Category Archives: Advocacy Days

National Day of Action Against HUD Cuts Planned for July 29

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In an effort to stop draconian cuts that the Trump Administration has proposed for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, activists are organizing a National Day of Action. Under the banner “Our Homes, Our Voices,” thousands across the country are expected to come out for a series of rallies, teach-ins, HUD site visits, and Congressional meetings.

The Trump Administration has proposed $6 billion in cuts for HUD, which would have devastating and wide-ranging effects. Hundreds of thousands of low-income families would lose their rent vouchers and potentially their homes. Public housing, already in a desperate state of disrepair, would further deteriorate, putting children and families across the country in danger.

In DC, funding for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, the District’s impactful first-time homebuyer assistance, is under threat. 80 percent of HPAP money comes from Community Development Block Grants—a program with bipartisan support that the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating entirely.

Action to oppose these cuts will be crucial, as Congress has so far shown that public involvement (or lack thereof) is the determining factor in its willingness to stand up to the Trump Administration.

Check back in here closer to July 29th to see what events are happening in DC, and be sure to let your enfranchised friends know that they need to call their representatives.

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HAT, Partners Work Against Racial Wealth Gap with Town Hall; Trump Administration Exacerbates It

One-sixteenth.

That’s the average wealth of a black family compared to a white family in America. It’s the result of centuries of racist policy in education, employment, and especially homeownership.

MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team has long had an explicit focus on closing the racial wealth gap in our communities, and along with our partners at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development and the Latino Economic Development Center, this past Saturday we hosted a Homeownership Town Hall aimed at connecting low-income families, especially families of color, to homeownership opportunities.

HAT and our partners are proud of the work we do, and we can see the impact that it has in DC. At the same time, however, we realize that there needs to be national progress in order to achieve justice in our country. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, is looking for a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top; one that’s sure to widen America’s racial wealth divide.

The Town Hall

Close to 200 people came on Saturday for a series of workshops, vendor tables, and presenters covering every step of the affordable homebuying and ownership process. Participants learned about how to improve their credit scores, how to connect with organizations like MANNA that can help them find a home, and the wide variety of city programs that can help make affordable homeownership possible.

Current homeowners were able to learn about city property tax laws and legal estate planning, helping to ensure that their homes will be passed on to their children.

MANNA’s Director of Homebuyer Education, TC Caviness, started off the strong lineup of speakers by articulating the extent to which a gap in homeownership holds back wealth building for black families. Even other areas that are typically thought of as wealth builders, like education level, pale in comparison to the impact that homeownership has.

Despite having worked around housing for years, said TC, “I was shocked when I saw these charts.”

RacialWealthGap_1.pdf college RacialWealthGap_1.pdf

A college education, while important for many, many reasons beyond money, does almost nothing to close the racial wealth gap, explained TC. Homeownership, on the other hand, shrinks that gap by more than a third.

Polly Donaldson, Director of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, and Councilmember Anita Bonds, Chair of the Council’s housing committee, both spoke about the importance of affordable homeownership for building a city where all residents can thrive.

Councilmember Bonds, reflecting on the positive impact of recent increases to DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program for first time low- and moderate-income homebuyers, told the crowd, “Next year, I want to increase it again!”

Trump Administration’s Reverse Robin Hood

That was in stark contrast to the ideas that are coming out of the White House. The Trump Administration has released a series of tax cuts for the wealthy that would collectively cost around $6.2 trillion over the next decade.

To pay for them, the President has introduced a budget plan that would drastically cut many programs targeting poor families, among which families of color are disproportionately represented.

Here are a few of his proposed tax and budget cuts, juxtaposed for context.

