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Housing Call: July 2, 2024

SPECIAL TOPIC: Supreme Court releases their decision on Johnson vs. Grants Pass

SPECIAL GUEST – ACLU Deputy Legal Director – Daniel Siegel

Dan Siegel is the Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. He has a broad civil rights practice with a focus on the rights of incarcerated people. Dan previously worked with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Tharrington Smith, and the UNC-Chapel Hill Office of University Counsel. Dan also served as a law clerk to Justice Cheri Beasley at the Supreme Court of North Carolina. A proud double Tar Heel, he earned his B.A. and J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill.


Tell us briefly about your role at the ACLU and what it entails.

ACLU is a non-profit non-partisan organization that combines litigation, legislative advocacy, and communications around civil rights issues ranging from 1st amendment, criminal law reform, racial justice, LGBTQIA+ issues and more.

Daniel’s role involves litigation at both the state and federal levels around these civil rights issues.

Can you give us a general overview of Johnson vs. Grants – what was being asked of the Supreme Court to decide? What were some of the arguments on each side?

Johnson v. Grants Pass concerned a local ordinance that was enacted by Grants Pass, Oregon. It is an anti-camping ordinance that makes it unlawful to sleep outside on public property at night. This ordinance was challenged, the plaintiffs in this case were unhoused people, and their argument was that it violated the 8th amendment and was cruel and unusual punishment because homelessness is not a voluntary state for people who have nowhere else to go, and that it disproportionately impacted those experiencing homelessness.

The city argued that the ordinance does not discriminate – that it applies to everyone and that the city needs to be able to control who is out on public property especially at night.

The case at the lower level and 9th circuit courts had rulings on the side of the plaintiffs – the rulings stated that this ordinance would be cruel and unusual punishment for those experiencing homelessness.

The city then appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which had not really considered this issue before, arguing that this ordinance was generally applicable and did not violate the 8th amendment.

Summarize the arguments made on either side:

From the plaintiff’s side, they argued that a city could criminalize an activity but not a status, and that homelessness is a status that is involuntary. Shelter and sleep are basic needs, and people can’t control that they need to sleep.

The defendant (city) argued that this case is different, and that because people are still making the choice – not to be homeless – to sleep on public property they were in violation of a law that applies to everyone, even backpackers or others who choose to camp on public property.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of Grants Pass, stating that despite the complicated nature of homelessness, the ordinance was not cruel and unusual.

Can you talk to us about the decision that was published last week? What does this mean from your perspective?

It is important to recognize what the court did and did not say.

The court did not say that:

  • Local governments have to criminalize people who are homeless sleeping outside
  • That ordinances like the anti-camping ordinance have to be enforced or implemented.

The court did say/acknowledge:

  • There may be other legal protections – such as the 14th amendment – or even other state laws can serve as protections.
  • The protection under the 8th amendment for unhoused people – is gone.
  • What the other protections are – is a later conversation

Any additional words or takeaways you want to share?

It’s important to note that this is not the end of the road, there is still a lot of room to advocate and make progress especially in what local governments do/do not do.

Not the end of the road – still a lot of room to advocate and make progress especially in what local governments do or don’t do.


Federal Updates

Last week several new efforts to increase the supply of housing were announced by the Department of the Treasury as well as the Biden Administration:


State Updates

It’s the beginning of a new fiscal year! Happy Fiscal New Year to all who celebrate.

State Legislative Updates

Last week was a whirlwind of a week at the North Carolina General Assembly – they passed 33 bills last week, most of them on Thursday June 27, which was the final day of votes.They did not, however, manage to pass a budget adjustment that would address the state’s $1 billion budget surplus for the fiscal year that began yesterday (July 1, 2024). They adjourned the 2024 regular legislative session on Friday June 28, 2024.

One of the bills SB 630 included a proposed constitutional amendment setting a cap of the personal income tax rate, and bringing it down from 7% to 5%. It did not advance out of the legislature on their final voting day (Thursday), although it made it out of the Senate, the House kept the bill in the Rules and Operations Committee. The next corporate and personal income tax rate decreases will go into effect in 2025, and are already projected to reduce state revenue by $1.4 billion in 20245 and $13.4 billion through 2030.

