Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Denver Area Investors Want to Get Moving on Community Land Trust

Downtown Denver (Photo by Ian Freimuth on flickr)

A community land trust with the goal of acquiring 700 homes throughout the Denver area may be ready to move on to another Colorado city, Westworld reports.

In December, Elevation Community Land Trust approached the city in search of both single-family houses and condos. By then, the trust had already raised $24 million in private capital and was hopeful of acquiring another $23 million in contributions from local governments — Denver’s new $150 million dedicated housing fund looked like one promising source — as well as $11 million from private partners and donations.

But according to Westworld, discussions between the trust and the city have lagged in recent months, and Elevation’s backers aren’t sure where they fall in the city’s housing priorities anymore. The trust is now discussing its proposal with other municipalities, including Westminster, Aurora and Adams County, all of which are potentially willing to provide land and the additional dollars.

“I’m disappointed that it’s moving so slowly [with Denver],” Dave Younggren, CEO of Elevation partner Gary Community Investments told the news site. ”After we did the [December 7] presentation, we were anxious to move forward and thinking that it’d be a fairly accelerated process, but then the city had the realignment, with housing moved under the Office of Economic Development — that really slowed things down. Now we’re not quite sure where the process is.”

As Next City has covered, Denver is one of the fastest growing metros in the U.S. and officials estimated last year that the city needs at least 21,000 more affordable units to meet current demand. In 2016, the city passed its landmark plan of raising $150 million over 10 years for affordable housing (although some officials claim that figure isn’t nearly enough to meet regional demand). Other strategies pursued by city have included a rent “buy-down” program, in which the city would purchase empty high-end apartments and subsidize their rents for lower-income families, the creation of a new Office of Housing & Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE for short, and a comprehensive plan prioritizing tenants’ rights and landlord regulations.

A community land trust, or CLT, would have fit into those plans by acquiring land through either a purchase or public transfer, and then leasing homes built on it to families or developers. Because the family or developer would need to purchase only the building (rather than the building plus the land), that home would likely be more affordable than its conventional counterpart.


Florida Cities Sue State Over Gun Preemption

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum defended his city against a state lawsuit over guns in public parks in 2017. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

Florida’s gun laws are state preemption on steroids. Not only do they forbid cities and counties from passing firearms legislation — they also allow municipalities that do try to regulate where guns can be sold or carried (like, not in the public library) to be hit with up to $100,000 in fines and legal fees. And city or county officials who do try to pass such laws can be removed from office by the governor, personally sued and fined $5,000.

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, cities began pushing back against the state mandate, which passed in 1987 but was given sharper teeth (with support from the NRA) in 2011. Now, 11 municipalities have announced a joint lawsuit against Tallahassee lawmakers, alleging that the preemption ban is unconstitutional, Orlando Weekly reports.

The original plaintiff cities included Weston, Miramar, Pompano Beach, Lauderhill, Miami Gardens, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. This week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his intention to join in, according to the paper. Their lawsuit alleges that penalties against local gun regulation infringe on free speech and conflict with the governor’s limited power to remove local officials from office.

“The punitive preemption law is an unconstitutional and unlawful effort to silence and oppressively punish local elected officials and the municipalities they represent, and it stands in the way of specific legislative steps that Plaintiffs seek to take to protect their cities from gun violence by prohibiting the sale or transfer of most large capacity magazines,” a complaint filed Tuesday states.

The cities’ proposed “legislative steps” vary, according to the Miami Herald. Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach wants to keep guns out of City Hall. Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar wants the city’s new amphitheater to be a gun-free venue. Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli of Coral Gables wants to ban the sale of military-style rifles within city limits.

But state law — especially after those 2011 tweaks — undid even local laws around gun-use that had already passed. Measures banning guns in libraries and parks were overturned, according to Time. Local laws banning gunfire in dense urban areas, along with celebratory shots, also had to be scrapped.

