Two more communities preserved – going from market to affordable!

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What does it take to create or preserve affordable housing? What does it take to partner with and improve the quality of life for lower-income families, enhancing the economic diversity of communities all over the city?

These efforts, often spearheaded by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) and its members, were celebrated during last week’s Community Development Week in D.C. The week of October 11th included events ranging from open houses to ribbon cuttings to groundbreakings, celebrating hundreds of affordable housing units being created or preserved all across the city.

This past Tuesday, to help launch Community Development Week, the Urban Institute published an online database highlighting one type of affordable housing in the District: assisted rentals.

Maintained by NeighborhoodInfo DC and CNHED, the database, called DC Preservation Catalog, contains a map of 39,000 affordable rental units spread out across the city. Along with the map, the catalog also offers property names, locations, and data on the various subsidies that contribute to a property’s affordability. This tool will be infinitely helpful to the DC Preservation Network (DCPN) and others, providing information that housing counseling organizations, legal services providers, affordable housing developers, local and federal agencies can use to assist lower-income renters in preserving their affordable rental housing over the long haul.

Over the past decade, the District has suffered a 50 percent loss in their low-cost housing supply due to a rapid rise in housing costs. The preservation of already existing affordable housing will ensure that lower-income residents will be able to stay in the communities that they have called home to for a long time.

And two more rental communities were added to the Preservation Catalogue last week! On Thursday, October 13th, MANNA hosted a groundbreaking event for the rehab of two rental buildings in Ward 4’s Brightwood neighborhood: 1370 Ft Stevens Dr NW and 734 Longfellow St NW. The event featured guest speakers ranging from tenants, to DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development, city council members, banks, non-profit financiers and more.

Tenants in these buildings worked with the Latino Economic Development Center to exercise their Tenant Opportunity to Purchase rights when their buildings went up for sale. They selected MANNA to rehab their buildings and operate them as an affordable rental into the future. The financing MANNA is using, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, will keep the buildings affordable for residents under 60% of the Area Median Income for 15 years. These time frames are one of the most important things tracked by the Catalogue, allowing entities to keep tabs on when subsidies will expire and start conversations with owners and tenants early to ensure that the buildings will be maintained as affordable into the future.

Maintaining and preserving affordable housing should be one of the city’s top priorities. Councilmembers Todd, Silverman, and White are all committed to affordable housing in the city, but agree that more resources are required, and those resources need to be invested in the right things. As Councilmember Silverman pointed out, she and her peers are committed to affordable housing, “but it’s going to take a lot more time and resources.”

This groundbreaking event proved that it doesn’t take a lone individual to create change in affordable housing, but instead it takes a diverse community. Community organizers, policymakers, banks, District agencies and tenants all play a role. And although all these entities are involved, there is still a great deal left to be done to create more affordable housing.
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Affordable Housing – It Doesn’t Just Happen!

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Over the past couple of weeks alone, the city of Washington has committed $20 million to affordable housing projects across the city.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) says that it has dipped into the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund to fund more than 100 units of affordable housing in Wards 6 and 8.

The 100 plus units will be spread over two apartment buildings. The first apartment is a 93-unit building located a few blocks from the Anacostia Metro Station. The units will be reserved for residents making less than 50 percent of area median income (AMI). The second apartment building is a 12 unit cooperative within walking distance of the Potomac Avenue Metro Station. These units will be reserved for residents making less than 80 percent of AMI.

In Ward 4, the District has committed $13 million to rehabilitate a majority affordable-housing apartment complex in Brightwood Park. The building will be updated top-to-bottom, and 45 units will be reserved for residents earning up to 60 percent of the area median income.

Where did this money for housing come from?

The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) is the District’s largest affordable housing program. The Trust Fund supports the construction, rehabilitation, and acquisition of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income residents.

The HPTF provides grants and loans to affordable housing developers. These funds can be used to acquire, rehabilitate, and build low-cost housing. The Trust Fund assists both homeownership and rental housing. Since 2001, the HPTF has helped build or renovate over 9,000 affordable homes throughout the District.

Since she took office in 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser has pledged to commit $100 million every year to the Trust Fund. The Housing Production Trust Fund is a great thing, but it is also really important to understand how all this money got there. It was residents, community organizations and others that banned together to create the political will to fund affordable housing at this level. And more is needed.

