyond to further affordable housing with our Organizing Award. This year, NLIHC offered the 2016 Organizing Award to the Washington D.C.-based Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) for the Housing for All Campaign. Stephen Glaude, the Executive Director of CNHED, and Elizabeth Falcon, the organization’s Director of Housing Policy, received the award.

In this blog post, we provide you more details about CNHED and other top entries we received for this competition. NLIHC appreciates the outstanding work done by these organizations in the realm of affordable housing and community development.

Community Alliance of Tenants, Portland, Oregon (Finalist)

In response to a tightening rental market and rising rental costs in Portland, Oregon, Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), a Portland-based tenant membership organization, engaged in new avenues of tenant organizing and leadership development in order to amplify the voices of tenants and to expand affordable housing throughout the state. In 2015, CAT established a four-part organizing, leadership, and education development program designed to train low-income residents in mobilization and renter advocacy. The first cohort of advocates to graduate from the pilot program was a group of Hispanic mothers and families in East Portland who founded Latinos Organizados por Viviendas Economicas y Seguras (LOVES). Through LOVES, these mothers and families have become leaders in their community, organizing residents, deepening community knowledge of renters’ rights, and assisting in CAT’s broader mobilization efforts. Beyond their training programs, CAT has amplified the voices of low income Portlanders through campaigns at the state and local level. Responding to an escalating rental housing crisis, punctuated by a series of building-wide evictions, CAT and its local partners declared a Renter State of Emergency in September of 2015. In the subsequent month, CAT launched a media campaign and held a rally featuring two tenant families who had been recently evicted. Following CAT’s activism, elected officials passed an ordinance that secures tenants a 90-day notice period prior to no-cause evictions or rent increases over 5%, and city and county governments committed over $100 million in new funds to affordable housing and services. Finally, CAT continued their organizing at the state level, traveling to the state capital of Salem with 65 tenant leaders to advocate for expanding funding for housing, advocacy that ultimately resulted in an additional $62 million in state funding for housing programs.

Tenants & Neighbors, New York, NY (Finalist)

In 2015, Tenants & Neighbors grassroots coalition of resident organizations and neighborhood groups achieved the first ever rent freeze for rent controlled units in New York. As neighborhoods across New York have gentrified, low and moderate income tenants have faced rising rents, decreased housing stock, and displacement. Over former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year term, the mayor-appointed Rent Guidelines Board, which oversees rent-stabilized units, approved rent increases, such that more than a third of rent-stabilized tenants in New York City now pay over half of their income toward rent. In the midst of this crisis, Tenants & Neighbors has sought to organize, support, and empower tenants who face the loss of affordability and the potential of displacement. In 2015, Tenants & Neighbors coordinated neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups from across the city in support of a rent freeze for rent-stabilized units. Through a campaign that included developing messaging supportive of a rent freeze, mobilizing elected officials to support the measure, and organizing tenants around the issue, Tenants & Neighbors achieved a rent freeze for rent stabilized tenants with one year lease renewals, a first in the 45 year history of the Rent Guidelines Board. This monumental victory would not have been possible without the leadership of Tenants & Neighbors.

Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development, Noblesville, IN (Finalist)

Working in a suburban environment, the Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development (HAND), Inc. of Noblesville, Indiana, is a small nonprofit developer dedicated to expanding affordable housing for low and moderate income renters and homeowners. In 2015, faced with the stark reality of disparate impact within the Indiana rental market and an environment long resistant to subsidized projects, HAND built grassroots support for the expansion of affordable housing in Hamilton County. In advance of Indiana’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) revision, HAND mobilized tenants, area businesses, and others in support of expanding funding for affordable housing in the Hamilton County area. Through this process, HAND brought the affordability crisis and the funding process to the attention of policy makers and constituents alike. As HAND was expanding its advocacy work and raising support for affordable housing, the organization also campaigned for county funding for affordable housing projects, ultimately receiving support from their County Council in the form of funding for two affordable housing developments with a total of 84 units. Despite working in an area long opposed to housing subsidies, HAND has highlighted housing affordability as a vital element of economic growth and community stability.

Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, Washington, D.C. (Winner)

Working with advocates and local government in Washington, D.C., the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) has countered D.C.’s growing affordability crisis through a multi-year campaign called Housing for All. Mobilizing over 100 organizations and 4000 individuals, CNHED worked with a wide range of housing oriented non-profits across D.C. to draw attention to affordable housing and the impact of rising rents in the District. Central to CNHED’s organizing strategy was resident engagement; through advocacy trainings, opportunities for residents to meet with members of the D.C. Council, and the establishment of a Resident Leadership Team, CNHED built a strong base of resident support and activism. CNHED’s rallies, meetings, and calls to action ultimately led to a massive expansion of support for affordable housing in the District in the form of an annual $100 million investment in the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund and increased funding for the Permanent Supportive Housing Program and the Local Rent Supplement Program. Stephen Glaude, CNHED’s Executive Director, expressed his organization’s deep gratitude to be awarded NLIHC’s Housing Organizer award and reminded the attendees of the forum, “this award also serves as a reminder that much work still needs to be done to achieve affordable housing for low-income residents.”