[Hpn] Homeless "Church Sleeper" faces FELONY charge. Your opinion?

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Wed, 17 Jan 2001 15:17:06 -0800 (PST)


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Edwatch by Julia Steiny
Kids with nowhere to live=20
The easily identifiable measure of a politician's commitment to =
low-income people is his or her willingness to talk in specifics about =
housing. In the months of what now seems never-ending political =
rhetoric, not once -- to my knowledge -- did housing come up.=20

Low-income people and their advocates know full well that the shrinking =
stock of affordable housing is a growing crisis both nationally and here =
in Rhode Island. But politically, the issue is way below the radar =
screen.=20

I'm concerned that we get inured to what seems like mere statistics. =
It's now normal to think that half of all American children watch their =
parents split up. We're used to a third of them living in poverty. =
Increasingly, we're getting used to the prevalence of domestic abuse in =
kids' lives.=20

Now more and more children are either enduring homelessness or batting =
around from residence to residence.=20

In 1980, the average rent for an apartment in Rhode Island was $161 per =
month. By 1986, it had climbed to $454, and in 1999, it was $673. Rhode =
Island is the third least-affordable housing market in the country, =
trailing only Virginia and New York State.=20

The Annual Report of the Rhode Island Emergency Shelter Information =
Project puts it this way: "Rhode Island's system of distributing housing =
to low-income people is broken. More and more of our state's most =
vulnerable citizens are becoming homeless. The total number of homeless =
is back over 4,000 for the first time in three years. In the absence of =
decent, affordable housing for the very poor, hundreds of people are =
living in emergency shelters, facilities that were never designed for =
long-term use. . . . Rhode Island has approximately 38,000 units of =
public and assisted housing. Two-thirds, however, are reserved for =
elderly and disabled citizens."=20

Rents are soaring and so is the cost of maintaining a house. On the =
other hand, the people in the bottom quarter of the income scale are =
actually making less money than they were 10 years ago.=20

So right off the bat, you can figure that while rents rise and income =
tanks, even the cheapest housing is out of reach for many. Truly =
blighted housing is either being torn down or spiffed up for the upper =
three quarters of the income demographic.=20

Federal, HUD-level issues are exacerbating the problem. In the past, the =
feds used various incentives -- tax credits, low-interest loans and =
direct subsidies to encourage builders to create low-income housing or =
include some low-income housing in their developments. Owners were =
penalized if they raised rents before the time was up on the federal =
contracts.=20

According to "The State of the Nation's Housing 2000" issued by the =
Joint Center for Housing Studies between Harvard Design School and the =
Kennedy School of Government, "Owners of the 1.4 million private rental =
units can prepay their mortgages at the end of expiring use periods or =
opt out of programs when their subsidy contracts end. Landlords with =
properties in the most desirable areas and in the best condition are the =
most likely to opt out and to take advantage of higher prevailing =
rents."=20

Furthermore, the 15- or 20-year subsidy and use contracts locking owners =
into low rents began to expire in the 1980s and continue to expire. The =
first cohort of the units built with tax credits, which was the largest =
federal rental production program, is due to expire in 2002. Because the =
tax credit has not been inflation-adjusted, there hasn't been any =
incentive to bother to build more subsidized units for low-income =
people.=20

Lastly, much public housing, half of whose occupants are families with =
children, is slated for demolition. Not only are a million people =
nationally on waiting lists for public housing already, but 60,000 of =
86,000 "seriously distressed units" are about to become history.=20

That's just the tip of the iceberg because the population (kids) is also =
rising.=20

Jeez Louise, then let's quick adjustly the incentives to build =
subsidized housing and take care of the problem. Ah! Not so fast.=20

While the poor may always be with us, we don't really want them =
approximately with us. Like prisons and power plants, subsidized housing =
runs into Not In My Backyard (or NIMBY) issues. Public and subsidized =
housing permanently depresses the neighborhood and has the accidental =
consequence of concentrating poverty, which tends to make it more =
persistent.=20

