Category Archives: Housing

EDITORIAL: Housing authority must stand firm on outsourcing

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 17, 2015

Outsourcing happens all the time in the private sector. It should happen far more often in the public sector. But anytime a government agency even contemplates reducing its costs by hiring private firms to do the jobs of public employees — by itself an admission that taxpayers are grossly overpaying for labor — unions and their political allies respond with howls of outrage and indignation. How dare you seek savings and efficiencies that might actually preserve services!

Layoffs loom at Southern Nevada Housing Authority
Source: Yesenia Amaro, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 14, 2015

The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority faces program outsourcing and the layoffs of 40 to 45 employees as it addresses a projected budget shortfall of between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for fiscal 2016…The outsourcing of three programs and the layoffs are included in the agency‘s fiscal 2016 budget, which is on the agenda for approval at the authority‘s Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday…A “sustainability plan” was developed to better position the agency in coming years. The plan proposes outsourcing management for four of 26 public housing properties, inspections for housing quality standards and the operation of the family self-sufficiency program. The layoffs would be a direct result of the outsourcing of those services.

Rights at Risk in Privatized Public Housing

Source: Jaime Lee, Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 50, 2015

From the abstract:
Traditional public housing is dwindling. Federal policy has increasingly encouraged privatization, shifting stewardship of public housing out of the hands of government and into the hands of private, for-profit companies. Privatization in this context has both benefits and risks. A particularly compelling area of study is the attempt by lawmakers to conscript private contractors into serving public policy goals. Private landlords are obligated not merely to provide housing, but to conduct themselves in ways that promote the interests of vulnerable people. The case of public housing suggests that legislative mandates and contractual obligations are not enough to assure this outcome, and must be accompanied by a commitment to vigorous monitoring and enforcement.

Under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Opens the Door to Privatizing Half its Public Housing

Source: Rebecca Burns, In These Times, March 31, 2015

Residents fear that a new redevelopment initiative will usher in another wave of displacement…. Chicago, long a pioneer of privatization, is poised to embark on a sweeping experiment with the city’s public-housing stock. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) plans to court private investment in as much as half of its public-housing units through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a new federal program billed as a way to “revitalize” housing for the poor and address a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs…. Housing advocates fear that the CHA’s transformation into an asset manager, rather than a direct provider of housing, is about to be intensified through RAD. (The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the initiative). The CHA has submitted the largest RAD request of any U.S. city, for nearly 11,000 public-housing units. The agency is still waiting for approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but is moving ahead with plans to implement RAD, stirring suspicions among public-housing residents that they will be left out of crucial decisions….

Privatizing Public Housing: The “Genocide of Poor People”

Source: Toshio Meronek, Truthout, March 13, 2015

….San Francisco’s historically black Fillmore district was one of the casualties of an early federal redevelopment program, Urban Renewal. In the 1950s, Fillmore was known as the “Harlem of the West,” with a jazz scene that once hosted luminaries like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday….. Starting in the 1960s, City Hall forcibly bought or seized thousands of homes using eminent domain, eventually displacing about 17,000 people. After hearing these stories of black San Franciscans’ homes being demolished en masse, writer James Baldwin famously said in a TV interview that “urban renewal . . . means Negro removal.” The Fillmore’s redevelopment was one of the major city initiatives that caused San Francisco’s black population to drop by about 70 percent between 1970 and 2013. In 2009, the mayor’s office commissioned a study on black flight, finding that affordable housing was the top reason black people were leaving the city in droves. HOPE VI was President Clinton’s 1990s HUD project, which released funds to local developers to demolish dilapidated housing projects and build mixed-income units in their place. Theoretically, residents had a “right of return” – a guaranteed ticket into the revamped location once construction was complete. However, a study by the Urban Institute, a DC-based think tank, found only 19 percent of households studied returned to their HOPE VI-redeveloped homes…. Even more troubling, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that just one-sixth of demolished public housing units have actually been rebuilt, with no funds appropriated to build additional public housing for two decades. As the authors of “False HOPE” put it, HOPE VI resulted in “the wholesale destruction of communities” and “the displacement of very large numbers of low-income households of color.” San Francisco is the largest incubator for RAD, which according to HUD already lays claim to 13,000 units nationwide, with as many as 70,000 more on the way. Seventy-five percent of SF’s public housing units will be converted under the program within the next few years…..Baltimore is another RAD testing ground, and, as its Right to Housing Alliance ominously notes:

In 40 years, when the contracts with developers expire, the new owners will be able to convert the buildings to market -ate rents, forcing out low-income renters, essentially ending public housing . . .

