Month: March 2016

Housing News is not good for Low-Income Families

In December 2015, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies issued a report called “America’s Rental Housing.”  The news is not good for low-income families.  Rental costs are increasing and wages are stagnant which means that housing options are shrinking.  Almost half of US renters are spending more than 34% of their income on housing–meaning that they are “housing burdened.”  Here are some additional findings of the study identified by the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

  • The number of available rental units is startlingly low. In the first three quarters of 2015, the national vacancy rate was at its lowest point in 30 years – only 7.1 percent.
  • Rents are increasing faster than inflation. In all major metro areas in the America, rent growth has outpaced overall inflation in 2015
  • Rents are rising while incomes are falling. In 2014, median housing costs for renters rose 7 percent since 2001. The median income for renter households, however, decreased 9 percent in inflation-adjusted terms in the same time period.
  • More and more Americans are severely burdened by housing costs. In 2014, the number of renters paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs increased to 11.4 million—a record high.
  • Nearly all minimum-wage workers are severely burdened by housing costs. In 2014, a full-time minimum wage worker made $15,000 per year. 72 percent of renters with incomes at or below this level paid spent than 50 percent of their incomes on housing.
  • Low-income renters simply do not have enough units available to them. In 2013, 11.1 million extremely low-income renters (i.e., those earning less than 30 percent of area median income) were vying for only 7.2 million housing units that they could afford. This means there were only 34 affordable rental units for every 100 extremely low-income renters.

Use the Interactive Map to see the status of rental burden in your community.

Read the entire study HERE .


When Housing Becomes a Commodity

M. Fishman and Co. currently owns 80 properties in Logan Square–most of them multi-unit buildings.  One of his most recent purchases in December 2015 is 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.  Now, long-time residents whose current leases are set to expire are receiving 30-day notices announcing steep increases in their rents–going up as much as 70%.  Residents either have to pay it or move.  This practice [of raising rents] has occurred in other buildings purchased by M. Fishman. One person has described Mr. Fishman’s practice of “flipping” as “a way to evict people without evicting them.”

On Saturday, March 26, a number of housing rights groups and local clergy will rally in support of residents trying to fight the excessive increases.  The rally will begin at 11:00 am at Palmer Park (Palmer and Sacramento).

In the meantime, some of the residents have draped a banner on the building that reads “Mass Eviction in Progress”.

For more information, link to the DNAinfo article HERE.


Death By Gentrification

What happens when communities of color become more white?  Those who have lived there for decades are perceived to be “intruders” and “outsiders”.  Alex Nieto, 28, had lived in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco all his life.  Thanks to the recent boom in technology start-ups, the neighborhood has seen an influx of (mostly white) newcomers.  On March 21, 2014, he was identified by several white men as a “suspicious” person carrying a gun (he was licensed to carry a taser for work).  911 dispatchers sent police to the scene and minutes later, Nieto was dead–shot 14 times.

Read the entire story HERE.


Churches “Occupy” CHA’s Lathrop Homes on Palm Sunday

The following is the Press Release regarding “Occupy Palm Sunday.”

On Palm Sunday, churches “occupy” CHA’s Lathrop Homes

Tell Mayor Emanuel: “Show us the plan” for North Side units

Over 250 people from area churches and the community gathered at 2029 W. Diversey in the heart of the Julia C. Lathrop Homes on Palm Sunday afternoon as a part of the 5th annual “Occupy Palm Sunday”, waving palm branches, carrying signs and chanting, “Show Us the Plan!” The event, organized by the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA), Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI) and Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), was in protest of Wednesday’s City Council action to approve the rezoning of Lathrop Homes that paves the way for elimination of 525 units of public housing on the historic site.

“Mayor Emanuel and the city of Chicago are taking homes that were set aside for low-income families and giving them to the rich,” Rev. Bruce Ray announced to the crowd. “That ain’t right! Mayor Emanuel needs to show us a plan that will replace those units on the North Side, and he needs to do it now.”