  • $192 billion cut to food stamps pays for $174 billion giveaway by abolishing the Estate Tax
  • $143 billion in cuts to student loans helps pay for $158 billion lost by repealing a tax on the unearned income of the wealthy (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.)
  • $40 billion in cuts to EITC and the child tax credit vs. $400 billion lost by abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT is often the only tax paid by billionaires)

(from Americans for Tax Fairness)

While HAT and others are prepared to continue our push for fair funding in the District, we need help from our national partners and from people all around the country to stop the Trump Administration’s disastrous and immoral plan to take from the poor and give to the rich. We know that the impact of this theft will disproportionately fall on communities of color, causing the racial wealth gap to grow wider and wider.

Looking at our country’s history, it’s certainly not unprecedented. But as MANNA’s work in DC has proven, it’s not inevitable, either.

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Impassioned Speakers, Energized Crowd Get Commitment for #MoreHousingNow

On Saturday morning, people began showing up at United Foundry Methodist on 16th St NW well before the appointed time. After months of preparation the big day had arrived, and hundreds of participants wanted to make sure they got a good seat.

CNHED’s yearly Housing for All Rally—this year tagged “More for Housing Now”—was another great success in a campaign of successes. Since its birth in 2010, the Housing for All Campaign has fought for and won millions and millions in increased funding for DC affordable housing. The Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), the Local Rent Supplement Program, Targeted Supportive Housing, and, of course, the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) have all been boosted by the campaign. The yearly rally has become such an event that it now regularly draws Mayor Bowser and councilmembers.

But on Saturday, there was no sense that the campaign was resting on its laurels. A series of speakers from all walks of life wanted to make it clear to the city officials in attendance that there was much more work to be done. Their number one priority was clear: increasing the HPTF from $100 million to a minimum of $125 million.

Without this renewed commitment, many said they feared their neighbors, families, or even they themselves could be forced out of the city they call home.

Perhaps no one made this point more forcefully than David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners. With a fiery speech that ranged from prop comedy to powerful and emotional demands, Bowers brought the crowd to its feet countless times as he described the struggle of working families in DC.

Bowers riled up the crowd by noting that if the Council’s $8 billion budget is represented by $8, only 20 cents of that (“two dimes!”) goes to affordable housing.

He brought his time to a thundering conclusion by comparing the plight of DC families in search of housing to that of a man caught in the rain. “We’re out here every day getting rained on!” he boomed to the roaring crowd, emphasizing his point by emptying a water bottle over his head. To the Council, he said, “we ask for an umbrella. ‘Please, can I have an umbrella?’” Bowers mimed being turned away and dumped more water on his head. “But we keep getting rained on!”

Another speaker to bring down the house was Jeanette Bright, a member of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club. Although initially nervous, she found her groove and captivated the audience with the story of her mother’s struggle to support five daughters. After years of working multiple jobs, Bright’s mother was finally able to buy a home for her family. And now, Bright is closing in on the same goal—thanks to HPAP, she’ll soon be able to buy a house of her own.

Jeanette Bright

MANNA Homebuyers Club member Jeanette Bright

At times overcome by emotion, she ended her speech with a tribute to her mother. Homeownership, Bright said, has been her dream for years, just like it was her mother’s before her. But she said the city must do more. “Homeownership,” concluded Bright, “must not be a dream, but a reality.”

DC lawmakers also feature prominently in the event, with At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman taking turns at the podium before Mayor Bowser.

Councilmember Bonds spoke passionately about the need that exists in DC and said that she, as Chair of the Council’s housing committee, is ready to take bold steps. “You’ve asked for at least $125 million for the trust fund,” called Councilmember Bonds. “Well, I’d like to see $200 million!”

“Although,” she concluded with a chuckle, “I’m not sure all of my colleagues are there yet.”

Councilmember Silverman, also on the housing committee, spoke about the human element that is sometimes lost in budget discussions. “What you’re doing today,” said the councilmember, “is taking letters and acronyms and putting faces to them.”

Mayor Bowser, almost the last speaker of the day, let the crowd know she had heard their request. She recounted the growth that the HPTF has seen under her leadership, then turned to the present. “You want me to expand it again?” she asked to cheers.

