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Will White House Advisory Council Act to End America’s Affordable Housing Crisis?

PASADENA JOURNAL — 

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By Charlene Crowell

Nearly 90 years ago, Kelly Miller (1863-1939), a Black sociologist and mathematician, said, “The Negro is up against the white man’s standard, without the white man’s opportunity.” As the first Black man to enroll as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in 1908, Miller also authored a book entitled Race Adjustment, published in 1908.

Ironically, despite the passage of time, Miller’s words express the same sentiment held today by many Black Americans. As a people and across succeeding generations, we have held fast to our hopes for a better life. Yet it is painfully true that many opportunities enjoyed by other Americans have been elusive for people of color.

Noted author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed a similar view during his June 19 Capitol Hill testimony on reparations.

“Enslavement reigned for 250 years on these shores,” noted Coates. “When it ended, this country could have extended its hallowed principles—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to all, regardless of color. But America had other principles in mind. And so for a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.”

While economists, public policy think tanks and other entities may sing a chorus of how well the American economy is performing and expanding, people of color – especially Blacks and Browns – have yet to see or feel economic vibrancy in our own lives – particularly when it comes to housing and homeownership.

On June 25, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) released its annual report, The State of the Nation’s Housing. One of the housing industry’s most broadly anticipated and cited reports, it once again chronicles recent trends and issues.

“The limited supply of smaller, more affordable homes in the face of rising demand suggests that the rising land costs and the difficult development environment make it unprofitable to build for the middle market,” said Chris Herbert, JCHS’s managing director.

Among this year’s key findings:

Since 2018, the monthly housing payment on a median-priced home has been $1,775;
In 2019, the cost of a median-priced home rose by 4% to $261,600 when a comparable home in 2011 was priced far lower at $177,400.

This rise in home prices is also the seventh straight year that median household incomes have failed to keep pace in 85 of the nation’s largest 100 markets.

Nearly $52,000 would be required to make a 20% down payment on a median priced home. Even if buyers opted for an FHA 3.5% down payment mortgage, more than $9,000 would be needed to pay it, closing costs, and related fees;

In rental housing, four million units of housing priced at $800 or less were lost between 2011 and 2019. Also, since 2010, renters now include consumers earning $75,000 or more.

Families who already own their own homes, these findings signal that their investments are appreciating, growing in equity and wealth.

But for those trying to make that important transition from renting to owning, it’s a very different outlook. As rental prices continue to soar and moderately priced apartments disappear from the marketplace, both prospective homeowners and current renters face a shrinking supply of affordable housing.

When homeownership is possible, housing costs can be better contained with fi xed-interest rate mortgages, tax credits, and eventual equity. Even so, the Harvard report finds that only 36% of all consumers could afford to buy their own home in 2018. With higher priced homes in 2019, the affordability challenge worsens.

“It is equally noteworthy that once again this key report shares how consumers of color continue to face challenges in becoming homeowners, noted Nikitra Bailey, an EVP with the Center for Responsible Lending. “According to the report, only 43% of Blacks and 47% of Latinx own their own home, while white homeownership remains at 73%.

“This 30% disparity deserves further examination and proportional remedies,” continued Bailey. “Greater access to safe and affordable credit, better fair housing enforcement, preservation of anti-discrimination laws – including disparate impact – can play a role in eliminating homeownership gaps. Further, as the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are publicly debated, a renewed commitment to serve all creditworthy borrowers must be embraced.”

Calvin Schermerhorn, a professor of history in Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and author of The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860, holds similar views to those expressed by Bailey. In a recent Washington Post op ed column, Schermerhorn addressed the historic disparities that Black America continues to suffer.

“One-fifth of African American families have a net worth of $0 or below; 75 % have less than $10,000 for retirement,” wrote Schermerhorn. “The enduring barriers to black economic equality are structural rather than individual…. “Escalators into the middle class have slowed and stalled, and the rung of the economic ladder one starts on is most likely where one will end up.”

On the same day as the Harvard report’s release, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that establishes a new advisory body that will be led by HUD Secretary Ben Carson. A total of eight federal agencies will work with state and local government officials to remove “burdensome governmental regulations” affecting affordable housing.
“Increasing the supply of housing by removing overly burdensome rules and regulations will reduce housing costs, boost economic growth, and provide more Americans with opportunities for economic mobility,” stated Secretary Carson.

If Secretary Carson means that local zoning rules favor single family homes over multi-family developments is a fundamental public policy fl aw, he may be on to something. However this focus misses the crux of the affordable housing crisis: Wages are not rising in line with increasing housing costs. And now, after the housing industry continues to cater to more affluent consumers, while many older adults choose to age in place, the market has very little to offer those who want their own American Dream, including some who are anxiously awaiting the chance to form their own households.

Builders have historically, not just of late, complained about the time it takes to secure permits or the series of inspections that must be approved during construction and before properties can be listed for sale. What is missing from this new initiative is a solution to the financial challenges that average people face.

It was scant regulation and regulatory voids that enabled risky mortgage products with questionable terms that took our national economy to the brink of financial collapse with worldwide effects. Taxpayer dollars to rescue financiers while many unnecessary foreclosures stripped away home equity and wealth from working families.