Ray, pastor of Kimball Avenue Church in Logan Square, said that the LSEA has demanded a meeting with the Mayor on Monday, March 21, at 10:00 am, to find a way forward, followed by a press conference. “Families are desperate for affordable housing. And the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) is sitting on millions of dollars that should be used to provide that housing right here and right now,” Ray added.

Youth from local churches turned over a table covered with play money they called “Rahm Bucks” in a re-enactment of Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. “CHA has the money. Why won’t they use it to provide housing?” one youth asked. “That’s what they are supposed to do.”

Participants, including many in wheelchairs, then processed to a vacant unit to hold an extended vigil. Laura Donaldson has been on the CHA’s waiting list for 20 years, but the lack of accessible low-income housing units has forced her to live in shelters. “We don’t need more market rate housing,” she said. “Look around, there are plenty of places people can rent. But low-income people with disabilities are left out in the cold.” Those keeping vigil said they were willing to stay throughout the night to show solidarity with those who have been displaced and have few housing options.

Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) also addressed the crowd. “We are once again witnessing a city government breaking faith. This is no longer a matter of public policy; it is a matter of public morality. There is still time for civic leaders to turn, and to choose a better path,” he said to the applause of the crowd.

In February, under pressure from community leaders, CHA CEO Eugene Jones issued a vaguely-worded letter committing that the CHA would create “525 new housing opportunities” on the North Side.  But the letter offered no specifics on how and when those units would be developed and how they would be funded. “The CHA has a long history of broken promises,” said Leah Levinger, Executive Director of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI). “The agency has delivered fewer than half of the replacement units it has promised since 1999, so Jones’ ‘commitment”; is empty,” she added. “Why should we believe the CHA would fulfill this new commitment? We need a plan.”

Referencing Martin Luther King, Jr’s, occupation of a public housing unit for 24 hours on Chicago’s West Side 50 years ago, Rev. Liz Muñoz, pastor of Nuestra Señora De Las Americas, said, “Families are being gentrified out of their communities. The result is the economic and racial re-segregation of the city—especially on the North Side. Lathrop represents stable housing for low income families in a great community, with decent schools, job opportunities, and safe streets, but the Mayor is choosing to take that away from the poor to build housing for the rich. That is completely unjust, and we cannot be silent in the face of injustice.”

The crowd was not silent, picking up the chant once again, “Show Us The Plan!” while 10 people, including Ms. Donaldson, Logan Square pastors and housing advocates, entered a vacant unit, vowing to occupy it for 24 hours.

An Open Letter from ELCA Bishop Wayne Miller on Lathrop Homes


March 16, 2016

“Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds… They covet fields, and seize them; houses and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.” Micah 2:1-2

Our city has been enveloped by a moral crisis. It is a beast with many heads, but the core issue is that TRUST between the people of Chicago and its elected leaders is broken. And the devastating impact of this broken trust has now escalated to the point that educational resources, access to social services, employment opportunity, public safety, and even confidence in law enforcement itself are all threatened.

And yet, despite this critical failure in the foundational trust fabric of community life, we are once again witnessing a city government breaking faith by converting the Lathrop Homes on the north side from low-income housing to “mixed income” housing with no reliable plan and no credible evidence of any commitment to provide alternative housing for the poor, who are being relentlessly displaced by this new development plan.

No matter what the arguments regarding theories of urban planning, the inescapable truth is that what has been happening at Lathrop represents a policy built on lies and broken promises over many years. Promises have been broken in our relationship with the federal government, which has been paying millions of dollars into the CHA, trusting that these dollars would be used for their intended purpose. They have not. Promises have been broken to the residents of Lathrop, who have left, either by eviction or persuasion, with an unfulfilled expectation of new housing that has never been built. Simultaneously, those residents have been barred from returning to the home left behind. Promises have been broken to all the taxpayers of the city who have trusted elected officials who seem to have forgotten that government exists to defend the well-being of the vulnerable, the broken, and the marginalized, against the crushing oppressive force of unrestrained wealth and unaccountable social privilege.

