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Policy Update 1-11-20

Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy

Around the State

McDougald Terrace Brings Light to Unsafe Living Conditions in Durham Public Housing
The tragic deaths of two infants and the hospitalization of several residents due to carbon monoxide poisoning at the McDougald Terrace public housing complex in Durham has brought light to a long-term pattern of disrepair and neglect of unsafe living conditions in Durham Public Housing Authority’s (DHA) properties. The situation is gaining national attention, with some likening it to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

In December, there were seven reports within 30 thirty days of residents being diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. The death of two infants In November and December, which were previously seen as unrelated, are now being re-evaluated for the “possibility” of carbon monoxide poisoning being the cause of death. The city officials and families await the results of autopsies to make the determination. 

After resident demands for action, DHA began inspecting all units and then finally decided to evacuate at least 172 residents and offer relocation to any residents that feel unsafe. While DHA makes inspections and repairs, residents have been moved to local motels and provided transportation and daily stipends for food. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide appears to be only a symptom of larger, systemic problems within DHA’s properties. 

At a Durham City Council meeting on Monday, January 6th, residents filled council chambers to protest the conditions of McDougald Terrace and other public housing complexes. Residents organized to provide public comments despite the fact that McDougald Terrace was not an official agenda item. Residents spoke about needing to use their gas stoves to heat their apartments due to insufficient or non-functioning heating, with one resident saying his heat has not been working since November. Other tenants complained of black mold, with at least two mothers reporting that they have provided DHA officials with doctor’s reports about their children’s asthma or other respiratory conditions with the doctors recommending that their homes be repaired or that they be moved to other apartments. Among the numerous other conditions that residents commented on were frequent sewage backup, rat infestations, and dangerous electrical wiring. Residents report that they have brought these issues to DHA staff and have largely been ignored over the years. The council meeting can be viewed in its entirety here.

Response is being coordinated by the McDougald Terrace Resident Council. If you would like to get in touch to support the families evacuated from McDougald Terrace, contact us at info@nchousing.org.

Budget/General Assembly Update
The General Assembly reconvenes next week on January 14th after their holiday break. The purpose of this special session is to continue legislative work on “unresolved matters” from the 2019 session. There is talk of the Senate majority attempting a vote to override Governor Roy Cooper’s budget veto. The Coalition has heard from numerous sources that the Senate majority (Republicans) believe that they do have the votes to pass an override.

As we have mentioned in previous updates, the budget passed by the General Assembly contains funding for the Workforce Housing Loan Program (WHLP) while the Governor’s proposed budget does not. The state House has already passed a vote to override the budget veto meaning that if the Senate also votes to override, the GA’s budget would be enacted providing funding for WHLP in 2020. NC Housing Finance Agency staff has included placeholder language in the 2020 Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) to allow for the distribution of WHLP funds should a budget be enacted. 

New Raleigh Mayor Igniting Action on Affordable Housing
Since being sworn in last month, Raleigh’s new mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin, has quickly made moves to prioritize affordable housing in her administration. During her first public remarks as mayor, Baldwin pledged to implement a bond for affordable housing in Raleigh. She called it Raleigh’s “moonshot” to address the city’s housing crisis. While the details and exact amount of this proposed bond are being worked out, Baldwin says that the bond will be “bold” and “equitable.”

Baldwin followed that up by participating in the announcement of a new senior housing development to be built in Raleigh by NCHC member DHIC and Presbyetarian Homes. At that announcement on December 12th, Baldwin again pledged her commitment to ensuring access to affordable housing for the citizens of Raleigh. Then on December 17th, Baldwin held a special hearing to gather input on affordable housing from fellow Triangle city Durham on the heels of their recent success in passing a $95 million bond, the largest in the state for affordable housing.

Durham Begins Outreach on its 5-Year Consolidated Plan: Action Plan & Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (2020-2024)
The City of Durham announced that it has begun work on the next iteration of the city’s 5-Year Consolidated Plan. City staff will soon begin working on revising the Action Plan & Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice. The city is seeking input from residents to draft the new document. The first public meetings are being held Thursday, January 9th at City Hall, with one session at 9:30am and another at 1:30pm. Those unable to attend can also participate by taking a survey that the city has posted: 

English: https://surveymonkey.com/r/77PJZH5

Español: https://surveymonkey.com/r/7CWCJ3N

Fair Housing Design and Construction Training
A Fair Housing Design and Construction training will occur on February 7, 2020 in Charlotte.

You can register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-fair-housing-design-construction-accessibility-training-tickets-80510618427

Please register yourself as soon as possible (and select a lunch preference). If you have trouble registering, please let the Fair Housing Project know and we can manually enter your registration. We encourage everyone to register early as last year’s event sold out very quickly.