Let’s take a look at the Housing For All Campaign. The Campaign was launched by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) and its mission is to call on District officials to invest in housing programs that meet the needs of all District residents. In a matter of four years, the campaign succeeded in bringing the District from massive cuts in affordable housing budgets (a 70% drop to $20 million in HPTF in FY 12) to the level of committed funding we are now seeing.

Rallies are one way to mobilize people into joining your cause. They not only educate people about a certain injustice, but they also encourage people to take action. And you have to be diligent to build support and couple rallies with other kinds of action, both public and behind-the-scenes.

It is amazing to watch the evolution from the Housing For All rally in 2012, when affordable housing budgets were drastically cut, to just this past year. In 2016 the Housing For All Campaign put on its largest rally to date, packing Foundry Methodist Church with over 1000 people and public officials wanting to show support. The message was clear: DC is our home, and everyone in it should have a home.

Several prominent District officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, also made an appearance. The city’s mayor continued her commitment to increase investments in a wide variety of affordable housing types. “When we think about the $100 million for affordable housing I know we have to think about it across the entire spectrum. From very very low income housing to middle income housing. We have to think about new housing and we have to think about preserving housing…I consider this among the top things I have to do as Mayor.”

And the rallies for meeting affordable housing need continue. Over this past weekend, a small group of activists planned to gather in front of D.C. General and D.C Jail to press the city for a larger investment of time and resources into affordable housing and anti-poverty strategies. The rally was aimed to get the attention of Mayor Muriel Bowser and other District officials, another seed in the push for making DC a place where all can live, thrive and grow.

 Activism comes in all shapes and sizes; a large organization, or a single person can spearhead it. These actions all build off a one another and we have  to get involved and be strategic to continue building political will to meet the affordable housing needs that still exist. We’ve come a long way, and there is more to go…

What’s your story? Do you believe that everyone should have the right to a roof over his or her head? How are you getting involved? What will you do advance the cause and help create change?

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Mount Pleasant On My Mind

mt-pleasant-photoby Max Walker, Fall Advocacy Intern, MANNA

The Mount Pleasant neighborhood, situated in Northwest DC, has been my home for over 21 years. Throughout my time living here, I’ve seen many people come and go. My neighbors have changed countless times, and so too has the scenery.

In 2006, I was a 5th grade student doing a class project on my neighborhood. I was tasked with describing what my neighborhood was like, as well as talking to my neighbors about how they’ve seen or felt the neighborhood change since they’ve lived there. The first person I talked to was Mr. Eddie. Mr. Eddie, one of my favorite neighbors growing up, was an elderly black man who used to sit out on his porch every day. His response to my question was “I’m scared”. He told me that with the rapidly changing neighborhood, he was afraid that he would no longer be able to afford to live in the place he’d called home for the past 30 years. Two years later, Mr. Eddie moved out of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest DC.

Also in 2006, The Washington Post published an article titled “Un-pleasant Gentrification”. This article revolved around the ongoing battle between Mount Pleasant’s new residents, and long-time local business owners. Minority storeowners feared being bought out by developers, and restaurant-owners feared that the changing community would lead to lack of business.

Alberto Ferrufino, the owner of Don Juan’s, a popular restaurant in Mount Pleasant, agreed with the neighborhood alliance to make some aesthetic changes to his restaurant in order to cater to newer clientele. He banned live music, and even re-painted the outside from blue and red to a dull gray. Although voluntary agreements, Mr. Ferrufino said that he feared that the neighborhood would want him out should he not agree.

Other minority community members spoke out as well, voicing their concern over their changing neighborhood. In Mount Pleasant, a place that at the time was predominately Hispanic, the Hispanic community seemed to be on the sidelines in issues over their own neighborhood. Arturo Griffiths, a community activist and Panamanian immigrant who had lived in Mount Pleasant for over 40 years, had this to say:  “We built this community in many ways. We are the flavor of this community, and now we are getting kicked out.”

Mount Pleasant was once a cultural hub. The streets were lined with Central American restaurants, bodegas, and family-owned shops and eateries. But over the past ten years, things have been changing.

In an article published by the American Observer in 2016, the authors shine light on just how much the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has changed over the years:

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the zip code encompassing Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, 20010, is among those across the country that have seen the highest increase in white residents over the last decade, jumping by 24.7 percent.”

Immigrants that were once from El Salvador have turned into immigrants from the Midwestern United States. Families have become younger, whiter, and more affluent. Condos have replaced homeless shelters. Chain coffee shops and restaurants have replaced locally owned businesses.

