Tuesday, July 19, 2005

[Cross posted at Infinite Dia(b)logue.]

This is an update of something I wrote almost a year ago. Anyway, HUD is probably going to try and implement some changes to the voucher program which will hurt those who have vouchers and the housing authorities that issue them.

By the way, the waiting list for a voucher in Chicago has 9,756 names on it. The list has been closed for years. No new vouchers have been issued during the period it has been closed (other than those mandated by the loss of site-based Section 8 units).

The changes are similar to what Secretary Alphonso wrote about in his op-ed piece last August.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson has written an opinion piece in today's Times. The Times should be ashamed of allowing such propaganda to be spilled on their pages. Examples of the lies, er, inaccurate statements:

1. Jackson blames the need to fund Section 8 vouchers as a cause for cutting the National Science Foundation. Really? Is there some sort of actual accounting that can prove this? I'll bet that I could make a similar claim that increased defense spending caused the NSF cuts. Besides, when has the Bush administration cared about science anyway? They consistently do the opposite of what scientific consensus proposes, i.e. the EPA report on lower Manhattan after 9/11, global warming, arsenic levels, etc.

2. Jackson states, "Over the past few years, most rental markets have softened and vacancy rates are the highest in decades." Census data proves his statement is wrong. The vacancy rates for 1990 and 2000 are as follows:

1990 (US population 248,709,873; MSA population 192,725,741):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 10.09% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 8.22% (6,379,049 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 4.15%
% Vacant Units per MSA population -3.31%

2000 (US population 281,421,906; MSA population 229,192,868):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 8.99% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 7.21% (6,637,067 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 3.70%
% Vacant Units per MSA population - 2.90%

Clearly vacancy rates have tightened in the last ten years. All the information is available via the American Factfinder website.

3. Jackson also claims that if Sec. 8 vouchers could be more flexible (that they did not require a certain fixed payment) that housing authorities would be able to help more people. To support his claim he compares the average rent with the average Sec. 8 paid rent in one zip code for Washington, DC (20020) Jackson ignores some critical factors in this scenario.

a. 20020 is not exactly the average neighborhood for the US or MSAs. It's 96% African American. And in 2000, the median rent asked was $504. These rent figures change quickly over time so 2004 could be higher as he states. Still, the average rent in DC as a whole was $518 in 2000. Maybe it has gone up as well. For the DC Urban Area it was $713. Shouldn't Sec. 8 holders be allowed to rent anywhere in the region? If the voucher is flexible, and the HUD budget is decreased (as proposed by the Bush administration), housing authorities will feel pressure to lower the value of the voucher. This will perpetuate concentrations of poverty and, in most urban areas, patterns of racial segregation.

b. Sec. 8 voucher holders often need to show they can pay more than average rent because of the stigma associated with the voucher. This stigma is informed by prejudices based on race, class, disability, and familial status (presence of children) among other ignorant considerations. If Jackson was serious he'd advocate for legislation that prohibited landlords from refusing a tenant based on their Sec. 8 status. Currently, most municipalities allow landlords to refuse someone with a voucher.

c. In most cities and regions, HUD's "fair market rent" (FMR) is lower than the average rent asked for vacant units. In Chicago, FMRs are actually decreasing for three and four-bedroom units. Meanwhile the housing market is booming and more expensive than ever. HUD uses a random dialing technique to determine FMRs. It is woefully inadequate in its implementation and its sample size.

4. Housing Authorities would be freer to deny mobility moves (to higher-opportunity areas) or portability moves (from one housing authority to another) because of the increased cost. This would likely be in direct conflict with the Fair Housing Act and HUD's duty to affirmatively further fair housing in all of its programs.

5. Jackson states that Section 8 has grown from 36% of the HUD budget to over 50%. He doesn't state that many other programs in HUD's budget have been cut or eliminated. (This includes money for fair housing by the way.) And, he doesn't;t explain that federal policy has been to decrease public housing and place-based subsidized housing and use vouchers in their place.

6. There are other dumb statements. Jackson points out that the voucher regulations are 120 pages. This is a small number of pages for a federal regulation but people think it sounds big so he put it in there.

The official press release from HUD is here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: The 21st Century Challenge

Depending on who you ask, a little or a lot has been accomplished since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Either way, enforcement of the rights of individuals to choose where they live has been the primary focus of private fair housing groups. This has made sense given that discrimination has continued ocurring and that the few sources of funding for fair housing focus on enforcement of the law. Private fair housing centers and government agencies still receive thousands of complaints each year. And, federal funding for fair housing is much larger for enforcement than for education and outreach.

In May, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities published a report that showed the extremely high correlation between race and opportunity in the Chicago region. The Segregation of Opportunities found that despite improvements in minorities' access to housing in area communities and reduced housing discrimination, stark racial and economic disparities persist in the distribution of access to opportunities across the Chicago region. The study measured a variety of opportunity factors at the municipal level, including strength of the local tax base, quality of schools, access to jobs and transportation, and other quality of life issues as compared to region-wide averages and the extent to which opportunities are accessible to people from various socioeconomic groups, specifically race and income. All of the municipalities in the region were placed into one of five classes from highest to lowest opportunities. 94% of Black residents and 83% of Latino residents lived in either the low or lowest opportunity areas.

This followed a report in January that showed how little local suburban governments were doing to enforce fair housing or promote their communities affirmatively. Of the 271 suburban municipalities, fewer than a dozen made strong efforts to maintain an open and inclusive community.

Given this information, it seems like the time has come to rethink our priorities in the fight for fair housing. Certainly, enforcement of individuals' rights must remain a primary concern. But, promotion of affirmative measures needs more attention in most of the country. The Midwest is in the most dire need of this type of fair housing advocacy. Midwestern cities dominate the segregation index top 50.

In Chicago (#5 on the list), it could be argued that the issue of housing choice is more about individual perceptions and governmental efforts than about housing industry practices. Discrimination by real estate agents, landlords, lenders, and insurance agents still occurs. But, what might be an even bigger contributing factor to the perpetuation of segregation is the absence of affirmative measures by municipalities in the region. The dearth of affirmative programs is evidence that municipalities are either promoting or ignoring prevailing perceptions of exclusivity in the region. If a suburb that is 95% white does nothing to promote itself affirmatively, it is essentially maintaining regional segregation patterns.

These perceptions are important because they impact which communities minorities will even consider. Most people don't want a hassle. And, finding a placeto live is a stressful undertaking in the best of circumstances. So, when people at risk for discrimination think about buying or renting a home they either conciously or subconsiously steer clear of places that they feel will involve anything from discouragement to harassment. The most effective way to counter this problem is to persuade municipalities to affirmatively further fair housing in their communities. Until this occurs, choices will continue to be limited from the start.