Category Archives: Youth Advocacy

The Erosion of the Middle

There’s something very unsettling about the recovery our political leaders continue to promote. A former retail manager of a Georgetown boutique, I began to notice something very eerie about the shopping climate in one of DC’s most well-known shopping corridors-it was beginning to vanish. Over a year period, month after month, I began to notice traffic slowing down and purchases becoming smaller and smaller. While politicians and political analysts continue to debate the effects of immense inequality, corporate America has already come to terms with the erosion of the middle class. The reality is that middle tier retailers have seen their entire customer base shrink since the great recession, while bottom and top tier retailers thrive. John G. Maxwell, head of global retail and consumer practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers states that “As a retailer or restaurant chain, if you’re not at the really high level or the low level, that’s a tough place to be,” Mr. Maxwell said. “You don’t want to be stuck in the middle.” This erosion of mid-level retailers speaks volumes to the erosion of the mid-level consumer, and the enormous impact that income inequality has had on our society.

New research by the economists Steven Fazzari, of Washington University in St. Louis, and Barry Cynamon, of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, confirms what we already see in the marketplace. In 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995, the researchers found. This is especially dangerous for two reasons: 1) economic growth cannot be sustained if such a large percentage of the population is not involved and 2) since markets rely on the population to determine what works and what doesn’t, having only a small portion of the population participating in markets could make for very volatile results. Mr. Maxwell also stated that “Those consumers who have capital like real estate and stocks and are in the top 20 percent are feeling pretty good.”

This is why homeownership can be so important to keep families afloat and moving forward. The single biggest aspect missing from the inequality debate is the growing asset gap. In addition to raising the minimum wage and other income/job skills related issues, we also need to talk about access to assets. Predatory lending eroded the assets of many, but with good, fixed-rate loans, a home is often the largest and most important asset that low and moderate income families have. In order to sustainably grow our economy, the entire population must be able to have access to the wealth investments that assets bring, not just a select few. Supported by Manna, Inc. and lead by CNHED, the Housing for All Campaign believes that housing across the entire spectrum should be available at an affordable price, allowing for upward mobility and a path to building stability and assets-rebuilding the middle class.

Housing Now

Housing For All Rally

When addressing the District’s Affordable Housing issues we often focus on the negatives: the cluttered bureaucratic process, stagnated legislative process, or even ineffective policy remedies, but amidst all the political turmoil shines a bright spot –The Housing for All Rally. Held at Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown, the Housing for All Rally brought together concerned constituents and their elected officials for one reason, making sure there is adequate numbers and types of housing for all. A variety of groups and organizations were present to lend their support to this very important issue. Transitional Housing Corporation, Manna, Inc., and Jubilee Housing were just a small portion of the groups that presented for our city officials, along with hundreds of residents.

Renee Sumby, who purchased a home through Manna in 2002, gave testimony of her experience with the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) program. Ms. Sumby, who was born in the District and raised in nearby Arlington, Virginia, spoke of how moving back to the District and finding an affordable, quality place to live was difficult. After renting for many years, she was finally able to become a homeowner in the place her family called home. She explained how this would not have been possible for her without the assistance of the HPAP program and stressed its need for continual funding. She ended her testimony by asking the city’s elected officials “Will you commit to the increase and continual funding of the HPAP program?”

The importance of funding programs like HPAP and other purchase payment assistance programs, as well the continual funding of 100 million dollars annually for the Housing Production Trust Fund were at the forefront of the rally. The single biggest benefit of this rally was that it allowed the District’s communities to have a voice in the shaping of the District’s housing conversation. The message carried at the Housing for All Now Rally was heard loud and clear this year. We want quality, affordable housing-NOW.

The District’s Invisible Population

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There are many questions on the minds of the residents of the Nation’s Capital like: Why are so many people running for Mayor?; Does the Redline ever run normally?; and will the Redskins ever be good? But there is one thing everyone can agree on – It’s cold, very cold. In the wake of historically low temperatures, the city has implemented a handful of measures geared towards protecting the District’s homeless population, such as an emergency homeless hotline and utilizing city buses as mobile heating stations for individuals. In the midst of this, one population has gone unnoticed – DC’s homeless teens. This population is becoming increasingly hard to reach due to the fact adolescents have a hard time admitting they’re homeless, let alone accepting help. City surveys estimate that homeless teens number in the thousands. Although the city has promised $500,000 to fund six more youth shelter beds in January, family homelessness has quadrupled in the District in recent years. Manna supports the Continuum of Housing, a range of options with a place for everyone based on how much they can afford to spend on housing and the services they need.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

In the District of Columbia, we have a very persistent affordable housing issue – an issue so large we just can’t seem to wrap our minds around it. Instead, we’ve decided to put an umbrella over it. Affordable housing, a popular term used by everyone from politicians to seniors on assisted living, has become the go-to term to describe DC’s affordable housing or lack thereof. However, affordable housing is a complex issue consisting of many parts – parts that can’t be defined or legislated in one particular way. Affordable housing in the District consists of Affordable Homeownership, Land Trusts, Limited Equity Cooperatives, Affordable Rentals, Housing Choice Vouchers, Senior Assisted Living, Transitional Housing, Permanent Supportive Housing, etc. Each housing type is comprised of different dynamics, funding sources, regulations, and covenants. So, a “one size fits all” policy measure is the equivalent of a mother trying to outfit four completely different children with the same exact one pair of shoes – it just won’t work.