It is hard to combat gentrification and displacement, but a few of the District’s community leaders got together at the end of the summer to talk about how they would tackle gentrification. An article by Greater Greater Washington brilliantly summed up the panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post and these community leaders.

The conversation boiled down to the government’s role in creating, and combating, the displacement of long-time community residents. The main point was that “better public policy can shape the outcomes of economic gentrification.” The article also highlighted several ways in which the government can have an impact on gentrification:

“Communities are marginalized when they are displaced from their homes, so if housing could be more affordable, the level of displacement would decrease.”

“In an attempt to level the playing field, government needs to be held accountable for ensuring that all residents can afford to live in D.C., while balancing the power of developers and special interest groups.”

As so many people are forced to leave the neighborhood they’ve called home for many years, it is ultimately up to the government to combat the displacement of these people.

At the beginning of the summer, I took a walk around my neighborhood and remembered the conversation I had with Mr. Eddie. To this day, his fears are still relevant. I’ve seen many people just like him succumb to the changing neighborhood and rising rent. I thought about how the people living around me are starting to look less and less familiar. I thought about how confused the neighborhood made me feel. I thought about how my “home” was starting to not feel like home anymore. I thought about how long my family has before they too have to pack up and leave.

This fall, I will be holding these personal experiences close as I explore how organizing and policy, both current and new, can help maintain or recreate some socio-economic diversity in my neighborhood and others.

 

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Displacement Comes in all Forms

A couple weeks ago marked the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. August 29th, 2005 was a historically disastrous day as the peak of the storm was tearing through the streets of the southeastern United States.  Strong winds knocked trees onto cars and houses. Torrential rainfall led to the flooding of streets and homes. Everything was destroyed. At least 1,800 people were killed by the storm and subsequent flooding, and more than 400,000 people were displaced from their home, community, and city.

Everyone knows what happened that fateful summer month in 2005. Countless families lost loved ones as well as the place they called home.  But did you know that in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s 11th anniversary, 11 families in DC were displaced after severe weather damaged their DC public housing apartments?

Natural disasters come in all shapes and forms. On one hand, it can be the largest hurricane the United States has ever seen. But on the other hand, it can be something as small as a thunderstorm. Both on seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both providing the same outcome: the damaging of homes and the displacement of families. Although a huge natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is a tragedy, it should not take something so catastrophic to bring the issue of displacement to light.

Families are not only displaced by natural disasters, but by accidents as well. Did you know that in the middle of August, an apartment complex in Silver Spring, MD caught on fire and exploded? At least 7 were killed and more than 100 people were displaced.

These are just some of the few ways families become displaced every day. Take the story of Jose Hernandez for example, a Salvadoran immigrant who has lived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest DC for over 25 years. For the past decade, he and his landlord have been in fisticuffs over increased rents amid terrible living conditions. This article highlights the injustices that minority renters face at the hands of their landlord. Mr. Hernandez is still battling with his landlord, but for many, displacement due to increasing rent is just something that comes with being a lower-income renter.

In an article put out by Greater Greater Washington, the relationship between rising rents and the District’s lower-income renters is very apparent. From this article we learn several important issues:

1. “The rent is too damn high”: over 60 percent of extremely low income, and over 30 percent of very low income renters, spend more than half their income on housing.

2. Rent in the District is rising faster than income, particularly for low-to-moderate income households: for those in the middle to lower end of the income distribution, wages have remained fairly stationary while rent has continued to increase.

3. DC’s supply of affordable housing has drastically decreased: “between 2002 and 2013, affordable units (those priced under $800) went from making up 40% of the rental stock to barely 20%. “

Displacement happens every day and there isn’t one sole cause. That is why preventing it, or minimizing it as much as possible, is truly important. Changing, creating, and sustaining political policy is key when it comes to mitigating displacement. The tenants can only do so much. It is up to the government to put in place the right laws and assistance programs to reduce the number of families displaced each year.

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is one of the very few laws in place to help tenants. This act allows tenants the opportunity to purchase their place of residence before the landlord sells the property to a developer (or anyone else). But there needs to be more.

Programs that help lower-income families transition from renting to homeowning are also extremely vital, as homeowners don’t have to deal with rising rent brought on by greedy landlords.