Furthermore, Rhode Island already has comparatively generous social =
services, and we are one of only 13 states whose rates of childhood =
poverty is rising. If housing were also more available, we would =
probably attract more vulnerable families, leaning ever more heavily on =
Rhode Island's somewhat anemic economy. (I was delighted to hear Sen. =
William Irons, the new Senate majority leader, directly address the need =
to boost the economy specifically in order to support more and better =
social services.)=20

So what is the solution?=20

If the issue could just hit public consciousness more, creative thinkers =
could probably cobble together a variety of responses.=20

I find that I favor creating more of what the Emergency Shelter Report =
calls "supportive housing," like the Crossroads program discussed last =
week, where families are essentially re-taught work, parenting and =
survival skills.=20

A National Evaluation of Supportive Housing done by HUD itself revealed =
that supportive housing graduates, if you will, were generally more able =
to keep their homes and stay employed. It is especially cost-effective =
when compared to paying for shelters, emergency room routine care, =
mental health hospitalizations, drug and alcohol detox and treatment, =
never mind incarcerations.=20

In the meantime, what is a symptom of a social ill -- not enough =
affordable housing -- shows up at the school door in the form of =
unrooted children and begins to cause other problems. We resent these =
kids because they drag down achievement scores, act out in anger and =
can't pay attention in class. We resent their parents.=20

The worst thing we're getting used to is our own hardness of heart.=20

Julia Steiny is a former member of the Providence School Board; she now =
consults and writes for a number of education, government and private =
enterprises. She welcomes your questions and comments on education. She =
can be reached by e-mail at=20

--Boundary_(ID_HvyRDwmFKQFewV10k9ASUQ)
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<DIV><FONT size=3D2>Edwatch by Julia Steiny<BR><FONT=20
face=3D"Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size=3D3><B><!HEADLINE>Kids with =
nowhere to=20
live <FONT face=3DArial,Helvetica,sans-serif =
size=3D2><!/HEADLINE></B></FONT><BR>The=20
easily identifiable measure of a politician's commitment to low-income =
people is=20
his or her willingness to talk in specifics about housing. In the months =
of what=20
now seems never-ending political rhetoric, not once -- to my knowledge =
-- did=20
housing come up. <BR><BR>Low-income people and their advocates know full =
well=20
that the shrinking stock of affordable housing is a growing crisis both=20
nationally and here in Rhode Island. But politically, the issue is way =
below the=20
radar screen. <BR><BR>I'm concerned that we get inured to what seems =
like mere=20
statistics. It's now normal to think that half of all American children =
watch=20
their parents split up. We're used to a third of them living in poverty. =