Like others, the mayor emphasized the importance of people staying engaged in the fight for affordable housing. “We have the resources we need for affordable housing,” she told the crowd. “Now, we need the will to execute it!”

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!

Ensuring Affordable Housing, Ending Chronic Homelessness, & Building a DC where all Residents Thrive

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The Washington region is home to some of the wealthiest counties in the country; however, there are many households that are struggling to get by on minimum- or lower-wage jobs.  Despite these income disparities, Washington, DC is a city with one of the highest costs of living, which makes finding quality, affordable housing difficult for many residents. Thanks to passionate residents, housing advocates, and elected officials, housing issues are in the spotlight, and some of our housing concerns are currently being addressed.

Homelessness can stem from various causes, such as “insufficient income, the loss of a job or health insurance, rising rents, physical and mental disabilities, and domestic violence.” People become especially vulnerable to these conditions when there is a lack of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing options. For most people, homelessness only lasts for a few months or less, however, there is a small percentage of the homeless population that experience homelessness for years.

It is important that we advocate to ensure affordable housing, to end chronic homelessness, and to build a DC where all residents thrive. However, under current conditions, as long as working people are unable to find affordable places to live, homelessness will continue to be an issue, and this shouldn’t be the case.  According to the Urban Institute, “increasing the supply of affordable rental units and permanent supportive housing would reduce homelessness in the region”. Correspondingly, these are the types of housing supports that we have been continuously fighting for in the District. Last year, housing advocates fought for $100 million dollars to be put into the Housing Production Trust Fund, and this was one of the issues that we rallied behind at last year’s Housing for All Rally. The mayor listened, and that amount was allotted into the fund.  As a result of those efforts, last month, the mayor announced that she will be using nearly $82.2 million dollars from the Trust Fund to take on 12 affordable housing projects. The plan is to preserve 466 units of affordable housing, while producing 338 new units. This development will take place in most of the wards, and they will house approximately 1,760 DC residents.

Strides are also being made towards ending chronic homelessness. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Mayor announced her plan to close DC General, and replace it with eight new family shelters that are to be developed by 2018. The goal of these shelters is to be clean and safe neighborhood-based facilities that have accommodations for children. Furthermore, these shelters are expected to help improve the lives of those living there by providing residents with resources such as housing assistance, and job placement to help them overcome homelessness.

Neither the aforementioned 12 affordable housing developments nor the eight new homeless shelters will be enough to end homelessness or DC’s affordable housing crisis. However, they are signs that our voices are being heard, and they will make a difference in the lives of thousands of DC’s residents. However, we have to continuously advocate for a full continuum of housing, from supportive housing up to homeownership. It is important that we all come out to this year’s housing rally on March 5 so the Mayor can see that housing is still important to us, and that it is necessary in order to build a DC where all residents thrive.

What are the Presidential Candidates Proposing to do about Affordable Housing & Community Development?

Presidential Campaign 2016

It is the summer of 2015 and I am already tired of the campaign season. Why do the campaigns start almost two years before the election? And there is so much money involved that citizens can easily become cynical. However, instead of tuning out, it might be the time to ask the candidates some hard questions about housing and community development. The only way the people take back their democracy is by participating and holding candidates accountable!

If you witness a debate among the candidates or attend a speech, ask the candidates questions about affordable housing and community development. See if their webpages have emails to which you can send questions. Read position papers of the candidates. Do they say anything about housing and community development and is it thoughtful?

Housing and community development is often overlooked and neglected. This is the case, I think, because these programs are perceived to be for poor/undeserving people. Most candidates think that housing and community development are not politically popular. They need to be educated. While most beneficiaries of housing and community development are low- and moderate-income, the entire country benefits if thoughtful and effective housing and community development programs can improve the economic well-being of low- and moderate-income people. If low- and moderate-income people live in revitalizing neighborhoods, they are more likely to be employed at livable wages. They are more likely to have access to good education. In the aggregate, if effective housing and community development programs improve the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people, then consumer demand increases, economic output increases, and unemployment decreases.

