homeownership and housing organizing
Discussion list for COMM-ORG
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Wed Oct 24 22:23:06 CDT 2007
[ed: thanks to Stephen for responding to Linda's article.]
From: StephenMeacham at aol.com
I think Linda's article is excellent. In addition to building assets by
living in subsidized affordable housing, there is also the broad arena of
collective struggle. You do more to "build assets"; by having a union
than all the homeownership strategies combined. You can also "build
organizing tenant associations, negotiating collective bargaining
with real estate companies, and prevent rent increases. One building
units we estimated created $500,000 in assets that way over 5 years.
Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> From: Linda Ocasio <linda at geb.net>
> Here is an essay I wrote that recently ran in the opinion section of the
> Star-Ledger of New Jersey. If you agree or disagree, I hope you'll
> register your views with a letter to the editor, online or snail mail
> (www.nj.com). It's a good way to let editors know that housing matters.
> Who knows, it may even lead to more housing-related coverage.
> Homeownership not always the answer
> Sunday, October 07, 2007
> BY LINDA OCASIO
> Lost amid the collapse of the subprime mortgage market and the ensuing
> wave of foreclosures is the role of well-meaning advocates for the poor,
> who, like their clients, cherish home ownership as an inte gral part of
> the American dream.
> At the heart of the crisis, of course, are banks and unscrupulous
> lenders who were eager to encourage the engrained dream -- at the cost
> of wildly high interest rates and hidden fees. Low-income customers with
> poor credit histo ries didn't ask -- or didn't know to ask -- the right
> questions, holding fast to their dreams, even when the numbers didn't
> make sense.
> But it should not be forgotten that even among housing advo cates and
> foundations, homeow nership as a means of building as sets and a
> necessary ladder into the middle-class was heartily embraced.
> Owning a home would make one a better citizen, the reasoning went. A
> homeowner would be more likely to be involved in the schools and other
> local institutions, would take a greater interest in local government,
> and would put down roots. Subprime lending was a necessity, advocates
> said, to ensure credit for those with few other op tions to purchase a
> home, and for whom the dream might never happen.
> Over the past five years, as the editor of a housing magazine and a
> writer for the Ford Foundation, I observed how nonprofit agencies
> followed the dream, promoting homeownership in cities across the nation.
> Community organizations and institutions that even 20 years ago might
> have articulated a passion and a mission for tenant organizing,
> affordable rental housing and even decent public housing, fell si lent.
> Of course, they can't be blamed for the situation, but they can be
> chastised a bit for letting zeal overtake common sense. "People have
> been pushing homeownership, and it's not always in the best interest of
> low-income people," said Sheila Crowley, director of the National Low
> Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C., which lobbies for more
> affordable housing. It's made families vulnerable to what Crowley calls
> "bad loans from profit-making loan sharks."
> The heart of the problem is that the same market biases and greed that
> prompted banks to redline neighborhoods, refusing to make loans in what
> they considered high- risk areas, also prompted lenders to steer
> minority borrowers toward subprime loans, even if applicants were
> eligible for prime, lower-interest loans.
> For example, in New Jersey blacks and Latinos are the primary customers
> for subprime loans. A Star-Ledger analysis of 2005 federal data showed
> that nearly half the mortgages granted to borrowers from these groups
> carried interest rates high enough to be considered subprime. By
> comparison, only 16 percent of loans made to whites and 13 percent made
> to Asians carried subprime terms.
> Communities with the highest percentage of minority residents are also
> the places where subprime lending is driving the housing market: The
> highest percentage of New Jersey's subprime loans in 2005 were made in
> Irvington, East Orange and Newark.
> Overlooked in the frenzy was the importance of rental and subsi dized
> housing as crucial stepping stones, a safe place for people to build
> assets and security toward the day when they can buy a home. Large
> foundations and long-standing government policy were tilting toward
> homeownership. Funding flowed to groups that were on the same page.
> "I would agree there has been an emphasis on homeownership to the
> detriment of affordable rental housing," said Ellen Brown, chief
> operating officer for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice in
> Newark. "Homeownership is not for everybody and not for everyone in
> every phase of their life."
> Affordable rental housing was once the focus of many nonprofit and
> community-based organizations seeking to stabilize low-in come
> neighborhoods, as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s, she said.
> Brown, a former economic development program officer for the Ford
> Foundation in the United States and South Africa, cited the work of
> another former Ford official, Mel Oliver, who examined differences in
> asset accumulation between black people and white people, as a turning
> Oliver found that for every $6 a white family had accumulated in net
> assets, a black family had $1, and the discrepancy had mainly to do with
> owning a home. The larger philanthropic and nonprofit world took notice,
> and government policymakers, already hostile to public housing and
> indifferent to the needs of renters in urban environments, jumped on the
> That was not all to the good, according to Pablo Eisenberg, a senior
> fellow at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and the former
> executive director of the Center for Community Change in Washington,
> D.C. "Political parties pushed for homeownership, and our taxes are
> geared toward it," he said. "We've abandoned freedom of choice in
> housing. There's very little chance for a low-income family to rent
> affordable housing. National policy drives homeowner ship, and it's been
> that way for a long time."
> Even government programs such as HOPE VI that were meant to revive
> public housing had the overall effect of reducing the number of units
> available to low-income renters, he noted. High-profile demolitions,
> such as occurred in Newark and other cities, were rarely followed by
> one-to-one replacement of lost apartments in the same communities.
> One ray of hope is the movement to establish a National Hous ing Trust
> Fund, dedicated to the production, preservation and rehabilitation of
> 1.5 million affordable homes in 10 years. At least 75 percent of the
> funds will be for housing for households that are extremely low income,
> earning less than 30 percent of an area's median in come.
> Crowley, whose housing coalition is coordinating the trust fund
> campaign, said the fund would put production dollars into the hands of
> nonprofit groups and public housing agencies that are committed to
> low-cost housing for struggling families. The House of Representatives
> recently passed a bill to modernize the Federal Hous ing Administration
> that includes funding for a future housing trust fund.
> Crowley said a bill to establish the fund is going to the floor of the
> House on Wednesday. Draft National Housing Trust Fund legislation,
> similar to a House bill, has been developed in the Senate and is
> expected to be introduced sometime in November or December.
> But the housing trust fund has been on the table for more than 20 years.
> Although establishing legislation may be getting some traction, in a
> tough budget crisis, "people push away earmarks," Eisen berg said,
> referring to the budget's special line items that have drawn fire as
> "pork." Yet the urgency for the fund has never been more apparent. "It's
> increasingly difficult to build housing for people who earn under
> $15,000 a year," he noted.
> Homeownership may be a dream that few are willing to give up. But until
> housing advocates and other policy leaders revive their interest and
> commitment to other viable choices, that dream will result in even more
> foreclo sures, placing housing security and stability beyond the reach
> of low- income families.
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