As Next City has covered, Florida courts have shown some sympathy for cities that have clashed with the preemption law. Last year, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum successfully defended his city in a lawsuit brought by the state over ordinances banning guns in public parks (although Gillum’s get-out-of-jail argument was that the city was not actually enforcing those ordinances). At the time, the court hinted that the state provision about city officials being removed from office did, in fact, raise some constitutional questions.

Zooming out across the country, Ben Beachy and Miya Saika Chen of the Partnership for Working Families point out today in a Next City op-ed that state preemption follows a pattern of mostly white, male legislatures ignoring or overriding concerns of the women and people of color who are more likely to suffer harm because of states preempting local laws and regulations, such as those that would strengthen gun control.


Executive Order Pushing Work for Federal Assistance is Mostly For Show

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

On Tuesday — while Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before two senate panels dominated headlines — President Donald Trump quietly signed an executive order directing recipients of Medicaid, housing subsidies and food assistance to work or potentially lose their benefits.

The order, titled “Reducing Poverty in America,” directs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, among others, to review their programs “that do not currently require work for receipt of benefits or services, and determine whether enforcement of a work requirement would be consistent with Federal law.”

The question, of course, is: Federal law according to whom? The order tells agencies to examine “policies and programs to ensure that they are consistent with principles that are central to the American spirit — work, free enterprise, and safeguarding human and economic resources,” and that any policies not “succeeding in those respects” should be “improved” or eliminated.

In some ways, it’s more bluster than substance, according to the New York Times. Many of the initiatives outlined have already been enacted. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has begun issuing waivers to Republican governors who want to mandate stricter work requirements for Medicaid recipients. And advocates for those services are quick to add that most able-bodied adults who are enrolled in those programs and can work, already do.

“It’s a little bit of a solution in search of a problem,” Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow with the Urban Institute, told the paper. “The administration is reflecting a larger narrative that many low-income individuals avoid work — but there’s just not a lot of data to support that position. Many of these people have significant barriers to working full time.”

“The president claims that work requirements and other burdens are needed to “promote economic mobility,” [but] these efforts will only leave more low income families without stable housing, making it harder for them to achieve financial stability,” National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel wrote in a statement on the order. “These proposals are more about punishing low income people than helping them.”

Other analysts and advocates weighed in on Twitter.

As Next City has covered, 82 percent of U.S. households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are either working, worked recently or are seeking work, according the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

What’s more, the idea that embedding work requirements into safety net programs reduces poverty is based on faulty data, according to LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income and support policy at CBPP. That claim goes back to just two studies of cash assistance welfare programs — in Portland and Riverside, California.

But, as Oscar Perry Abello reported for Next City in 2016 those two studies were merely two out of 11, and the other nine showed the opposite: The work mandate either barely increased the percentage of cash assistance for recipients who worked, didn’t increase it at all, or decreased it, in the case of Oklahoma City.

And the Trump administration’s oft-cited claim that federal spending on low-income Americans has reached record highs simply isn’t true. When the president released his “skinny budget” proposal last year, federal spending on low-income households was down to its historic average of 2 percent, as Next City reported in 2017.

Overall, according to the Times, the order has greater potential in its semantics than its policy proposals — it “tries to redefine ‘welfare’ to fit the catchall term Mr. Trump used in campaign speeches.”

From the paper:

The word “welfare” — politically loaded and often pejorative, especially among the president’s conservative supporters — has historically been used to describe cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The Trump administration wants to change the lexicon. On Tuesday, [Andrew Bremberg, the president’s domestic policy chief] sought to stretch the term to encompass food aid and Medicaid — programs even many conservative lawmakers view as a necessary safety net for families and individuals on the economic margins through no fault of their own.


Religious Freedom will Protect Sanctuary Church in Springfield

People in Boston protest President Donald Trump's travel restriction ban on seven Muslim-majority nations. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

President Trump has repeatedly marketed himself as a champion of religious freedom. But that same freedom could undermine the authority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where so-called Sanctuary Churches — along with other places of worship — are concerned.

