November Roundup: Ten Stories in the News

This month was packed with stories about affordable housing -from announcements of cities enacting new linkage fees and regulations to support housing; to discussions about the effectiveness of funding strategies; to studies on the impact of neglecting affordable housing, especially in regards to children and Millennials. I have chosen ten that I found most meaningful.

1) Using Wall Street Tactics to Preserve Affordable Housing-Housing Partnership Network launched a new version of a real-estate investment trust (REIT) about a year ago that utilizes private investment funds to capitalize up to 95 percent of affordable housing acquisition and rehabilitation. Individual investors, such as housing non-profits, supply the remaining money. By utilizing private funds, projects move more quickly than when using the more traditional measures of tax credits and other government financing options. Damen Court on Chicago’s Near West Side is an example of this new tactic’s success.

2) Choose One, Millenials: Upward Mobility or Affordable Housing-Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, analyzed data from a 2013 study headed by Harvard economist Raj Chetty on intergenerational social mobility with recent data released by Jed Kolko, lead economist at Trulia, on affordable housing markets in American cities. Thompson finds an inverse relationship between affordability and social mobility: cities that have high possibility for economic opportunity also have the fewest instances of housing affordable to people at the beginning of their careers. If large cities such as Boston and Los Angeleswant to draw new talent, they need to create housing that supports the less-than-wealthy.

3) Interest.com Study: Big-city housing often unaffordable -On a related note, Reed Karaim of Interest.com discusses the site’s 2014 Home Affordability Study, which compares income and housing prices in metropolitan areas. The study shows that middle-income families cannot afford homes in more than half of America’s 25 largest cities, proving that middle-income is the new low-income. Chicago squeaked into the passing category with a C-.

4) Transit Requirements Bolstered for Austin Affordable Housing Program -A new rule added to Austin’s Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented (SMART) Housing Program mandates new developments must be built within half a mile of public transit to qualify for program funds and incentives. This is a great way to promote high density development in already developed and accessible neighborhoods.

5) SJ City Council Approves Measure to Make Housing More Affordable in City -In an attempt to regenerate funds lost when California dissolved its redevelopment agencies in 2012, San Jose City Council approved a new impact fee for new rental developments. Although the fee will not be enacted until 2016, and there is heavy opposition already trying to strike it from the books, the City Council’s decision shows a positive political shift in this city where the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,154 (a minimum wage earner would need to work about 60 hours per week to afford this rent).

6) Lack of Affordable Housing in Chicago is Everyone’s Problem -Affordable housing carries a public stigma of being important only for the moderate and low-income individuals it serves. In this op-ed, Andrew Greer of Enterprise Community Partners shows the impact affordable housing has on Chicago. He highlights the positive impacts affordable housing has on promoting local businesses, education and healthy communities.

7) How Cities and States are Fighting Gentrification’s Displacement Factor -A roundup within a roundup. Sandy Smith lists four locally-situated initiatives that utilize creative means to create and preserve affordable housing.

8) Number of Homeless Children in America Surges to All-Time High: Report –The Huffington Post reviews “America’s Youngest Outcasts”, a recent report by The National Center on Family Homelessness. The count of homeless children has risen by approximately one million between 2006 and 2013 (the most recent year data is available). Between 2012 and 2013, the ranks of homeless children increased by 8 percent. Close to 100,000 of these children live in Illinois. I know economists promise our economy is improving, but how can that be true when we cannot afford to house our children? The full report can be found here.

9) As Low-income Housing Boomed, Ferguson Pushed Back -In light of the recent ruling in favor of Officer Wilson, here is a solid look at how affordable housing funding mechanisms, such as low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), segregated Ferguson. Concentrating poverty to a few developments in the same area has concentrated poverty and, as a corollary, has concentrated crime or the perception thereof. The result is a disproportionate police presence around certain apartment complexes, which leads to unnecessary violence. Mark Brown was a casualty of containing the poor.

I believe tax credits are beneficial because of the volume of affordable units they help fund, but they can only succeed if spread throughout a community. Designating one part of town for affordable (and in the case of Ferguson, run down) buildings and the rest of the streets for affluent homes creates a cultural schism that results in hate and misunderstanding on both sides. These divided communities are not sustainable.

10) City Needs to Put Its House in Order in Protecting Tenants -Pilsen residents were given a reprieve from eviction on Tuesday, in addition to $1,500 in moving fees, as a results of efforts by advocacy group Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO). Columnist Mark Brown tells the story and laments it is just one of many he has told in the past few years. Chicago is stuck in a destructive pattern and, he says, needs to stop “dealing with emergencies on an ad hoc basis.”

On this Thanksgiving day, please take a moment to be grateful for all you have. Even though I am often frustrated and upset with the state of our nation, I know I am lucky to live in a country with healthcare, to have a roof over my head, a job, running water and warmth in the winter. I am grateful for my friends, my family, the readers of this blog and everyone who has dedicated their lives to service. Life, despite its difficulties, is a blessing.

Peace.

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