Other necessities include imposing rent controls to keep people like Jose Hernandez and his family in their homes; raising the minimum wage to allow lower-income minorities the chance to keep up with their ever-increasing rent; and creating and establishing relocation assistance programs for those who are displaced due to natural disasters, severe weather, and house fires.

Families are displaced every day, and it is up to the government to help protect these families and reduce displacement.

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The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Home Buying is a Must

Manna Blog PhotoIn an out-of-touch and at times baffling article, Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane recently penned a piece he entitled “Why the decline of the homeownership rate is good news.”

He’s referring to the fact that the homeownership rate in the U.S. has dropped below 63 percent to its lowest level in decades. We covered this news slightly differently several weeks ago.

In the article, Lane tries to simultaneously make the case that homeownership is a bad investment and that the government is unable to affect homeownership rates. The only option, he says, is to get government out of the housing market.

Homeownership has long been the American Dream, with studies showing that it contributes in positive ways to everything from education to wealth-building. So why does Lane think that Dream is dead? His argument can, with some effort, be broken into two pieces.

  1. The Great Recession shows that homeownership is too risky to be a good investment.

“If the Great Recession taught anything, it was that… homeownership is not a surefire ticket into the middle class. It can be downright risky.”

This is an interesting example from someone who is advocating for less government involvement in the housing market. The Great Recession, as many readers may recall, was precipitated by the collapse of the predatory mortgage market.

Mortgage brokers and Wall Street bankers, who for the better part of a decade had been getting rich off of deceitful loans to poor families (and people of color at disproportionate rates regardless of income), saw their party come to a bitter end in 2007.

That crash logically left two options: to provide greater government oversight of loans, which we know for a fact to be effective from CRA data, or to let homeownership become an exclusive pursuit of the wealthy.

Homeownership remained a solid investment throughout the recession for many low- and moderate-income families with fair mortgages (and good counseling), especially now on the other side of the collapse as prices begin to rise again.

As you might have guessed, however, Lane picks option two, where owner-occupied homes become the yachts of the future.

But jettisoning homeownership is unavoidable for Lane because of his second point…

  1. The government has no place in the housing market.

Why? Because… Europe.

“[Europe’s] modern experience suggests no simple connection between a high homeownership rate and the ‘positive externalities’ often attributed to it.”

Lane makes a convoluted argument about European countries, some with homeownership rates higher than the U.S., others lower, and draws the conclusion that government policy doesn’t matter.

But to borrow a quip, it must be noted that we are not Denmark.

Government intervention has clearly had huge impacts on homeownership rates in the U.S., although it’s not surprising that Lane has missed this.

Lane, like many Americans, seems to have only a vague understanding of the racial wealth gap in America. He does mention this phenomenon briefly, right after celebrating falling homeownership and right before deriding government involvement in it.

“…the reconcentration of home equity, while positive for those who own homes and for the overall stability of the economy, is regressive with respect to wealth distribution. This is especially so because African Americans and Hispanics remain less likely to own homes than whites.”

A fleeting moment of insight. The gap in homeownership between whites and people of color is a huge part of the reason that black families on average have just 1/16th the net worth of white families. The numbers are similar for Latinos.

But what Lane fails to mention is that these lower homeownership rates for people of color are no accident.

A whole series of racist government policies, some of which were dismantled just fifty years ago, provided bountiful opportunities for white families to own their homes, while locking black and Latino families out of the process.

And unsurprisingly, that dynamic shows up in the data. The reason white families have a homeownership rate today that’s about 30 points higher than black and Latino families is precisely because of this government intervention.

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U.S. homeownership rate by race over time; from the Economic Policy Institute

We can see that since 1975, shortly after the end of explicitly racist housing policies, the homeownership rate for different racial groups has moved more or less in sync. All groups had made solid gains by 2006 before the crash wiped them out.

So a recap on our history lesson…

In the early 20th century, the government made a push for white families to become homeowners. This effort was successful and resulted in higher homeownership rates and greater wealth for white families.

In the decades after the U.S. did away with its explicitly racist policies, homeownership rates for different racial groups began moving together. By 2006, all Americans had seen an increase in the homeownership rate.

But due to an under-regulated mortgage market, which disproportionately targeted black families with sub-prime loans, many of those gains were erased. Families with fair mortgages who were able to keep their homes have still seen solid returns on their investments—a point Lane unintentionally hammered home at the opening of his article—but many others have not had that opportunity.