Roughly two weeks ago, Gisella Collazo and her two children took refuge inside the South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports. Collazo emigrated from Peru in 2001 and married a US citizen in 2005. Her two children were born in the United States, but during a January check-in with immigration officials, she was told to return to Peru at the end of March. Instead, she went to the church.

According to the Globe, the city’s mayor was not happy — and threatened to strip the church of its tax-exempt status. He added that officials would “not stand for harboring and protecting” immigrants facing deportation.

The Springfield City Council disagreed, and unanimously voted Monday to bar city officials from “interfering with the religious freedoms” of churches and other places of worship, the paper reports.

“We’re really here because of the executive branch’s overreach in this subject,” Councilor Michael A. Fenton reportedly said. “No mayor passes any edict telling any church what to do, particularly as it relates to sanctuary.”

The mayor’s challenge — and the council’s unequivocal blow-back — don’t constitute a legal precedent. But they could become a reference point as more places of worship take to shielding immigrants.

Churches in Detroit and Phoenix, synagogues in New York and a mosque in Cincinnati have all made headlines in recent months for announcing their intentions to shelter immigrants from deportation. The idea is to be a more direct-action version of a sanctuary city — unlike a local police department, they don’t have data to withhold, but they can offer literal shelter. And while ICE agents technically can come into these religious spaces and arrest people, they usually won’t because of a “sensitive locations” policy created by former president Barack Obama in 2011.

And places of worship aren’t the only institutions offering sanctuary. As Next City has covered, a high school, LGBT center, salon and restaurant, among other facilities, recently painted their doors gold in a symbol of support toward local immigrant communities in Sacramento ahead of a visit to the city by Attorney General Sessions. Organizers of the Golden Doors Project provide supporters with kits showing them how to document and report ICE raids, learn about search and seizure laws and offer in-person assistance, along with cans of gold spray paint.

“It’s about opening the doors for people to know where there are safe havens, safe spaces for people to go for resources and to feel like they’re part of this community,” Dreamer and human rights activist Irvis Orozco told Next City. “We want to bring that message.”


Housing Preemption Is Back on the Table in Louisiana

A plaque in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood commemorates the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the first post-Reconstruction legal challenge to segregation. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Last summer, Louisiana lawmakers killed a preemption measure that would have limited city housing policy. SB 162 was approved by the Senate, but never made it past the House.

Now, senators are resurrecting a version of that failed policy. SB 462 would “forbid municipal and parish governments from requiring developers to set aside a certain number of low-income units in order to receive building permits for apartment, condo, single family and other housing projects,” the New Orleans Advocate reports. It was approved 26-11 on Monday, and now heads to the Louisiana House.

As Next City covered last year, that first preemption measure would have sidelined a plan by Mayor Mitch Landrieu (soon to be replaced by Mayor Elect LaToya Cantrell) to mandate that units for low-income residents be set aside in certain parts of the city. His proposal was a response to the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which required municipalities receiving funding from the agency to consider and mitigate structural racism and segregation (the Trump administration recently suspended the rule until 2020). As such, his administration recommended steps toward building integrated neighborhoods, rather than clustering subsidized units. Whether the policies he put in motion will survive the new city administration — as well as state law — remains to be seen.

Housing policy is emerging as yet another flashpoint in the preemption battle between blue city halls and red statehouses (along with paid sick leave, trans rights, plastic bag bans and soda taxes, to name just a few). Last spring, Texas legislators blocked Austin’s attempts to enact linkage fees. Wisconsin, Georgia and a handful of other states forbid cities from establishing rent control policies.

Landrieu’s preferred strategy, often referred to as “inclusionary zoning,” is particularly controversial. Most inclusionary programs are clustered in just three states — New Jersey, California and Massachusetts — where statewide laws or court decisions require them.

