Issue #102, November/December 1998

Shelter Shorts

Portland Preserves Section 8

At a time when some tout tenant-based vouchers as the solution to America's housing needs, a new city ordinance in Portland, OR, requires landlords who opt out of their Section 8 contracts to give the city first refusal rights to purchase the properties. The ordinance came in response to the lack of affordable housing and long Section 8 waiting lists in Portland, a situation that particularly threatens frail elderly tenants, said Martha McLennan of the city's Bureau of Housing and Community Development. McLennan said the city expects a legal challenge to the ordinance. Nevertheless, she said that with the tight housing market in Portland, "We felt that the project-based assistance was important to maintain." Information: Portland Bureau of Housing and Community Development, 503-823-2386.

Loans Still Hard for Minorities

Minorities were rejected for home mortgages at a much higher rate than white applicants from 1995-97, according to a study released by ACORN in November. Studying data filed with HUD by 9,041 lenders in 35 cities, the study found nearly 33 percent of applications from blacks were rejected in 1997, up from 25 percent in 1995. Rejections of applications by Hispanics rose 6 percent during the same period. The study also found blacks received 5 percent of conventional mortgages in 1997, down from 7 percent in 1995. Hispanics received 6 percent, down from 8 percent. ACORN also found that minorities received a higher percentage of government-backed mortgages – sometimes more expensive – but again, they were also rejected at a higher rate than whites. Information: ACORN, 718-246-7900 x 203.

SRO Tenants Under Siege

Single-room occupancy (SRO) housing in New York City, home to some 25,000 people, is in danger of extinction. The city's tourist boom and housing crunch has led developers to circumvent the law and/or use outright illegal harassment techniques to oust residents and make way for redevelopment, according to Tenant/Inquilino (10/98) from the Metropolitan Council on Housing. More than 100 tenants of one SRO recently filed a complaint with the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal alleging a reduction in services and invasion of privacy by private investigators seeking to unearth evictable lease violations. The City Council is considering a bill, Intro 108, in another attempt to save this vestige of affordable housing. Information: Met Council, 212-693-0550.

NYC Use of Shelter Residents Challenged

New York City has been using Brooklyn homeless shelter residents to supplement unionized data entry workers – an apparent breach of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's earlier promise not to use benefit-dependent workers to take jobs from city employees. The residents, part of a substance abuse recovery program, are inputting and being made privy to confidential information on fellow shelter dwellers, City Limits Weekly  (9/8/98) reported. John Talbutt, assistant to the Social Services Employees Union president, claims that the city is "directly taking a civil service job." Program participants receive a small stipend for their work. In similar programs, shelter residents have been paid as little as $12.50 a week.

Half full? Half empty? in CA

Depending on your point of view, housing advocates in California saw a watershed year or their worst fears realized. Governor Pete Wilson vetoed $44 million in Preservation funding, Emergency Shelter funding, the Families Moving to Work program, and Farmworker Housing, despite the state's $1.5 billion budget surplus, reports the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California in News to Build On (9/98). The governor said it was not California's responsibility to shoulder the federal and local governments' burden in providing subsidies for housing and homelessness relief. Still, the Capitol Gains (10/98) newsletter from the California Housing Law Project, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty calls 1998 the most successful year in a decade, with over $350 million in state funding for affordable housing and renters. Significantly, no adverse bills were passed, although landlord opposition scuttled a tenant emergency relief act.

Lack of Housing, Not Social Disorders, Leads to Homelessness

Homeless people in New York City remain homeless longer mainly from a scarcity of subsidized housing, a new study released by New York University revealed. This challenges the largely-held notion that the homeless population's status is prolonged by various social disorders, such as mental illness and substance abuse. The study, reported in The New York Times (11/1/98), concludes that homeless families, when provided with subsidized housing, can remain "stable" – defined as staying in the same apartment for at least 12 months – regardless of personal problems. The research for the project is considered the first long-term examination on how social disorders affect families' ability to find their way out of homelessness.

Ballpark Brings Challenge

People who will be displaced or inconvenienced by the massive $411 million plan to redevelop the San Diego Padres' ballpark in California want to know what's in it for them. Members of two dozen community groups called Communities United have requested that the city fund a comprehensive analysis of the potential impact of the ballpark complex on their neighborhoods, according to the the Center for Community Change's Housing Trust Fund Project. The Nonprofit Federation for Housing and Community Development has likewise challenged the city to live up to a social contract addressing affordable housing, support for community economic development, displacement of the homeless in adjacent communities, and a variety of other socio-economic issues. Information: Greg Akili, Nonprofit Federation for Housing and Community Development, 619-239-6693.