The death of U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio (photo above) came as a shock not only because of its suddenness, but also because it was the loss of an affordable-housing advocate who strove for social and economic justice. Tubbs Jones, 58, died Aug. 20 after suffering a brain aneurysm. Popular not only in her district encompassing the east side of Cleveland but also throughout the national affordable-housing community, the congress-woman, a Democrat, helped to expand health-care coverage for low- and middle-income individuals. She was also the author of legislation requiring certification for mortgage brokers and penalties for predatory lending.
Tubbs Jones was lauded for her sponsorship of the Community Restoration and Rehabilitation Act, which facilitates the use of federal historic tax credits by nonprofit groups to restore historically significant buildings for mixed-income or supportive housing. The move was viewed as instrumental in offering better housing and encouraging revitalization in urban areas like Cleveland.
The five-term congresswoman also played a major part in an unsuccessful challenge to the congressional ratification of the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush—a process that is typically pro-forma. Then, in January 2005, she joined with Calif. Sen. Barbara Boxer in objecting to the counting of Ohio’s 20 delegates, citing irregularities at the polls.
The invocation of Tubbs Jones’ name and legacy drew cheers at August’s Democratic National Convention when Sen. Hillary Clinton in her prime-time address called the congresswoman “[s]teadfast in her beliefs” and “a fighter of uncommon grace.” Clinton added that she “was an inspiration to me and to us all.”
A group of former FEMA trailer residents has formed an organization to raise money to house Louisianans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The nonprofit—Katrina Rebirth Promise Land—is reaching for a lofty $30 million goal.
The organization’s board is made up of former residents of Renaissance Village, FEMA’s trailer park outside Baker, La. Their plan is to donate roughly 200 modular houses to former Renaissance Village residents, who have since moved on to apartments or hotels, or are still looking for a permanent roof over their heads.
There’s still a long way to go, however. The Dallas Morning News reported that while the group had raised money from various residents and groups, it’s launching a campaign to attract donors to give $1 per month for a year—aiming for 2 million donors. The balance would be offset by larger donations, organizers said.
The Katrina Rebirth Promise Land campaign coincides with a state proposal to build so-called “Louisiana cottages” (bungalows raised on cinderblocks or stilts) at the former Renaissance Village site. The Louisiana Recovery Authority and a private contractor are seeking approval to build 85 houses on small lots. That project is part of an ongoing effort to build about 500 cottages at four sites around the state.
After more than four decades using a formula considered by critics as substandard and outdated, the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support has begun exploring ideas that could lead to a new metric that would better reflect the extent of poverty in the United States.
The question is: Will revised -metrics lead to more or less assistance for very low-income Americans? The answer depends on whether the changes ephasize measurements of the cost of living or calculation of public supports.
The Bush administration has pushed for the criteria to count government supports such as food stamps, housing assistance, and the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit as income. Progressives argue that the revamped criteria should factor in expenses related to local housing costs, work commutes, childcare, and state and local taxes.
The subcommittee is currently considering revisions in how the federal measurements, aimed at updating a formula introduced in the 1960s that set the benchmark for poverty at three times a “subsistence food budget.”
A July 17 hearing on measuring poverty included testimony by Rebecca Blank, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, Mark Levitan, director of policy research at the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity, Bruce D. Meyer, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies, and Douglas W. Nelson, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Just as faulty measurements lead to unsound structures, the current poverty formula allows for a disconnect between real-life situations and the public-policy debate. Nelson, in a statement prepared after the hearing, said the first step in approaching any poverty-related measurement is “to get our heads around the true scope, dimension, and dynamics of the problem.” He added that policy makers should be held accountable for “honestly confronting the problems faced by those in need.”
While altering the formula has been a political hot potato for decades, it appears that the balance of political will may be shifting toward a more honest measure of human deprivation in the world’s richest nation.
When the Senate passed and President Bush signed the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 in July, media focus fell mainly on the 11th-hour inclusion of funds for a potential bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But included in the package was a hard-fought triumph for affordable—housing advocates: a provision that authorizes $3.9 billion for an emergency neighborhood stabilization fund, to be distributed to states and localities as a bulwark against the ravages of the foreclosure crisis.
Now that the money has been dedicated to the emergency fund, however, community advocates are concerned about how wisely it will be used, and whether it will contribute to reducing segregation and increasing housing mobility for low-income people.
When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development releases its guidelines for disbursal of the money, they are likely to include a timetable for communities to develop a plan for it use. Some cities intend to funnel the money into an existing housing program, while others hope to finance better neighborhood planning. Still others hope to buy foreclosed properties, then rehab and market them.
HUD will administer the fund in the same fashion as Community Development Block Grants, which worries some fair-housing advocates. “The [CDBG] funds are well-intentioned, but they frequently don’t end up promoting integration or affirmatively promoting fair housing,” said Justin Massa, executive director and founder of MoveSmart.org, a Chicago-based online effort to encourage racial and economic integration. Massa calls for “pro-integrative, pro-fair-housing guidance from HUD. There could be great things happening and I don’t think HUD’s rules are going to hurt that, but the big question is: Are they going to help?”