Proponents of bills like this say that these help protect businesses and households, but we know, and economists are already seeing how low-to-middle income households have been more likely to feel the impacts of these tax policy decisions – which lead to other stability issues, not less.

Of the 33 bills passed last week, a few passed under different titles with seemingly mundane purposes but with sections from bills filed last year that were concerning to us, such as:

SB 445 – Recording of Court Filed Documents  – presented to the Governor on 6/28/2024 – has language similar to SB1070.

  • PART III (page 3) – Adjusts the process for someone who wishes to appeal their summary ejectment as an “Indigent” (extremely poor person lacking basic resources), as well as the rights of the plaintiff to request that an appeal be dismissed.
  • Part IV – Increases punishment for willful and wanton damage to the residential real property of someone else.
  • Part V – Prohibit fraudulent rental, lease, or advertisement for the sale of residential real property

HB 556 – Tenancy in Com./E-Notary/SmallClaims Changes — Presented to the Governor on 6/28/2024 –  Has language similar to that of HB551.

  • Codifies the law of “Tenancy in Common” in North Carolina
  • Prohibits Counties and Cities from adopting certain ordinances, rulers and regulations that would prohibit landlords from refusing to pay rent to tenants because a tenants lawful source of income to pay rent includes funding form a federal housing assistance program
  • Clarifies litigation costs in a summary ejectment matter

Last week if you were on the call you may remember that we highlighted the potential dangers of SB630

Here is a list of all the legislation with effective dates of July 1, 2024 through January 1, 2025.


Local Updates 

  • Benevolence Farm – is one of nine statewide organizations that has been awarded funding to boost the stock of affordable housing for North Carolinians with special housing needs. The funds will be used to build seven one-bedroom tiny homes on a 13-acre farm in rural southern Alamance County. This grant was part of $5.5 million in funding announced by the NC Housing Finance Agency. This funding is awarded through the agency’s Supportive Housing Development Program, which finances emergency, transitional, and permanent housing services for North Carolina residents who earn below 50% of an area’s median income, including people experiencing homelessness, children and youth who are in or aging out of foster care, people with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence and more.
  • Taft-Mills Group celebrates new affordable housing in Greenville with ribbon cutting – on July 27, 2024 in Greenville, NC the Taft-Mills Group will celebrate the completion of 180 new-construction units that will serve residents who earn 60% AMI or less. This development was funded in part by Low Income Housing Tax Credits, as well as supplemental funding from the City of Greenville and NCORR.
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools host ‘housing fair’ as part of an initiative to help recruit and retain teachers| Nearly 500 people attended this event as part of an initiative that CMS is hoping will help recruit and retain teachers by providing housing options – the district is working with various property managers and has about 2600 housing units that they are working with as a part of this pilot.
  • Over $8M has been raised for Wake County’s first community land trust project| The Raleigh Area Land Trust is pushing ahead on its first community thanks to funds raised from various sources as well as the recent Federal funding announced that will contribute to the Cottages of Idlewild development, which will have 14 units for sale, and four for rent, for families earning 50-80% AMI. The project is set to break ground this year, and construction should be complete in 2025.
  • After foreclosure halted it, Ramada Inn homeless housing project could be back on| This project located in Asheville, has a goal of 113 studio units opening in mid 2025. A Los Angeles based organization is proposing to partner with Homeward Bound to create a site of permanent supportive housing for the community.
  • Chapel Hill Town Council discusses affordable housing, LUMO rewrites and bonds|
    • One aspect of the town meeting included conversations about allowing more housing “along higher-capacity roads and greenways based on infrastructure rather than zoning considerations” – the council heard recommendations from the town’s principal planner on how to allow for housing types known as a part of “Missing middle housing” to be allowed not based on zoning district but on infrastructure.
    • The council unanimously approved five proposed bond orders for the November 2024 referendum – which includes $15 million for affordable housing efforts.




Resources & Reports


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Housing Call: June 25, 2024

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