“There’s still no broad consensus around the degree to which the policies work,” contributor Jared Brey wrote for Next City in December. “Research suggests that they aren’t a great solution for housing the lowest-income tenants, and many people … argue that the policies can suppress residential development overall.”


What 80 Million Eviction Records Can Tell City Leaders

Demonstrators protesting against evictions in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau promised to start collecting better data on evictions. But policy-makers trying to stem the crisis in cities like New York, Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore still rely on a scatter-shot sampling of local figures, surveys and fuzzy national numbers.

But now there is The Eviction Lab, a new project spearheaded by Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology at Princeton and author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond’s research could give officials working to address the housing crisis better country-wide data — data they could use to compare city-by-city figures and measure which policies work.

The project is a compilation of about 80 million records related to eviction going back 18 years, including court records and numbers from LexisNexis Risk Solutions and American Information Research Services, Inc. Eviction documents contained information such as the defendant’s address, monetary judgment and case outcome; the team combined those details with demographic census data to “better picture of the areas in which these evictions are happening,” according to the project’s website.

The areas with the highest eviction rates aren’t necessarily the country’s most expensive regions, the New York Times recently noted in its coverage of Eviction Lab. The big cities with the highest rates of eviction include North Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Hampton and Newport News, all in Virginia; and Jackson, Mississippi. The number of evictions is rising throughout the Midwest as well, in states such as Michigan and Indiana.

(Courtesy of Eviction Lab) 

Several factors, including a legacy of racist policies culminating in state laws that favor landlords over tenants, have shaped Richmond’s high eviction rate of 11.44 percent (that’s 11.44 evictions filed for every 100 renters, compared with 2.34 for every 100 renters nationally). The Times notes in particular that Richmond is “in the Southeast, where the poverty rates are high and the minimum wage is low; it’s in Virginia, which lacks some tenant rights available in other states; and it’s a city where many poor African-Americans live in low-quality housing with limited means of escaping it.”

“This isn’t by happenstance — this is quite intentional,” Levar Stoney, Richmond’s mayor, recently told the Times. Virginia is a state that has favored property owners “since plantation days,” he said, adding that aid to poor residents is limited, and about a quarter of the city’s population is a car repair payment or hospital visit away from not being able to make the median gross rent of $896 a month.

As Next City has covered, eviction tends to disproportionately affect women of color with children. In Evicted, Desmond found that in Milwaukee, where he conducted most of his research for the book, 1 in 5 black women reported having been evicted as adults, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women. His research found that having children tripled the odds that a person would receive an eviction judgment.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” he wrote. “Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”

Eviction Lab’s research can be viewed here.


Why Los Angeles County Could Lose $3 Billion in Affordable Housing

(AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Despite Los Angeles’ new bond for homeless housing and recently-approved linkage fees, the surrounding county is at risk of losing $3 billion worth of affordable housing over the next half-decade, radio station KPCC reports.

The slow death of fully public development — which has been replaced steadily with public-private partnerships — is partially to blame, the California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC) told L.A. officials last week, according to the station. Today, private developers often use public funds for construction, and in exchange agree to rent units at a reduced rate for a set time period. When that period expires, the developer is free to raise the rent; owners of Section-8 funded apartments operate under a similar agreement. As properties age and incur maintenance costs, the risk increases that landlords will, in fact, raise the rent.

In Los Angeles County, 11,000 units fall into the public-private partnership category, CHPC said in its presentation last week.

As Next City has covered, L.A. officials are scrambling to deal with an unprecedented housing and homelessness crisis. L.A. Metro has studied placing supportive services on its properties, for example allowing people who live in their cars to park at Metro-owned stations and shower at bus storage yards. In 2016, voters approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond expected to fund the construction of 10,000 new units for homeless and low-income people over the next ten years (24 projects have been approved so far). Last year, L.A. City Council approved a plan to impose so-called linkage fees on higher-end development to fund the construction of below-market-rate units.

