Volunteers Needed to Help People Sign Up for Housing

The Housing Choice Voucher Program will open their waiting list in August for the first time since 2011.  We will train and place volunteers at shelters and social service providers to help low income folks sign up for a voucher.  If you would like to help call or e-mail NEOCH.  We hope to get 50 volunteers who can go out into the field to sign people up for housing.

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Social Engineering Article in the Plain Dealer

There was a strange and long article in the Plain Dealer last week from Stephen Koff regarding "social engineering"  at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that you might have missed.  The article suggests that enforcing a Civil Rights era law could be "social engineering."  Then a letter was published on Friday that shows the fear and mythology that has developed around the Housing Choice voucher program and Public Housing in our community.  First, the letter was highly offensive and incorrect, and should not have been printed in the paper.  Ms. Melillo has no proof that "incoming section 8 people bring their bad habits and culture with them--violence, drugs, prostitution, deterioration and loud music..."  A voucher holder can live anywhere in the community, and are not as concentrated as the Public Housing buildings in which 100% of the tenants are poor.

She goes on to misstate the population as not having been born here and do not own property.  This seems like either a criticism of absentee landlords or tenants in general, because it is clear that most recipients of a housing voucher are Clevelanders who may have to relocate to a new neighborhood but grew up in the area.  They have a hard time finding a landlord who will accept a voucher with a property that can pass Housing Quality Standards. Landlords need to maintain their properties not tenants.  Then she goes onto mischaracterize Habitat for Humanity, which does provide on-going support to their mortgage holders to help them with housing maintenance issues.  To answer your question Ms. Melillo, these people are here because they need housing and the vast majority are law abiding good neighbors.  You need to look at your own prejudices and misdirected anger to understand why you have this bias against people who you perceive as different than you. 

Mr. Koff's article does not touch on the racisim, classism and government obstacles put in the way of developing affordable housing outside of the urban core.  The letter in response to Koff's article shows how hardened stereotypes are in this community toward clients of CMHA.  The HUD Secretary can gather all the data he or she wants, but in the end if Cleveland Hts demands to know every Section 8 tenant in their city or the Lakewood Mayor runs on a platform to reduce the number of "Section 8 tenants" in his city, there is no way to de-concentrate, social engineer or reduce segregation.  This is common sense that we should have every opportunity for disadvantaged populations to move to neighborhoods in which they will have a better chance for success.  The problem is that these suburban communities do everything they can to block the development of affordable housing.  It is so difficult and expensive to bring a case forward against a community that is violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act. 

The Housing Center in Cleveland does a job training and informing tenants about their rights.  They challenge buildings that are built without access for disabled individuals, and protect against "redlining" in the insurance and mortgage markets, but the problem is so overwhelming and complicated.  In nearly every suburban community and in the City of Cleveland, the Housing Authority has to turn over the list of Housing Choice voucher holders to the local Community Development departments.  What these government officials do with this data is unclear and not spelled out in the agreement.  In addition, there are no fixed shelters outside the City of Cleveland, so poor people in the suburbs who lose their housing have to go to another City for help.  There are very few subsidized housing units developed outside the City of Cleveland, because of community opposition.   No matter how many stats one community gathers the concentration of poor people in a few communities will not change.  The City of Cincinnati in a cutting off their nose response banned the development of affordable housing until the suburban communities began developing affordable housing.

What happens if we use the evidence provided by HUD to show that we should not build any more affordable housing in the Central, Mt. Pleasant or Glenville neighborhoods?  We won't have any affordable housing left.  The current housing needs replaced and if we wait until Ms. Melillo and  her kind accept public housing residents we will have to double or triple the number of emergency shelter beds.   We need a percentage of every development in the community to also develop affordable properties.  So, if Solon offers infrastructure improvements (roads, water, sewer, telephone) for a 30 unit housing development five of those units should be sold or offered to low income tenants or mortgage holders. 

I live next to a Housing Choice Voucher holder and have for years.  The tenants are fine quiet people trying to earn enough money to get a better place.  The landlord is the problem.  The landlord does not keep up his property.  He does not mow the lawn.  He is slow to do maintenance on the property.  He took out the sidewalk and replaced part of it at the request of the City, and just piled up the old broken up sidewalk behind his garage.  He fixed up the place to pass inspection, but does not maintain the place.  He gets paid by the government every month the same amount of money, and he is not keeping his property up to the standard of the neighborhood.  But, this can happen with some homeowners as well who you may not get along with or those struggling with finding regular employment.  I don't think my neighbor is representative of the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), and I don't think it is fair to point to a "culture" of a person or those who get help with their rent as representative of anything. Bad neighbors come in all races, backgrounds, and economic levels.  Be glad if you have good neighbors because you never know. 