This training is co-sponsored by the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of NC; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee; Disability Rights & Resources; Disability Rights North Carolina; North Carolina Justice Center; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Food and venue provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.

National News

Appeals Court Blocks National Implementation of “Public Charge” Rule Changes
Today, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the implementation of the Trump Administration’s recent changes to the use of the “public charge” designation. The federal government ascribes the term “public charge” to any individuals who are likely to become “primarily dependent on cash aid from the government or long-term institutionalized care.” Immigration officials use the concept as a factor in reviewing applications for permanent residency (“green cards”) and visas allowing one to enter or remain in the United States. The designation of someone as a public charge typically results in a denial of residency or visa applications.

In August, the Department of Homeland Security announced rule changes that would include public assistance such as food stamps and Housing Choice Vouchers as programs that count as “cash aid.” Prior to the rule change, immigration officials could evaluate the use of such programs on a case-by-case basis rather than reject applicants automatically. The rule changes also favor the admission of people that can provide documentation of access to large amounts of cash, health insurance, real estate, and other forms of wealth. Housing, poverty, and immigrant advocates have stated that such changes discourage those in need from seeking assistance that they are otherwise eligible for. 

Today’s court ruling prevents the use of the rule changes across the country.

Trump Administration Taking “Cruel, Punitive” Policy Stance on Homelessness and Offering Assistance to Those Localities Who “Ask Politely”
Over the holiday break, President Donald Trump took to social media multiple times to publicly criticize Governor Gavin Newsom of California and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York for their handling of the homelessness issues in their respective states. Both states are experiencing rapidly growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness and are also states where the President is unpopular. The President goes further to state that “fixing” homelessness is “so easy” and that the administration can provide assistance to those states or local governments who “ask politely” for help. 

Advocates and policy makers in both states are exploring ways to implement Housing First approaches to address homelessness. The Housing First approach proposes to solve a homeless person’s housing issues as the first priority in getting people out of homelessness. The White House’s appointed head of the U.S. Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Robert Marbut, advocates for a “Housing Fourth” approach, whereby homeless persons must “earn” their way into shelters and endure processes that could be considered more similar to punishment than assistance. For example, Marbut spear-headed the development of a shelter in San Antonio, Texas, where homeless individuals seeking shelter must first sleep outside in the building’s courtyard until they are able to pass a urine drug test. Once they pass a drug test, they are then “allowed” inside.

Many members of Congress, advocates, and service providers are alarmed by the Administration’s actions. Last month, Congress members sent the White House a letter expressing their concern over policies and programs that homelessness advocates agree are “cruel, punitive, ineffectual, and expensive to run.” National Low-Income Housing Coalition President/CEO, Diane Yentel, called Marbut’s appointment a “serious setback” and the type of actions he supports as “reprehensible.” 

HUD Publishes Proposed Fair Housing Rule Changes that Weaken Fair Housing
On Monday, January 6th, HUD published in the Federal Register proposed changes to Fair Housing laws that advocates say will further weaken the protections and enforcement that they are meant to provide. The proposed rule changes would reduce local governments’ requirement to enforce fair housing laws by removing financial conditions that tie Federal funding to fair housing performance. The Obama-era (2015) regulations were meant to improve enforcement and encourage meaningful action. The rule changes also redefine what is meant by “promoting fair housing” and eliminates analysis and research on housing patterns, concentrated poverty, and racial disparities. HUD Secretary Ben Carson calls such reporting “overly burdensome.”

“The proposed rule entirely ignores the essential racial desegregation obligations of fair housing law,” says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

Federal Appropriations Update
On December 20, the President signed a $1.4 trillion spending package to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2020, which included a $426 billion year-end tax package. Unfortunately, the final tax package did not include provisions from the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (AHCIA). Earlier in the final negotiations between Congressional leadership and the White House, the 4 percent Housing Credit rate – a key provision of the AHCIA – was included in the package. Ultimately, due to larger politics, the 4 percent Housing Credit rate and many other tax priorities did not make it into the final package. Nonetheless, advocates should be proud that this key AHCIA provision was initially recognized as a priority in the negotiations.

The final tax package did include a few notable wins for affordable housing and community development advocates. The New Markets Tax Credit, which was set to expire at the end of 2019, was extended through 2020 and received an increase in allocation authority from $3.5 billion to $5 billion. Additionally, nearly $1 billion of disaster Housing Credits for 2017–2018 California wildfire areas were included as a part of California’s 2020 Housing Credit allocation authority.

Reports & Resources

Georgetown University –  “Does Growing Up in Tax-Subsidized Housing Lead to Higher Earnings and Educational Attainment?

Urban Studies Journal – “When Do New Parks Drive Gentrification?

Urban Institute (Interview with NYU Furman Center) – “A Right to Counsel in Eviction: Lessons from New York City”

Recommended read

Save the Date: Disaster Recovery Training

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