This is why the Continuum of Housing supported by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development is a vital model in conjunction with the efficiency and effectiveness of different kinds of affordable housing legislation. The Continuum of Housing encompasses a full range of housing options, from supportive housing for the homeless to affordable homeownership and everything in-between. This model understands that every type of affordable housing is different, but they are interdependent for assisting individuals and families in becoming stable and climbing the economic ladder. Similar to the Continuum, policy makers in the District must understand that each category of affordable housing is as equally necessary as it is different, but, unlike a wristwatch, effective policy addressing these issues won’t be “One Size Fits All”.

New Laws Will Hurt DC’s Homeless Population

Guest blogger Justin Rodriguez has been organizing around issues of homelessness, housing, and youth advocacy for over five years. He is currently working on ways to organize homeless youth to empower themselves and engage in community organizing. Manna has been benefiting from Mr. Rodriguez’s in-depth knowledge of homelessness in DC, an essential group represented in the Continuum of Housing.

On June 26, 2013 the DC Council approved new amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act (HSRA). The HSRA was designed to set guidelines or rules on how to serve homeless individuals. These current amendments were altered from the original ones, which Mayor Vincent C. Gray first proposed. There were two positive changes to the Mayor’s amendments. The first change was to the Mayor’s Provisional Placement plan was dropped. It would have required that homeless families needed to be placed in a “Provisional Status” for 15 days before they could receive services.

The second rule stated that a person could be terminated for a program, including housing, if they were absent for at least 60 days. The rule was changed and the time period was extended to 180 days, but the participant will have to give the service provider notice within the first 30 days of their absence. When they returned after 180 days, the participant will be required to be given another housing placement.

Most of the changes, however, are actually harmful to homeless individuals who are trying to bring themselves out of homelessness. The first states that if an individual refuses two offers of Rapid Re-Housing or any other housing option (regardless of whether or not it will be appropriate for the person), the individual will be terminated from the housing program. In addition, this decision will be made based on research to determine whether or not someone’s refusal of a housing option is valid. This can be problematic because current research does not take into account the location of housing (whether it’s too far a metro station or place where folks can get to a grocery store, or employment). There is no requirement to offer comprehensive services such as childcare or transportation assistance. Contrary to popular belief, this wording has been in the Homeless Services Reform Act from the very beginning. The only difference now is that Rapid Re-Housing has been given priority as “acceptable housing”.

Another amendment involves homeless individuals being required to pay into an escrow account or similar savings account. The account would take a portion of a person’s income and put it into a savings account. The person or persons in the program would be able to access the money once they leave the program. Those who go into any program are still required to pay into an escrow account or “similar savings account”. If they refuse they will not be terminated from the program, but will face “sanctions”. This can include restrictions on where they can travel and denial of other services. In other words if someone makes $250 a month from Social Security and can’t afford to save any money, they may be refused certain services or have travel restrictions. In addition, the Mayor has the sole discretion to determine what sanctions should be placed on those who can’t afford to pay into the account.

Along with the alterations made to the Homeless Services Reform act, a new amendment was included. It states that someone with a disability can be terminated from their Permanent Supportive Housing (housing that offers services like counseling, nursing, case management, etc.) program if, “The client has not requested a reasonable accommodation to continue the supportive housing services for disability-related reasons, or has requested a reasonable accommodation and it was denied; and no household members who have been approved as part of the household unit for purposes of the program remain in the supportive housing placement.” There is also no clear language on assisting anyone with a disability that is terminated to find housing that is better for them. This new addition was not part of the Mayor’s amendments but was added by members of the DC Council.

Right now it’s essential to engage with the DC Council, and to take action. Please write, email, or use social media to contact the Council and ask them to know why they think these amendments were appropriate.  Also, please take time to volunteer at places which provide important services for the homeless. This is a great way to update homeless individuals about these new laws. You can also learn a great deal of the struggles that homeless people face on a daily basis.

For updates on what is being done about these amendments please visit the Facebook page of Nothing For Us Without Us: A community initiative centered around ending youth homelessness. The link is http://facebook.com/NothingForUsWithoutUs

If you want to see the bill in its original document please click here and then go to page 84 to the section titled “Subtitle O. Homeless Service Reform.”

Needed: Youth Voices

Manna8-R2-18A

Youth Civic Engagement Project

The Need: Affordable Housing needs continue to grow in the District of Columbia, while the funds available for affordable housing dwindle. In 2011, 47,500 households in DC spent at least half of their income on housing in 2007. Lower income residents are being squeezed out by higher rental and home prices (currently, the median rent is $1500 for a 2-bedroom apartment) and there is lower public funding/downpayment loans for all types of affordable housing

Last year there were about $30 million dollars in cuts made to the budget by the Mayor. Because of the strong advocacy of Manna, Inc.’s Housing Advocacy Team, in partnership with the Housing for All campaign run through the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development, the City Council chose to restore $25 million to the budget.

We need more youth voices!! You have powerful insight & experience to contribute to our HAT team!  

Who: Talented High-School Aged young folks (13-21) who are interested in advocating for affordable housing

What: Meet once a month with HAT, work to increase our knowledge of affordable housing, write public testimonies and have opportunities to give testimonies before City officials

When: Once a month in February, March & April with opportunity to give public testimony in mid-April & May

Where: Please plan to join in our next month’s meeting on Monday, March 11th from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Dinner provided!!

Contact Person:  Diane Spaite-202-832-1845 ext. 252