The one essential structure of all social, communal, or civic life is the capacity to make, to keep, and to honor promises. Without the honoring of promises there is no integrity. Without integrity there is no credibility. Without credibility, there can be no trust. And without trust, there is no community. This is no longer a matter of public policy. It is a matter of public morality.

It is therefore incumbent upon Christian leaders, not merely as a matter of civic responsibility, but as a matter of evangelical necessity, to speak and act in a way that places the Church clearly and unambiguously in communion with the God who always stands in solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable whose trust has been betrayed, even if doing so puts us at personal risk. My hope is that there is still time for civic leaders to recognize the destructive effect of these choices, to turn, and to choose a better path.

Bishop Wayne N. Miller
Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA

Chicago, IL

Bishop Miller will participate in the Occupy Palm Sunday Action at Lathrop Homes on March 20, 2016.  

Chicago’s History of Housing Injustice

There was a time–not in the too distant past–when African Americans could not get a mortgage loan from banks in Chicago.  It had nothing to do with income or job stability or credit scores.  It was only about skin color.  The policies of the Federal Housing Authority (refusal to insure mortgages in “redlined” [ie black] communities) and the practices of the Mortgage Bankers Association prevented access to credit on the basis of race.  As a result, African Americans who wanted to own their own homes often had to purchase them “on contract”–meaning that they paid for their homes on an installment plan directly from the owner over many years while still being responsible for all repairs and maintenance.  However, most contracts included a clause stating that if the buyer missed even one payment, the property would revert back to the seller who could then evict the homeowner and then re-sell the property to another family.  The buyer would then lose not only the home but his/her entire investment.

A job loss, a catastrophic illness, the death of a wage-earner, economic downturns could quickly result in the loss of the home, while the seller (who was usually white and often connected to a real estate company) was able to turn a huge profit by reselling the home over and over again.

While African Americans now have legal access to credit and mortgages, the legacy of housing injustice has cast a long shadow.  Today, African Americans are more likely to be offered sub-prime loans, have lower credit scores, be charged higher mortgage interest rates, and experience foreclosure.  And home ownership, the foundation of economic stability, continues to elude communities of color.  The fight for housing justice continues.

Low-income Families No Longer Welcome at Lathrop

Yesterday, the Chicago City Council Zoning Committee unanimously approved the rezoning of Lathrop Homes on Chicago’s north side over the objections and opposition of the community–including Alderman Scott Waguespack.   The approval paves the way for the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes into a mixed-income community and the elimination of 525 units of public housing.

Mary Pattillo, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, testified against the plan, stating, “this [plan] is as contrary to the Gautreaux ruling as you can get. Lathrop is already a racially integrated development in a neighborhood that is trending more white. And so, to not give opportunities to black and Latino and white residents of Lathrop to stay in a majority white neighborhood is totally contrary to Gautreaux.”  The Gautreaux ruling by the Supreme Court in 1976 led to the dismantling of concentrated high-rise public housing at Cabrini-Green and other high-density projects in predominantly African American Chicago communities.

Read the Chicago Sun Times article on the Zoning Committee HERE.

Vultures Overhead

There are vultures circling overhead in Washington, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia and hundreds of other cities.  They are watching for the opportunity to feed on the misfortune of those who have fallen behind on their property taxes.  They are waiting for the government to place a tax lien on those properties, swoop in to buy the debt and potentially turn a small investment into a large profit–or take the house in foreclosure to resell and make even more profit.  Investing in Tax Lien Certificates has become an “industry”–and industry that preys on the elderly and the poor.

Bennie Coleman, a 76 year-old veteran with dementia, owed $134 in back property taxes to the District of Columbia.  One day, US Marshals came to his door and moved him and all his belongings out of his home.  His home had been foreclosed by the holder of his tax lien–a predatory investor who had purchased his debt.  In the end, he was left with nothing.  Read his story HERE.