And to a certain extent, homeowners are joining in. A series of state legislative tweaks in 2016 and 2017 reduced regulations on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and in 2017 L.A. residents filed nearly 2,000 applications to convert their basements, garages and backyard cottages into low-cost housing (only 90 applications were filed in 2015 before the regulations were reduced).

But all of those city-led measures don’t erase the fact that federal and state resources are drying up. In anticipation of federal tax reform, low-income housing tax credits have plummeted in value, KPCC reports. In 2017, L.A. County saw a 21 percent decline in tax credit funding for new affordable homes.

And the state’s 2012 shutdown of city Redevelopment Agencies hasn’t helped matters. Those agencies were supposed to set aside 20 percent of their property tax revenues for affordable housing projects. In L.A., that translated to about $50 million annually, the city’s housing department recently told the Los Angeles Times.

Compounding that loss, the city opted to spend state funds that would have gone to the agencies (before they were shut down) on city services such as law enforcement, firefighters and pensions, rather than on affordable housing, the paper reports.

From the L.A. Times story:

Some jurisdictions, including Oakland and Emeryville, dedicated a similar percentage of boomerang funds to housing or helping the poor after redevelopment ended. However, many California cities and counties were reluctant to do the same, facing pressure to spend money to restore services and increase salaries for government employees in the aftermath of the recession.

L.A. County needs to identify affordable housing that’s at risk of evaporating and provide incentives for landlords to keep the units low-cost, CHPC President Matt Schwartz said last week, according to KPCC.

“Over a ten-year period, if there are not further changes … we could be short about 70,000 affordable homes [state-wide],” he said.


Houston Passes New Building Rules for Flood Resilience

Downtown Houston during Hurricane Harvey (AP Photo/Jason Dearen)

When the waters of Hurricane Harvey receded, a staggering number of Houston-area residents were left with steep cleanup costs — and no insurance to help them out. That’s because, as Next City has covered, their homes weren’t located in the region’s supposed flood plain, so they hadn’t been required by FEMA to buy flood insurance.

Now, Houston officials want to effectively widen the region’s flood plain parameters — a sentiment that deviates from Houston’s historically hands-off approach to zoning.

City councilors voted 9-7 Wednesday to mandate that all new homes built in the region’s floodplains be elevated two feet above the projected water level in a 500-year storm, the Houston Chronicle reports. Current regulations stipulate only that buildings built in the 100-year floodplain be constructed one foot above the flood level projected for those (less severe) storms.

“This is a defining moment,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in his pitch to the council before the Wednesday vote. “Can we undo what was done with Harvey? No. But can we build looking forward? Yes. Does it mean it may cost more financially? Yes. But if it has the probability of saving lives, and if it has the probability of letting people know in our city and those who are looking to come to our city that we are taking measures to be stronger, to be more resilient, then that’s positive for the city of Houston.”

The 2017 hurricane season showed in no uncertain terms that FEMA’s city-by-city flood maps were no match for climate change, as Next City has covered. And while the federal agency has begun redrawing New York City’s flood-risk maps with rising sea levels and stronger storms in mind, it hasn’t yet gotten to the country’s other major cities.

In Houston, Republican City Councilor Greg Travis suggested the city roll back the new rules so they only apply to the 100-year floodplain once FEMA releases new maps. Turner, however, opposed the move, “arguing against binding city regulations to maps that do not yet exist,” according to the paper.

The fact that Houston’s move pre-dates the maps was commended by a FEMA representative, who sent a letter to the city this week, the Chronicle reports.

“In order for the nation to be more resilient, many communities will need to take these forward leaning steps,” the representative wrote. “We will be looking to Houston to lead the nation in its resilience and capacity to shape policies that keep citizens safe through all hazards.”