The logical question, then, would seem to be what the government can do to close the racial gap in wealth and homeownership that it has created.

Unfortunately, the logic in Lane’s article is about on par with his framing of history.

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Farewell to MANNA – A Year of Growth

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By Ruth Bordett, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer through NeighborWorks 

With my time as AmeriCorps VISTA at MANNA  nearing the end, I would like to share some of my thoughts about my year as part of the development department at MANNA. When I arrived at MANNA in August 2015, I had little to no knowledge of affordable housing and its role in the District. I previously wrote a blog post in December (“Wading Through a Sea of Housing Jargon”) about the difficulty I had in grasping all of the housing jargon and procedures that have become essential to my work at MANNA. The past year has served as a crash course in affordable housing policies and development. I am proud to say that I am walking away from my year at MANNA with a much better comprehension of the importance of affordable housing.

All of my memories from MANNA share the common thread of serving as proof of the long and impactful history the organization has had on so many families and the Washington, D.C. community as a whole. I am honored to have witnessed the role MANNA has taken over the past year in striving to provide services and resources to the community East of the Anacostia River. The creation of our Ward 8 Homebuyers’ Club and the annual East of the River Homebuyer Fair are important strides towards our mission and continuing to deepen our partnership with communities in overlooked areas of the city, like Wards 7 and 8. Additionally, MANNA’s 24-unit condo complex in Southeast, the Buxton, was featured in a Washington Post article (“Finding an Affordable Anchor in D.C.’s Wave of Gentrification”). Seeing the hard work of my colleagues and MANNA’s buyers documented in this way has been extremely rewarding.

MANNA’s staff are truly a family and have always been welcoming to me. This is evident at our large fundraisers, like Friends of MANNA, and in the lunchroom each work day. The staff recently put together a retirement party for our former Director of Homebuyer Education, Willamena Samuels. The Homebuyers’ Club room was filled with guests and almost every person present had a personal story or sentiment to share about Willamena. Her 18 years of dedication to MANNA and each person’s obvious appreciation for her and the organization’s long history is what makes MANNA special.

Despite my lack of experience in affordable housing, each person I have encountered at MANNA has welcomed me and imparted their knowledge to aid the fight for affordable housing in D.C. For this, I will be forever grateful. As I continue to pursue a future in nonprofit work, I hope to stay connected to MANNA. MANNA has already left its mark on the District’s history, but I know it will continue to serve and improve our community for many years to come.


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The Housing Advocacy Team: “Bigger and Better Each Year”

Several weeks ago in the sweltering July heat, a group of people with a common interest in affordable housing gathered at MANNA’s headquarters in Northeast DC. They shared a couple pizzas, celebrated their recent First Annual Homeownership Town Hall, and talked about the issues facing their city: housing prices, evictions, racism.

It was a low-key event, lacking the fine dining and press coverage of many District political meetings. Mayor Bowser’s recent pitch to Republican leaders in Cleveland, for instance, featured salmon with a side of national media attention.

But given the group’s record, the press might have been wise to also snag a slice in Northeast.

That group is the Housing Advocacy Team, or HAT, a collection of individuals who are passionate about making DC homes affordable. Many of them became connected with HAT through MANNA’s homebuyer program. Others turned to HAT for help in tricky situations and then decided to stick around.

Together, the group has helped support some of the biggest wins DC has seen in affordable housing.

Through their work with the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), the yearly Housing for All rally has grown from just dozens of participants at its inception to over 1,000 people this year.

The Housing for All Campaign’s success is reflected in the $100 million directed to the Housing Protection Trust Fund in both 2015 and 2016. That money will expand the impact of the Trust Fund, which has supplied funding for projects that currently house over 18,000 District residents.

HAT and the Housing for All Campaign saw another win this spring, as their push led to the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) receiving a massive funding increase. HPAP, DC’s first time homebuyer loan program, got a bump of $6 million—a more than 60% raise. The money will go to interest-free loans as high as $80K for first time homebuyers.

But the Team has no interest in resting on its laurels. HAT will be meeting soon to decide on priorities for the next year’s advocacy cycle, and there will be an event in the second week of September for people unfamiliar with HAT to learn more and become involved.

“I hope [HAT] is around forever,” says Victoria Palacio, a HAT member. “Well, as long as it’s needed. If HAT can continue to address the problem to where there’s no longer an affordable housing issue in DC, that would be great. But as long as there is a need… [we’ll] continue to have events that are bigger and better each year.”