Unsurprisingly, the real estate industry is thrilled. They see the dollar signs ahead, and have gone so far as to create a lobbying group called Lift the RAD Cap Coalition to push the privatization movement along. Under the cloak of an “interest in preserving affordable housing,” the Coalition hopes to expand RAD to convert all public housing into public-private partnerships, where they’ll potentially reap billions in government funding to build, manage and renovate housing that was previously government-run….

Congresswoman Maxine Waters condemns RAD public housing privatization scheme
Source: Lynda Carson, Bay View, December 31, 2014

…. In an effort to save public housing in Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco and nationwide, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Committee on Financial Services in the House of Representatives, wrote a letter to President Obama on Dec. 10 condemning the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, or RAD. RAD is the latest attempt by the federal government to privatize and sell off our nation’s public housing stock to the multi-billion dollar so-called affordable housing industry.

HUD’s privatization scheme may herald end of public housing
Source: Rebecca Burns ∙ Al Jazeera ∙ November 13, 2014

At a time when a shortage of affordable housing is devastating low-income families, U.S. policymakers appear to have all but given up on the idea of a state-managed public housing system. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says more than $26 billion (PDF) is needed to repair the nation’s aging public housing, a backlog that has left many residents in deteriorating living conditions. Yet the notion that the solution lies in improved public funding and support — or that public housing should be publicly owned at all — has become a political nonstarter. Instead HUD is embarking on a sweeping privatization program in the name of renovation. After decades of demolitions and decay of public housing units, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a pilot program that purports to preserve existing housings units by providing access to more stable funding, could eradicate public housing as we know it within the next three decades. …. After decades of demolitions and decay of public housing units, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a pilot program that purports to preserve existing housings units by providing access to more stable funding, could eradicate public housing as we know it within the next three decades. …

RAD = Bad For Public Housing
Source: Daily Kos Labor, April 27, 2014

The Rental Assistance Demonstration program is a new privatization scheme being rolled out by (Housing & Urban Development) HUD, which faces a $26 Billion backlog in public housing repairs. 2.2 Million people live in public housing across the country, but it’s been underfunded since the 1970’s. Approximately, 10,000 public housing units are lost each year due to disrepair. The program will allow private developers to take over the managing and running of public housing. It will also allow developers to take out loans from private banks and investors to maintain the buildings. RAD is a pilot program, starting with 60,000 units across the country. RAD does protect some residents rights in its 200 page notice (PDF) but, it remains unclear how rights not covered in the document will be enforced….

Demolition privilege: another perverse effect of a mostly privatized housing authority

Source: Jack Grauer, February 24, 2015

…Low-income housing policy has since shifted both nationally and locally. The new objective is to make low-income housing a profitable and appealing industry. This ideally encourages private real estate developers and landlords to get involved.

Housing policy scholar Ed Goetz found that Philadelphia has since 1990 demolished more public housing than any other American city barring Chicago. … PHA reportedly plans to demolish 1,470 public housing units during 2015. Amidst dust clouds and political officiations, inspection documents obtained by way of FOIA show that Queen Lane, Norris and Blumberg Apartments—all either recently, or soon-to-be demolished—received relatively few health and safety citations compared to other inspected sites. Results from those documents appear at the bottom of this post. But what are we looking at, exactly? …

….PHA demolished Queen Lane in late 2014 after years of vacancy. Norris’s high-rise was demolished in 2011 and its flats will face demolition before 2016. Two of Blumberg’s three towers will be demolished in the near future. Again, these sites contained low numbers of health and safety violations compared to the other 10. Blumberg and Norris bookend Temple University’s expanding campus to the east and west. Developers have received a respective $20 million from PHA and $30 million from US HUD to redevelop them….. This relatively small dataset suggests that while health and safety don’t drive decisions regarding which public housing complexes get demolished, when and in what order, grant opportunities and development interest do. This suspicion should be tested on a larger scale and also controlled for variables other than health and safety: crime rates, median income, etc….

Friendly FIRE

Source: Chris Maisano, Jacobin, Jacobin, Issue 15/16, Fall 2014

Social impact bonds offer private interests yet another opportunity to enrich themselves at public expense. …

Goldman Sachs wants you to know that it’s not just about plundering the globe for profit — it wants to do a little good along the way. That’s why the vampire squid has started founding seemingly innocuous philanthropic outfits like the Urban Investment Group (UIG).

Established in 2001, the UIG is the perfect embodiment of what labor journalist Bob Fitch used to call “friendly FIRE,” per the old shorthand for the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. Always attuned to the public-relations value of its activities, UIG promotes itself with a gauzy language of community uplift centered on the buzzword “double bottom line”: the simultaneous pursuit of social change and return on investment.