Nashville Mayor Makes a Case for ‘Transportation Independence’

(Photo by Michael Rivera)

In just one month, Nashville residents will vote on a $5.4 billion transit plan that could radically reshape their city — and both the policy’s supporters and detractors are going into overdrive to get their respective messages across.

Nashville’s acting mayor David Briley (who was sworn in last month after former mayor Megan Barry resigned) is one of the former, and Monday he signed an oversized document he called a “Declaration of Transportation Independence,” the Tennessean reports.

“What I think independence truly means for Nashville, for our city, is to find a way to untether ourselves from this mythology that freedom means being in a car,” Briley said, according to the paper. “It means everyone having all of the options on the table so they can move around safe and independently.”

Briley was speaking to a group of the plan’s supporters at Music City Hall, and the signing followed a conversation with former New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The “declaration” is essentially just that, according to the Tennessean, with no policy implications. It lists six “rights,” including the ability to choose whether to bike, walk, take public transit or drive and adds that the first step is to “invest in a transit network that serves everyone.”

Critics of the plan, which would include two half-cent sales tax hikes, a phased-in increase to the city’s hotel-motel tax, a 20 percent increase to the business and excise tax and a 20 percent surcharge on the local car rental tax, decried the document as a mere PR stunt.

As Next City has covered, the plan’s wildly ambitious goals include 26 miles of light-rail rapid transit and a subway tunnel under downtown. It also calls for BRT routes, transit centers and upgrades to existing bus service.

In 2016, many residents reacted to an initial blueprint with skepticism. Regional Transit Authority CEO Steven Bland told the Tennessean at the time that most public comments could be sorted under several headlines. One was: “Six billion dollars? Are you out of your flippin’ mind?”

But as Josh Cohen wrote for Next City last year, the region’s population is booming.

“Between new residents moving in and babies being born, the metro area gained about 100 people a day last year — putting Nashville in the top 20 fastest-growing U.S. cities,” he wrote. “As is always the case in car-centric cities, that growth is putting a serious strain on Nashville’s formerly free-flowing streets.”

“Five years ago, people would say Nashville was a 20-minute town,” Erin Hafkenschiel, director of transportation and sustainability in the mayor’s office, told Cohen. “Everything was within a 20-minute drive. That’s no longer the case.”

Early voting on the transit referendum begins April 11, the Tennessean reports. The election is May 1.


Gov. Cuomo’s $250 Million Plan to Fix Up NYCHA

NYCHA properties on the Lower East Side (Photo by Alan Chin)

Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would declare a state of emergency for the New York City Housing Authority. The idea was to expedite repairs at the city’s properties, which suffer from an infamous maintenance backlog, but details as to what the declaration would mean were scarce.

Bolstered by a Design/Build Authorization folded into the state’s FY 2019 budget, however, Cuomo on Monday released his plan. It includes $250 million in emergency state resources, and a directive for the mayor, city council speaker and president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents to select an independent manager to oversee repairs. It also suspends a number of NYCHA laws around procurement.

“At its inception, NYCHA addressed a dire public housing crisis by offering shelter and stability to New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs, but years of mismanagement and neglect have left NYCHA residents with some of the worst living conditions I have ever witnessed,” Cuomo said in a statement. “After seeing how these families are forced to live their lives every single day, I made a pledge to the people of New York that I would not sign the budget unless funding was dedicated to address the human tragedy that is NYCHA housing.”

The executive order is “the latest salvo in an escalating conflict between the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration over the management of the beleaguered housing authority,” according to the New York Times. De Blasio has suggested that the governor is simply trying “to score political points” with his attention to NYCHA, and was absent when Cuomo made his announcement Monday.

But though the city and state have historically passed the blame over NYCHA mismanagement back and forth, the lack of federal funding plays a big role in the properties’ backlog.

“Since 2000, federal funding for public housing operations has met the annual need only three times, while funding for repairs has been cut by 53 percent, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities,” Oscar Perry Abello wrote for Next City last year.


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