Although there are still no plans for salmon at the meetings, reporters would do well to mark those words. HAT hasn’t been in the business of empty promises.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about affordable housing and the political process in DC, follow @hatdc on twitter and the Housing Advocacy Team on facebook. And look for specifics on the event in September!

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New HUD Rule Empowers Communities to Dismantle Segregation

Many cities, states, and counties across the country are currently working on an old project in a new way. The federal government’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH), finalized a year ago, is changing the way local jurisdictions deal with racial and ethnic segregation.

Activists in the '60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

Activists in the ’60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

AFFH is a new directive by the Obama Administration on the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act was passed in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, as anger and grief exploded into riots in many poor predominately black communities across the country.

The nation’s attention was drawn to the conditions that these communities had lived in for decades. Activists seized the opportunity, and political will for action, which until that point had proved elusive, was mustered.

Almost sixty years later, however, the data show that not much has changed. The Fair Housing Act has been described as “forgotten, neglected and unenforced.” The United States and its cities are still highly segregated, and with the racial wealth gap worsening in the past decade, market forces are clearly not raising all boats.

That’s why the Administration felt the new rule was in order. Local jurisdictions will now be required to publicly report on the state of segregation in their territory, as well as the availability of services such as schools, libraries, and hospitals.

They will then be required to make a plan to address the issues they find, and their progress will be tracked over time. Local governments that fail to meet requirements will be in danger of losing all funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including highly coveted transportation money.

The new process also offers huge opportunities for involvement from community groups, with public comments available at each step of the process and the involvement of affected groups a required part of the planning.

If community groups feel that their jurisdiction lacks the will to address segregation and related issues, AFFH even allows for them to submit their own report and goals, which the federal government can then require the local government to enact.

And HUD is giving everyone the tools to get the job done. The department recently released a new mapping tool, which allows everyone from city planners to casual observers to document the challenges their communities are facing.

The ease of use that this tool affords means that governments with good intentions can better do their job and, on the flip side, less-motivated jurisdictions can be called out by their citizenry.

Job proximity in DC 1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

Job proximity in DC
1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

For instance, the map above shows that African-Americans in DC on average have much farther to travel than whites to find jobs. That’s the kind of issue AFFH wants local governments to work on.

Readers who caught last week’s piece on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) may think they see an opportunity for some cross-pollination—and they would be right. Another great aspect of AFFH is that it allows local jurisdictions to use all tools available to them to combat the problems they find.

So in this case, where predominantly black Anacostia can be seen to be lacking in accessible jobs, DC government and community groups could use the CRA to get banks to extend more small business loans east of the river, thus increasing job availability. In this way, data and goals from the new AFFH can work together with existing laws to further multiple objectives.

If that’s a little bit too wonky for you, that’s okay. The important thing is that, like the CRA, AFFH offers community groups and local governments another tool to chip away at the segregation that has been present in this country since its founding.

And that’s good news.

This post relies heavily on information from a recent training by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Check out their website at ncrc.org and find an upcoming training near you!

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The CRA: A Tool for 21st Cent Desegregation

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) recently released an exciting report about the effectiveness of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a government program frequently used to encourage private investment in neglected neighborhoods.

In 1977, Congress passed the CRA in an attempt to increase the number and amount of loans flowing to neighborhoods that had been historically neglected by financial institutions.

What is the CRA?

The CRA was written after several decades of growing pressure for Congress to reverse damage done by the legalized racism of the mid-20th century.  Between 1934 and 1968, the Federal Housing Authority effectively required that private mortgage institutions avoid lending to non-white communities by refusing to back loans that did not comply with their rules.

In the practice known as “redlining,” detailed city maps were distributed by the Authority to mortgage companies with neighborhoods color-coded to determine their desirability for lending.

A map of redlining in Philadelphia

A map of redlining in Philadelphia

The Whiter and more homogenous the neighborhoods were, the higher their ranking would be. The opposite held true as well: neighborhoods with Black, Latino, Jewish, and Asian-American populations were surrounded by red lines to show their danger because of, in the Federal Housing Authority’s words, the “infiltration of a lower grade population.”

This policy and others like it are in large part responsible for our present day racial wealth gap.