Increasingly, we're getting used to the prevalence of domestic abuse in =
kids'=20
lives. <BR><BR>Now more and more children are either enduring =
homelessness or=20
batting around from residence to residence. <BR><BR>In 1980, the average =
rent=20
for an apartment in Rhode Island was $161 per month. By 1986, it had =
climbed to=20
$454, and in 1999, it was $673. Rhode Island is the third =
least-affordable=20
housing market in the country, trailing only Virginia and New York =
State.=20
<BR><BR>The Annual Report of the Rhode Island Emergency Shelter =
Information=20
Project puts it this way: "Rhode Island's system of distributing housing =
to=20
low-income people is broken. More and more of our state's most =
vulnerable=20
citizens are becoming homeless. The total number of homeless is back =
over 4,000=20
for the first time in three years. In the absence of decent, affordable =
housing=20
for the very poor, hundreds of people are living in emergency shelters,=20
facilities that were never designed for long-term use. . . . Rhode =
Island has=20
approximately 38,000 units of public and assisted housing. Two-thirds, =
however,=20
are reserved for elderly and disabled citizens." <BR><BR>Rents are =
soaring and=20
so is the cost of maintaining a house. On the other hand, the people in =
the=20
bottom quarter of the income scale are actually making less money than =
they were=20
10 years ago. <BR><BR>So right off the bat, you can figure that while =
rents rise=20
and income tanks, even the cheapest housing is out of reach for many. =
Truly=20
blighted housing is either being torn down or spiffed up for the upper =
three=20
quarters of the income demographic. <BR><BR>Federal, HUD-level issues =
are=20
exacerbating the problem. In the past, the feds used various incentives =
-- tax=20
credits, low-interest loans and direct subsidies to encourage builders =
to create=20
low-income housing or include some low-income housing in their =
developments.=20
Owners were penalized if they raised rents before the time was up on the =
federal=20
contracts. <BR><BR>According to "The State of the Nation's Housing 2000" =
issued=20
by the Joint Center for Housing Studies between Harvard Design School =
and the=20
Kennedy School of Government, "Owners of the 1.4 million private rental =
units=20
can prepay their mortgages at the end of expiring use periods or opt out =
of=20
programs when their subsidy contracts end. Landlords with properties in =
the most=20
desirable areas and in the best condition are the most likely to opt out =
and to=20
take advantage of higher prevailing rents." <BR><BR>Furthermore, the 15- =
or=20
20-year subsidy and use contracts locking owners into low rents began to =
expire=20
in the 1980s and continue to expire. The first cohort of the units built =
with=20
tax credits, which was the largest federal rental production program, is =
due to=20
expire in 2002. Because the tax credit has not been inflation-adjusted, =
there=20
hasn't been any incentive to bother to build more subsidized units for=20
low-income people. <BR><BR>Lastly, much public housing, half of whose =
occupants=20
are families with children, is slated for demolition. Not only are a =
million=20
people nationally on waiting lists for public housing already, but =
60,000 of=20
86,000 "seriously distressed units" are about to become history. =
<BR><BR>That's=20
just the tip of the iceberg because the population (kids) is also =
rising.=20
<BR><BR>Jeez Louise, then let's quick adjustly the incentives to build=20
subsidized housing and take care of the problem. Ah! Not so fast. =
<BR><BR>While=20
the poor may always be with us, we don't really want them =
<I>approximately=20
</I>with us. Like prisons and power plants, subsidized housing runs into =
Not In=20
My Backyard (or NIMBY) issues. Public and subsidized housing permanently =

depresses the neighborhood and has the accidental consequence of =
concentrating=20
poverty, which tends to make it more persistent. <BR><BR>Furthermore, =
Rhode=20
Island already has comparatively generous social services, and we are =
one of=20
only 13 states whose rates of childhood poverty is rising. If housing =
were also=20
more available, we would probably attract more vulnerable families, =
leaning ever=20
more heavily on Rhode Island's somewhat anemic economy. (I was delighted =
to hear=20
Sen. William Irons, the new Senate majority leader, directly address the =
need to=20
boost the economy specifically in order to support more and better =
social=20
services.) <BR><BR>So what is the solution? <BR><BR>If the issue could =
just hit=20
public consciousness more, creative thinkers could probably cobble =
together a=20
variety of responses. <BR><BR>I find that I favor creating more of what =
the=20
Emergency Shelter Report calls "supportive housing," like the Crossroads =
program=20
discussed last week, where families are essentially re-taught work, =
parenting=20
and survival skills. <BR><BR>A National Evaluation of Supportive Housing =
done by=20
HUD itself revealed that supportive housing graduates, if you will, were =

generally more able to keep their homes and stay employed. It is =
especially=20
cost-effective when compared to paying for shelters, emergency room =
routine=20
care, mental health hospitalizations, drug and alcohol detox and =
treatment,=20
never mind incarcerations. <BR><BR>In the meantime, what is a symptom of =
a=20
social ill -- not enough affordable housing -- shows up at the school =
door in=20
the form of unrooted children and begins to cause other problems. We =
resent=20
these kids because they drag down achievement scores, act out in anger =
and can't=20
pay attention in class. We resent their parents. <BR><BR>The worst thing =
we're=20
getting used to is our own hardness of heart. <BR><BR><I>Julia Steiny is =
a=20
former member of the Providence School Board; she now consults and =
writes for a=20
number of education, government and private enterprises. She welcomes =
your=20
questions and comments on education. She can be reached by e-mail at=20
</I></FONT></FONT></DIV></BODY></HTML>

--Boundary_(ID_HvyRDwmFKQFewV10k9ASUQ)--