The Plain Dealer article fails to take into account the local reality.  The Plain Dealer does not look at all the barriers to affordable housing.  All the historical attempts to keep blacks in certain neighborhoods are not discussed.  Finally, we are never going to advance equality issues if we are stuck on labelling the tools for implementing civil rights era legislation as "social engineering."  How do we begin to talk about Fair Housing II with greater protections for lesbian and gay renters or source of income protections, when we can't even agree that forcing all the poor people to live in the same neighborhood doesn't help anyone?

Cato Institute Flawed Study

The Cato Institute updated a report from 1995 and published what can only be characterized as the dumbest research projects ever published.  The report titled "The Work vs. Welfare Trade Off: 2013" might be the most absurd collection of disjointed statistics that has ever been put down on paper.  This report has no redeeming value in any policy debate that I could think of except maybe in showing that the minimum wage is too low in many states.  Cato "researchers" have lumped together entitlements such as food stamps with housing assistance limited by a significant lack of supply to Medicare limited to a small number of people to make the case that "welfare" may pay better than work pays.  Not to mention that some of the assistance mentioned such as excessive asssitance from Medicaid might disqualify the person from work because of a disability. 

This is even more fictitious than the "McDonald's model budget" that many made fun of back in July when fast food workers were on strike.  Most of the programs used in the report are not available to most poor people or are not an option in many communities.  There are so few who can receive enough government assistance to come even close to the money earned in a job that it is not worth comparing the two.  Even those who cannot work and are considered fully disabled by the federal government will not receive enough assistance to live independently.  It is amazing that they have grouped all these programs together and called them "welfare" since Cato shows a total disdain for the welfare of poor people.  Maybe they should have used a term that shows the Cato staff distain for these American citizens struggling with poverty and asking for a hand up like "Moochers" or "the dole."

They use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in their study, which was reformed out of existence for most of the population during the Clinton Administration.  Very few qualify for cash assistance and there is a life time hard limit on assistance which is not taken into account. For example, in Cuyahoga County there were only 8,700 people on cash assistance in March of this year while there were around 230,000 people living below poverty at the same time in the County.  Medicaid is also extremely limited in most states and very few qualify for the help.  Housing assistance has such a long waiting list that it is out of reach for most.  For example, 65,000 people applied in 2011 for a voucher and only 10,000 were selected in the lottery.  Those 10,000 will have to wait for seven years to make it to the front of the list.  Food assistance and WIC have no cash value.  They are only used for food and cannot be used to pay for the high cost of day care or a bus ride to get to work. 

If the study is going to assign cash values to food stamps and other benefits that have no cash value then why didn't they do the same for the benefits received from full time employment?  Why not assign a cash value to the small number of minimum wage employees that do in fact receive health benefits?  Or they could assign a cash value to workers compensation benefits?   They could have given a value to the food that some fast food workers receive as a benefit of working those difficult jobs.  Why convert benefits into cash on only one side of the ledger?   To be fair in this fantasy world that the Cato Institute created they should assign a dollar value to all benefits received by any minimum wage worker and compare since they assigned a dollar figure to every government assistance program even if only a handful of people receive that assistance in the community. 

The basis for the entire report does not make sense.  No one who understands these programs would group them together and then try to convert them to a dollar amount and then try to compare them to work.  It is a bridge too far into fantasyland.  If anything the conclusion of this flawed report should be that minimum wage must be dramatically increased so that no where in the United States would assistance exceed work revenue, but that is not the recommendation.  Or that public assistance programs need to be dramatically expanded so that so that the Cato Institute report could possibly make sense.  Sadly, neither conclusion is contained in this report.  Only, Karen Kasler in the Ohio Statehouse Bureau of the Ohio Public Radio and Television news covered this story that I could find.  Unfortunately, they tried for balance instead of blasting the lazy, uninformed report for adding nothing to the public debate.  No where in Kasler's story are the words, "idiotic, infantile, stupid or waste of paper."  

Brian Davis

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Happy Memorial Day: Remember those Forgotten Veterans

Today is Memorial Day in the United States.  A time when we remember those serving the United States who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  It is great that there are hundreds of volunteers cleaning up cemeteries, and attending memorials or parades.   But what if we remembered those veterans who are largely forgotten by our society but not dead?  There are large numbers of veterans who are homeless and living in isolation from our society including a large number of vets still from the Viet Nam era.  