Time will tell whether new advisors and proposals remember the lessons from the Great Recession.

This article originally appeared in the Pasadena Journal

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Biden-Harris Administration Announces Two New Actions to Address Youth Mental Health Crisis

Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Biden-Harris Administration has invested over $5 billion in funding through HHS to expand access to mental health and substance use services, and school districts are estimated to use an additional $2 billion in Department of Education ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to hire more school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals in K-12 schools.

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The President’s FY23 budget proposes over $27 billion in discretionary funding and another $100 billion in mandatory funding over 10 years to implement his national mental health strategy.
The President’s FY23 budget proposes over $27 billion in discretionary funding and another $100 billion in mandatory funding over 10 years to implement his national mental health strategy.

Courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Education

Our nation’s young people are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis.

Even before the pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among youth were on the rise. The pandemic exacerbated those issues, disrupting learning, relationships, and routines and increasing isolation—especially among our nation’s young people.

More than 40% of teenagers state that they struggle with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and more than half of parents and caregivers express concern over their children’s mental well-being.

To address this crisis, President Joe Biden put forward in his first State of the Union address a comprehensive national strategy to tackle our mental health crisis, and called for a major transformation in how mental health is understood, accessed, treated, and integrated—in and out of health care settings.

On July 29, the Biden-Harris Administration announced two new actions to strengthen school-based mental health services and address the youth mental health crisis.

Awarding the first of nearly $300 million the President secured through the FY2022 bipartisan omnibus agreement to expand access to mental health services in schools.

Next week, the Department of Education will begin the process to disburse almost $300 million Congress appropriated in FY22 through both the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the FY22 Omnibus to help schools hire more mental health professionals and build a strong pipeline into the profession for the upcoming school year.

In total, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will invest $1 billion over the next five years in mental health supports in our schools, making progress towards the President’s goal to double the number of school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals. This funding is allocated to two critical programs:

  • The Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program. In FY22, this program will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to support a strong pipeline into the mental health profession, including innovative partnerships to prepare qualified school-based mental health services providers for employment in schools.
  • School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant Program. In FY22, this program will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to states and school districts to increase the number of qualified mental health services providers delivering school-based mental health services to students in local educational agencies with demonstrated need. This will increase the number of school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals serving our students. Some schools will gain mental health staff for the first time. Others will see this critical workforce expand. By increasing the number of qualified mental health professionals in our schools, and thereby reducing the number of students each provider serves, this program will meaningfully improve access to mental health services for vulnerable students.

In the following months, the Biden Administration will deliver the following additional FY22 funding that can be used to expand access to mental health services and supports in schools:

  • Fostering Trauma-Informed Services in Schools. Young people have been especially impacted by the trauma of COVID. Over the next several weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin evaluating applications to award nearly $7 million to education activities designed to help students access evidence-based and culturally relevant trauma support services and mental health care. Applications were submitted on July 25, 2022, and award announcements will be made this fall. The grant funds will help create partnerships that link school systems with local trauma-informed support and mental health systems to provide services to students in need.
  • Expanding Mental Health Services Through Full-Service Community Schools. The Biden-Harris Administration has proposed expanding funding for community schools, which play a critical role in providing comprehensive services to students and families to improve academic outcomes and student well-being.

Earlier this month, the Department announced plans to award $68 million in funds for 40 new grantees. All grantees are required to provide integrated student services, which can include mental health services and supports.

  • Responding to Childhood Trauma Associated with Community Violence. The FY22 omnibus included $5 million for the Department of Education’s Project Prevent, a program that provides grants to help school districts increase their capacity to implement community- and school-based strategies to mitigate community violence and the impacts on students.

Experiencing or witnessing violence in the community is an adverse childhood experience linked to chronic health issues, including mental health. Project Prevent seeks to build a bridge between schools and community-based organizations to provide students with the tools to break cycles of generational violence and trauma, including through the use of mental health services and supports.

Encouraging Governors to Invest More in School-Based Mental Health Services.
In a letter sent on July 29, 2022, to governors across the country, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services highlight federal resources available to states and schools to invest in mental health services for students.

The joint letter from Secretaries Becerra and Cardona highlights actions by the Biden-Harris Administration to improve the delivery of health care in schools and make sure children enrolled in Medicaid have access to comprehensive health care services, as required by law.

The letter also previews forthcoming Medicaid guidance on how states can leverage Medicaid funding to deliver critical mental health care services to more students, including ways to make it easier to bill Medicaid for these services.

Building on Progress

These actions build upon earlier investments and announcements designed to expand access to mental health services for youth and further President Biden’s Unity Agenda. In just 18 months, President Biden has invested unprecedented resources in addressing the mental health crisis and providing young people the supports, resources, and care they need.

Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Biden-Harris Administration has invested over $5 billion in funding through HHS to expand access to mental health and substance use services, and school districts are estimated to use an additional $2 billion in Department of Education ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to hire more school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals in K-12 schools.