The following are some housing and community development positions. Observe how close the candidates come to these positions:

Restore Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budgets: As reported in a previous blog, as housing needs have increased, HUD budgets have been slashed. The budget for Section 8 vouchers to help very low income households pay the rent has not kept pace with rising rents while housing cost burdens for renters have increased. The HOME budget that provides subsidies for housing and homeownership programs has been cut by more than 60 percent between 2005 and 2012. The District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development has used HOME funding for, HPAP, its low downpayment program. Which candidates are clearest about the needs to increase HUD’s budget?

Strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA): As described in previous posts, CRA requires banks to meet the needs of communities. Federal agencies produce reports cards for banks that are publicly available and which rate banks on their lending, investment, and services in low- and moderate-income communities. CRA needs to be strengthened as applied to banks and needs to be expanded to cover other financial institutions including mortgage companies, insurance companies, and Wall Street investment banks. Do the candidates discuss CRA in their speeches and websites?

Foreclosure prevention and mediation: Frankly, one of the biggest policy failures of the Obama administration has been its foreclosure prevention program. While I agree with a number of the policy approaches of this administration, foreclosure prevention was not a large enough endeavor. The major program was the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) which offered banks financial incentives and subsidies to rework loans and reduce interest rates for homeowners facing foreclosure. Recent reports by an independent inspector general found that only 1.5 million people were assisted by HAMP but that 6.1 million experienced foreclosures during the time period. In addition, HAMP has $21 billion in unspent funds.

Some may say that the distressed homeowners brought this upon themselves by spending too much on housing and stretching their budgets too thin. However, when a problem reaches this magnitude, a more likely explanation is a rotten industry that was pedaling abusive loans on a large scale. Since homeowners were more sinned against than sinning and since the foreclosure crisis continues to impede the overall economic recovery, a fair question for candidates is will they continue this effort and make it more effective.

Promote neighborhood integration and revitalization:  Recently, a columnist suggested that efforts to revitalize economically distressed neighborhoods should be abandoned in favor of using housing subsidies to move minority and lower income households to more affluent neighborhoods. This is a false choice. Over its 30 year history, Manna has pursued both neighborhood revitalization and integration. Do the candidates recognize the complexity of housing and neighborhood development and will they pursue policies and approaches that promote neighborhood integration and revitalization.

Secondary education that benefits all citizens: Various candidates have announced ambitious plans to provide subsidies and aid so that students do not confront high debt after they finish college. President Obama has proposed free community college for students that maintain acceptable performance. The President’s approach is a step forward. Post-secondary education policies and subsidies must include community colleges and vocational training as well as colleges. Otherwise, a large segment of the population served by Manna will not benefit and will still confront high housing costs because more opportunities to earn higher wages via education and training will not be available to them.

Granted, it is hard work to hold the candidates accountable and you may base your voting decisions on many factors in addition to housing and community development. I took a quick glance at some of the candidate websites and they do not seem geared at this point to stimulate dialogue between the citizens and the candidates in the manner of Congressional websites (you can at least send an email to a member of Congress asking them to respond to your opinion). Yet, keep these issues in mind as you evaluate candidates and take advantage of opportunities to ask them hard questions. It is the only way in the long run to hold them accountable for promoting a more prosperous future for everyone.

 

Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.