It has to be said that the federal government has done a lot to end veterans homelessness.  We should all have this goal of finding housing for every American who can't afford a place of their own.   They have created expanded outreach to veterans especially female veterans.  They have created one stop centers to serve the population, and provided a small number of housing vouchers.   They have created family prevention grants, and are doing a great deal more behavioral health care.   But there is a lot more that we could do to heal those who served the United States during a war. 

  • We could have every active duty service man stationed in the United States take two weeks to resolve the backlog of claims made by veterans for disability/health care. 
  • We could pledge that no claim going forward will take longer than four weeks. 
  • We could provide housing vouchers to every single veteran living on the streets of America. 
  • We could provide comprehensive health care to every veteran no matter their discharge.  We have to assume that most of the other than honorably discharged have something to do with what they saw or did while serving in a combat zone.
  • We could guarantee a job to every veteran upon discharge from the service.   If you give three years of your life to the US military, you should be able to have a job when you leave. 

This would be a real special memorial day if we would resolve ourselves to remember those struggling with mental health issues, housing or employment right here on the streets of America.   We should remember those whose talent we are losing.  We should remember the veterans sleeping in the woods in Lorain County, and bring them back safely from the their extended deployment.  We need to make this a truly happy memorial day. 

Brian

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Sequestration and Public Housing in Cleveland

We never would hVendor Marsha (bird costume) and Ron with CMHA Riverview in the backgroundave imagined that Congress would drive the bus over the edge.  They had nearly two  years to work out a deal, and they could not do it.  So, it was only a coincidence that we scheduled both Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program staff at the CAHA meeting on the first business day since Sequestration had started.  On Monday March 4, 2013, the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting will feature Scott Pollock, Director of Planning and Activities for CMHA will discuss Public Housing in the days of Sequestration.  The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at the HUD offices 1350 Euclid Ave. in the Playhouse Square neighborhood will also feature Priscilla Pointer Hicks of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

Both programs have faced repeated budget cuts over the last five years, so will be especially hard hit with sequestration.   We have not heard many specifics on how this will impact the local community especially the low income residents of Cleveland.  We will post some of the consequences of Sequestration for Public Housing and the Voucher program next week.

Here are the cuts that will take place this year nationally:

$199 million cut from public housing
$96 million cut from Homeless Assistance Grants
$17 million cut from Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS
$19 million cut from Housing for the Elderly
$175 million cut from Low Income Home Energy Assistance

Next months CAHA (April 1) will feature Ruth Gillett of Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services to talk about the impact of budget cuts on homeless programs.

Brian Davis

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Thank You to Our Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, and we honor those who served their country.  This Veterans Day comes as we continue to see between 20 and 24% of homeless population made up of individuals who served the United States.   There is a plan to end Veterans homelessness by November 2014.  This is a good thing, but we are a long way from that reality.  We saw a report from HUD this last year that showed a decline in veterans homelessness, but that was based on fiction and guesses that could never withstand academic scrutiny.  We will never be able to end homelessness among veterans if we cannot even figure out the extent of the problem.  Veterans still have a hard time getting help with their mental illness in the vast bureaucracy.  Everyday another veterans returns from Afghanistan troubled, uncertain, and without the proper support to return to civilian life. 

We have a number of new programs for veterans including a rental assistance program and a new Central Intake system in which should help.  We still have a lot of silly rules and obstacles in place that keep the dedicated staff from providing the help necessary to get people into housing.  For example, if a veteran gets into a per diem bed at 2100 Lakeside (a shelter bed no different than any other bed in Lakeside) they have a limited period of time or they lose their eligiblity for a permanent supportive housing apartment in the community.  The Veterans Administration is putting a large investment into serving homeless people with nice new buildings including the Domiciliary at the Veterans Hospital.  They are still making bad decisions on some of the subcontractors who have been entrusted to serving the veterans population.  There are still far too many programs that do not get the job done.  There are still too many staff who are don't do enough to get people into housing or serve our veterans with compassion. 

The Domiciliary staff did a ton to get people registered to vote and then getting those veterans to actually vote for who is going to lead the country.  There are plenty of people who honor our veterans, but not enough who are willing to provide the best health care coverage available in this country.  It does not seem that there is enough concern to provide housing to all veterans even if they self medicate with alcohol or drugs.   There is a great deal of rhetoric especially by politicians, but not a lot of coordination of services among all the systems that serve veterans.   With two years left to end homelessness among veterans, there is a long way to go.  We will need a ton of housing vouchers; we need more forgiveness, and we need a massive expansion of health care professionals who specialize in trauma.   We could honor by veterans best by actually ending homelessness among veterans.  Thanks for the free meals being given out today by corporations and businessess.  Now it is time for free housing for a couple of years while the veteran transitions back into civilian life. 

Brian

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