And the President’s FY23 budget proposes over $27 billion in discretionary funding and another $100 billion in mandatory funding over 10 years to implement his national mental health strategy.

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Activism

Respect for Marriage Act Passes in U.S. House with Help from Bay Area Representatives

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

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Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.
Tweet from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Twitter photo.

By Sarah Clemens, Oakland Post Intern

The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act on July 19, 2022. The bill, which was originally introduced in 2009, would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and recognize same-sex marriage on a federal level.

The reintroduction of this bill comes not long after Justice Clarence Thomas’ called for Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 landmark Supreme Court ruling that declared the right for same-sex marriage in every state, to be overturned. Thomas declared Obergefell v. Hodges, along with other landmark rulings, to be “demonstrably erroneous decisions.”

While all of the House Democrats voted for the bill, it also garnered some bipartisan support, with 47 Republicans voting in the affirmative as well. Notably, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whose anti-gay marriage statements were immortalized in 2018 Best Picture nominee “Vice,” voted in favor of the bill.

Cheney also denounced her previous statements in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, stating, “freedom means freedom for everybody.” However, the Republican Party’s top two representatives, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, voted against it.

While the House vote is a big victory for supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act, it is still not a law. Whether it will be approved by the Senate is unclear. Chuck Schumer of New York, Democrat and Senate majority leader, stated he wanted “to bring this bill to the floor, and we’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass.” That mentioned Republican support would be a minimum of 10 affirmative Republican votes.

Democrat support remains strong, with many citing potential codifying of the bill as a counterattack in the wake of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose congressional district lies within San Francisco, spoke about the recent ruling on the House floor and stood behind the bill, saying, “as radical Justices and right-wing politicians continue their assault on our basic rights, Democrats believe that the government has no place between you and the person you love.”

California District 13 Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted for the bill, also stated it was “a key step forward in House Democrats’ fight against the right-wing assault on freedom.”  Representative Eric Swalwell of District 15, which includes cities of Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore and Hayward simply tweeted, “Kevin McCarthy and the majority of @HouseGop just voted against same-sex marriage. As backwards as they are, we are not going backwards with them.”

While according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, President Joe Biden has been urging the Senate to send the bill to him soon, the process has instead been delayed.

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate in 2012, told NPR that “we don’t want to bring it to the floor until we know that we can pass the legislation.”

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has stated that he’d “delay announcing anything on that issue until we see what the majority leader wants to put on the floor.”

As Democrats attempt to gain support from across the aisle, and Republicans make few statements on the bill publicly, the future remains unclear.

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Activism

School District Security Violently Clashes with Parents, Community at Parker Elementary School

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process. Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

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This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.
This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District security officers arrived at Parker Elementary School in East Oakland on Thursday, Aug. 4 to change the locks and clear people from the school.

Parker, located at 7929 Ney Ave. in East Oakland, has been occupied and kept open operating community programs for the last two months by community protesters, who are resisting the school board decision to permanently close the school at the end of May.

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process.

“Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

In a response to Oakland Post questions, OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki wrote: “OUSD staff went to Parker on Thursday and found all the people who had been inside the building had left the premises. So, staff changed the locks and set the alarm.

“Someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building. They were removed. But unfortunately, individuals forced their way back into the building.”

Sasaki continued, “Parker K-8 School is now closed. The individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions. Of great concern is that the children that were onsite were sleeping in unsafe conditions and that the adults were running an unsafe and unlicensed childcare program. We continue to demand that they find other ways to safely and peaceably express their concerns.”

Parker protesters condemned the actions. “It was unthinkable that the district would send a group of poorly trained security —consultants ­— to injure, aggress, and antagonize a peaceful community where children were receiving services, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood of East Oakland, which already experiences disproportionate police violence,” the release said.

Parker activists say they are not leaving and will continue their fight to keep the school from being permanently closed and privatized.

Civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, says that his investigation told the Oakland Post that description of the incident on Aug. 4 “were concerning in a number of ways.”

“The people had been there all summer, and the district had allowed them to continue. No notice of eviction had ever occurred. After locks were placed on the door, a protester made entry, not by breaking in but through a door with a key, as has been the case all summer,” said Riley.

The security agency employed by the district does not have the authority to use “self-help” (that is to physically evict people from the building). They are untrained, and the district is liable for their injuries.

Riley continued: “OPD officers, when they arrived, stood by, and watched unlawful physical attacks. One person was thrown headfirst into a wall by security causing significant injury. Another person, a candidate for school board and an active parent, was taken to the ground, a knee placed on his neck by security. He was brutalized, handcuffed, and held for up to two hours without medical aid for injuries to his wrist, neck, and face.”

Since May 25, the final day of classes of the 2021-22 school year, protesters have occupied Parker 24 hours a day, utilizing the space for a summer program for school-age children, youth empowerment initiatives, free food distribution, voter registration drives, and hosting community town halls and other events, according to protesters’ press statement.

This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

One of the two teachers who was fired was Craig Gordon, a 32-year veteran Oakland teacher and union activist. The other teacher who was fired was not named.

District spokesman Sasaki declined to comment on the firing of the two teachers. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” he said.

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