In a gesture of exquisite irony, its first investment was in the Dorothy Day Apartments, an affordable housing development in Harlem named after the founder of the anticapitalist Catholic Worker movement. Since then, it has invested billions of dollars in projects such as community health centers, charter schools, early childhood education, low- and moderate-income housing units, small business loans, and community development grants. As Alicia Glen, the former UIG chief currently serving as deputy mayor for housing and economic development under Mayor Bill de Blasio, put it: “We’re not all evil squids. We’re nice little calamari.”

Glen’s highest profile deal as head of UIG was a $42 million investment in Citi Bike, the privately funded bike-sharing program whose signature blue bicycles have become ubiquitous throughout Lower Manhattan and the gentrified zones of north-central Brooklyn. But bikes may not be the most important legacy of her tenure at Goldman. The bank, together with some of the biggest names in social policy, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector, has led the way in establishing the burgeoning field of social impact bonds (SIBs)…..

…The SIB market is still rather small in terms of dollars, but its promoters are intent on achieving rapid growth. The current total value of SIB transactions in the US is estimated at approximately $100 million; sixteen states and Washington, DC either have an active SIB underway or are considering implementing one…..

….Public-sector unions are increasingly aware of the threat SIBs pose and have begun to rally against state-level legislation that would expand their use. AFSCME Council 94 in Rhode Island has been outspoken in its opposition to a bill that would allow the state to implement a $25 million SIB program….

Editorial: Walker’s consolidation proposal deserves skepticism

Source: Journal Sentinel, January 22, 2015

We’re all for consolidation in government around Wisconsin if doing so can save the taxpayers money and still provide the services citizens require. So we’re predisposed to support Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to merge the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. Two big state agencies with some overlap in mission — so why not combine them? Because such a move could create numerous problems for both agencies, especially since there would be no public officials on the board after the merger was consummated….

How To Sell Off a City

Source: Rick Perlstein, In these Times, January 21, 2015

Welcome to Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the privatized metropolis of the future. …. However, the rush to outsource responsibility for housing the poor became a textbook example of one peril of privatization: Companies frequently get paid whether they deliver the goods or not (one of the reasons investors like privatization deals). For example, in 2004, city inspectors found more than 1,800 code violations at Lawndale Restoration, the largest privately owned, publicly subsidized apartment project in Chicago. Guaranteed a steady revenue stream whether they did right by the tenants or not—from 1997 to 2003, the project generated $4.4 million in management fees and $14.6 million in salaries and wages—the developers were apparently satisfied to just let the place rot….

A RAD-ical Housing Experiment Baltimore public housing tenants will serve as guinea pigs for a new national privatization plan

Source: Rebecca Burns, In These Times, July 30, 2014

With little information on offer, many residents fear that new building owners will usher in harsh regulations, infringements on their organizing rights, and, ultimately, rent increases that they can’t afford. After decades of decay, public housing in the United States could soon be relegated to the dustbin of history, thanks to a new Obama administration initiative called the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. A pilot launched last year in response to a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs, RAD will hand over 60,000 units of public housing nationwide to private management by 2015. … Though public housing residents have been assured that RAD will fund long-overdue repairs while keeping housing affordable and preserving tenants’ rights, similar promises have been broken by would-be free-market saviors before. Critics say RAD shares key features with past privatization initiatives that have displaced hundreds of thousands of public-housing residents. In the last decade and a half alone, more than 100,000 units of public housing have been lost to demolition or sale. The first round of RAD is a pilot that allows for the conversion of only a limited number of units. But with HUD already seeking Congressional approval of further conversions, tenants are scrambling to determine the scope of RAD and stem the tide of privatization in their communities. The city of Baltimore, where more than 40 percent of public housing units are slated to undergo conversion within the next year, is shaping up to be the first major RAD battleground. On June 12, about 60 public housing residents and building workers rallied in front of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) to protest what they say has been a lack of transparency. Chanting “housing is a human right” and “rethink RAD,” residents demanded a voice in the process. …

Commentary: Newly Named Housing Secretary Needs to Clean Up Contracting

Source: Eric Strong, Roll Call, June 20, 2014

…Once confirmed, Castro can make a big difference from day one by announcing that HUD will obey a US federal appeals court ruling restoring fairness to federal contracting policies in a leading housing program for needy families. At issue is how HUD selects contractors to administer the Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance program, which provides more than $9 billion in rental subsidies to 1.2 million low-income families in communities across the country….But in 2012, abruptly and without explanation, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (whom Mayor Castro has been nominated to replace) changed the rules of the game. In place of competitive bidding, HUD set up an anti-competitive preferential system. State housing authorities – many of which farm out the work to subcontractors – were given priority consideration, and in many cases sole source consideration, over public housing agencies for contracts with HUD to support HUD in administering the Section 8 housing program. This practice clearly violated federal procurement law…..