The CRA attempts to correct this by monitoring the volume of loans banks make to low- and moderate-income communities, as well as the number of branches and ATMs they have in these areas.

Financial institutions that meet the targets are more likely to be approved to open new branches and merge with other banks, whereas noncompliant institutions may be denied or required to make a plan for investment with community groups before being given approval.

Pitfalls and Accomplishments

It is, unfortunately, a colorblind policy. As the report points out, efforts to combat segregation without acknowledging the existence of race will have inherent blind spots. (For instance, as last week’s blog noted, higher income African-Americans are more likely than lower income Whites to receive predatory mortgages.)

The CRA has, however, contributed an enormous amount to community development work. Since 1996, banks covered by the CRA have issued over half a million community development loans, collectively worth $.8 trillion. That money goes to affordable housing and economic development in targeted communities.

 

CRA community development loan amounts, from NCRC

                                       CRA community development loan amounts, from NCRC

CRA institutions have also been an important source of mortgages for moderate- and low-income families. From 2007 to 2008, as the housing market was collapsing and many institutions stopped lending, CRA banks issued almost 2 million prime loans (that’s the good kind) to targeted borrowers.

While some have claimed that the CRA is responsible for the crash because it forces banks to lend to groups they would otherwise avoid, the data tell a different story.

Researchers found that mortgages from CRA-exempt institutions, mainly mortgage companies like Quicken Loans who do not take public deposits, were twice as likely to end up in foreclosure. In other words, expanding rather than limiting the CRA may be the best protection against future crises.

The CRA, says NCRC’s report, certainly has room for improvements in areas such as the consideration of race in lending and the expansion of its coverage to independent mortgage institutions. However, the report ultimately hails it as a model for reinvestment in neglected communities.

At a time when our country is struggling to respond to its historical and present segregation, the CRA offers concrete evidence of the impact that targeted legislation can achieve.

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Report: U.S. Faces “Unprecedented” Decline in Homeownership

A new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies paints a bleak picture of homeownership in America. The report, titled The State of the Nation’s Housing, details the continuation of a homeownership decline it describes as “unprecedented in American history.”

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Since a peak of 69 percent in 2004, the proportion of American households that are homeowners has dropped more than 5 percent. With the slide spurred on by the 2008 housing crash and Great Recession, homeownership has never recovered—in 2015, less of the American population owned their own home than at any point in the last thirty years.

The report also notes that the homeownership gap between white and black households has widened since the recession. The economic dip overall had a disproportionate effect on minority households, with a large part of that impact coming from reduced home equity.

Racist lender practices exacerbated the issue. In 2000, the Treasury Department found that black households in wealthier neighborhoods were twice as likely to be issued expensive subprime loans as were white households in poorer neighborhoods.

Reasons for the Drop

This decline in homeownership is not due to any lack of interest in owning a home—the report notes that 78% of Americans still think owning a home is a “great investment.” Rather, it is a reflection of the barriers that potential homeowners face.

The first big problem facing many first-time homebuyers is one that their parents may not have dealt with, or at least not in the same way. As of 2013, student loan debt affected one out of every five American households. That’s up from around one in ten households in 2001.

The problem has not only spread, but deepened. Average student loan debt per indebted household has gone from $10,500 to $17,000 in that period, and over a third of borrowers owe more than $25,000. This has made it increasingly difficult for potential buyers in their twenties and thirties to save enough for a down payment.

A second problem is the number of homeowners being removed from the pool each year. Foreclosures and foreclosure-related sales have dropped from their eye-popping numbers a few years ago, but they remain significantly higher than in the early 2000s. 2015 saw over 55,000 foreclosures and related sales per month, versus less than 20,000 per month a decade ago.

The report attributes this to “overhang” from the recession and notes that the number does continue to trend downward, albeit at a frustratingly slow pace.

Finally, the report indicates that tightening credit score requirements are keeping a large number of low- and moderate-income Americans from receiving mortgages. That group’s share of total first-time mortgages dropped precipitously between 2010 and 2014, as credit requirements became more stringent at most major lenders.

This trend also disproportionately limits homeownership for minority households, who on average have lower credit scores than their white peers.

The one bright spot? The report notes that for households who were able to buy a home between 1999 and 2009 and then hold on to it through the recession, net wealth grew by over $85,000.

And District residents can feel better knowing that their government is taking steps to address two of these issues, with its work on down payment assistance as well as homebuyer counseling to help raise credit scores.

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