 

The Banks Are Back At It

Here we go again! Banks are back at it, crying foul to new regulations, in return telling some of their largest clients to take their money elsewhere, or be slapped with huge fees. The large financial institutions, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings PLC, Deutsche Bank AG and Bank of America Corp, have stated that the new regulations have made some of these deposits less profitable. For most banks, deposits have been the usual catalyst for driving growth: more deposits allow banks to loan out more money and bring in more profits. However, with tighter regulations and a smaller amount of loans being generated, banks are beginning to see large deposits as dead weight. This mindset has led to these decisions, decisions that have taken a turn away from some of the fundamental principles and actions typically associated with banking. First and foremost, deposits have usually been seen as the key driver for banks since there is a lower interest rate on money kept in-house and then loans can be made at a higher interest rate. The new rules given by regulators to make our financial systems safer require more cash on-hand so that banks are more resistant to shocks like those seen during the financial crisis of 2008. Many banks feel as if these regulations carry too much liability.

Historically, banks’ fundamental purpose was to serve the credit and banking needs of local communities. While things have changed such as the services offered or the speed of these services, the principle responsibility still remains. Banks put a community’s surplus funds (deposits and investments) to work by lending to people to buy homes and cars, to start and expand businesses, to put their children through college, and for countless other purposes. While times have changed, the central focus shouldn’t. We must develop comprehensive strategies that allow maximum community development, while ensuring our communities are safe guarded from predatory practices or financial crises.

Last week, the Community Development Amendment Act of 2013 passed the District Council; this bill encourages banks who do business with the District to make plans to meet the banking needs of all District residents. There will be a chance for the public to weigh in on banks’ plans and progress once implementation begins in early 2016. We hope for good faith banking partners in the District and a chance to champion improved banking services and products for District residents and neighborhoods that need it the most.

Ownership is still cheaper

According to recent data released by Trulia it is still significantly cheaper to own in the DC region then to rent, 34% to be specific. This has been consistent all year and is slightly below the national average of 38%. Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia provides in-depth analysis providing further breakdown. For instance, it is 25% cheaper to own in Fairfax, VA than it is to rent, while it is 33% cheaper to own in the District of Columbia.

Trulia calculates this by using several factors, which includes average utility bills and tax deductions amongst other things, but one very important factor that was discovered was that the owner must remain in their home for at least 7 years. Trulia used many different variables to make these calculations like changing the length of the mortgage or type of loan, and every time ownership beats out renting.

This data lends significant strength to the solution of homeownership as a vehicle to help low-to-moderate income individuals achieve economic mobility. The District of Columbia already has programs in place to help lower income individuals purchase homes, like the HPAP program and development subsidies, but more can be done on the side of our financial institutions. A piece of legislation, the Community Development Amendment Act of 2013 would incentivize community development by evaluating the community development plans of financial institutions that apply for financial contracts with the city, and assigning contracts partly based on those plans. Now is the time for the city to lead the way in promoting economic mobility and holding financial institutions accountable!

Failure By Flagstaff

In recent months many factions of the financial industry have been penalized for the participation in the mortgage crisis of 2008, but in recent news the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has narrowed its scope and taken aim at the mortgage servicing firms who play a large role in whether struggling individuals either lose their home or receive extra time to rectify their situations.

In its first act of enforcement under new mortgage servicing rules that began this year, the consumer financial regulatory bureau and Flagstar bank reached a $37.5 million settlement because of accusations the bank prevented thousands of people from accessing tools that would have helped them escape foreclosure. Flagstar has been accused of withholding information from clients, stringing clients along for months, then wrongfully denying them loan modifications, they also failed to inform clients that documents critical to the approval of their modifications were needed. Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer protection bureau said “Flagstar took excessive time to process borrowers’ applications, did not tell them when their applications were incomplete, denied loan modifications to qualified borrowers, and illegally delayed finalizing permanent loan modifications”

One of the biggest concerns generated from this situation is the lack of options or even community oriented departments in these large financial institutions, focused on helping clients find the best option. Here in the District we have an opportunity to provide an incentive to some of these financial institutions. The Community Development Act of 2013 would incentivize more community development from financial institutions, by evaluating their community development plans and factoring those evaluations into which banks secure financial contracts with the city. This latest settlement by Flagstar shows our financial institutions need a little push in the right direction; a Responsible Banking Ordinance seems like the perfect start.