Is The Fair Housing Act Failing?

Denied. It’s a word that some people hear more than others. Specifically, when it comes to housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was supposed to equalize the housing market for a variety of diverse populations, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability (Fair Housing Act).

Fifty years ago this month, the Fair Housing Act came into existence. So it’s only fair to ask, is it working? Is there less housing discrimination that when the Fair Housing Act was passed five decades ago?

As with most socio-political questions, the answer is not a simple yes or no. According to a 2012 report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while more obvious forms of housing discrimination (such as refusal to show a unit to a person of a racial minority) have declined, more subtle forms of discrimination persist.

The study specifically identified that African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians were told about and shown fewer units than Whites. This is a difficult practice to catch. However, HUD and various fair housing groups have used secret shoppers and complaint hotlines, among other methods, to obtain evidence of housing discrimination of this kind with some success.

A study by Reveal that came out this month identified that this trend is still occurring heavily when it comes to lending and homeownership data, with African Americans being denied home mortgages at a much steeper rate than White borrowers.

While banking institutions insist this disparity is due to neutral factors such as credit scores, fair housing researchers have shown the existing lending model relies heavily on the traditional credit score which has disparate and/or disproportional impact on racial minorities.

As the study by Reveal shows, traditional credit scores don’t take certain kinds of financial history, such as paying rent and utilities, into account. Therefore, someone could pay rent and utilities on time for 20 years and not have a sufficient credit score to receive a mortgage from a financial institution. The system is designed where one must first have assets in order to acquire the credit to get assets, a prime example of privilege.

These reports primarily focused on obtaining housing. What about discrimination when it comes to evictions from persons already housed? Much less research has been done on this aspect of fair housing. An article produced by Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review discussed how previous studies have only gone so far as to prove correlations between higher rates of evictions and some fair housing protected classes.

Households with a higher percentage of children in the Milwaukie neighborhood being studied exhibited a higher eviction rate than households with fewer children. This could indicate fair housing violations occurring based on familial status and dynamics. However, more research is needed to determine the validity of this claim by examining the “eviction warranting behaviors” of landlords.

For example, are households with children are more likely to break aspects of a lease such as paying the rent on time? These questions require further research to truly understand if there is an underlying fair housing concern particularly in the instance of no-cause evictions which are much more difficult to evaluate.

Take Away

One positive of the passage of the Fair Housing Act is that it created tools by which persons could advocate for themselves or others. It opened a form of recourse that those experiencing housing discrimination could take against housing providers that do not follow Fair Housing Law. Amidst all the work to be done to improve the impacts of the Fair Housing Act, there are some simple ways the general public can increase the prevalence of fair housing practices.

Know the federal Fair Housing Act and how it works, specifically in your state. Some states have additional protected classes above and beyond those listed in the Federal Fair Housing Law. You can start learning at the National Fair Housing Alliance

Use this knowledge to advocate for the fair housing rights of yourself and others, especially if you work with vulnerable populations who are likely to experience housing discrimination. For example, fair housing law can demonstrate how to correctly use reasonable accommodations to achieve successful housing placement and retention for persons with disabling conditions who would otherwise be unable to access and enjoy housing.

Hold those who make decisions about housing accountable by reporting known housing discrimination for investigation at HUD Housing Discrimination Complaint Form

Brad Pitt Rebuilds Homes After Hurricane Katrina With Community Support

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Deemed the power couple in Hollywood, Brad and Angelina have not failed to be noticed for their humanitarian efforts and this is no exception. A decade after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Brad Pitt and his foundation Make It Right has been a blessing to 109 families devastated by the hurricane. Famous for his acting ability, Brad is no stranger to our screens and has been propelled into fame for his roles in Thelma & Louise, Ocean’s Eleven and on the other side of the camera produced and starred in the Academy Award winning film 12 Years a Slave.

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005 killing at least 986 Louisiana residents in its path. New Orleans saw 70% of its occupied units damaged which is a huge amount of people left without a home. I cannot imagine the detrimental effect it would have to see your home and belongings displaced, ruined and lost in such a short space of time.

With winds of up to 140 miles per hour stretching across 400 miles of land it cannot be denied the catastrophe this caused. Whilst levees for the Mississippi River were reliable, the same cannot be claimed for Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the marshes on the east and west of the city which inevitably flooded the area.

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Determined to help, Brad Pitt decided he would rebuild homes, but he also was under no impression it would be an easy task. It quickly became crystal clear how hard this undertaking would actually be. Through his foundation and with the determination of local residents, Brad began to encourage prestigious architects to lend a helping hand. The help of Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne, and Frank Gehry was enlisted to tackle this mammoth project with the added challenge of designing and building eco-friendly homes.

Photographs by Alexei Lebedev/Momenta for Make It Right. These images are to be credited "Alexei Levedev/Momenta."
Photographs by Alexei Lebedev/Momenta for Make It Right. These images are to be credited “Alexei Levedev/Momenta.”

The goal was to develop hurricane-resistant homes that were cheap to build and live in. Around 30% of the population was thought to be in poverty which highlighted the importance of building homes that were affordable and would not put the vulnerable at more financial risk. It was hoped the homes would help residents escape the poverty trap, and it was equally important to also allow community members to make most of the decisions regarding the designs. As a result of the collaboration, the Make it Right foundation built aesthetically pleasing houses that catapulted the area into being a tourist attraction, and I can see why!

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Equipped with the best architects and the local community what could go wrong? Bureaucracy of course with forgivable loan structures, family financial counseling, lot rights, and HUD grants to name. However, these hurdles did not stop the celeb, his team and the community from meeting their goals. Rebuilding the neighborhood cost around $26.8 million which is thought to have been funded through federal loans and donations.

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Although it is unclear whether this sum dented Brad’s bank account, it definitely showed his devotion to humanitarianism because he was very hands on with this project. Not one to shy away from his efforts, Brad has admitted he enjoys seeing the residents making use of their homes and converses with them often. Brad Pitt definitely met his goal considering a resident claimed their utility bill was around $24, jealous?

Currently shooting for a war film, Brad is excited to return to New Orleans for filming, claiming the area is so great for filming that it’s never a fight with studios as they love it and clearly he also loves the city very dearly!

HUD Awarded $7.5 Million to Assist Disabled & Elderly Americans Live Independently

Wheelchair in Front of Adapted Home 1In late September, HUD’s Secretary Julián Castro made the announcement that nearly $8 million in grant funding will be used to assist thousands of people with disabilities and senior citizens receive healthcare, meals, and other daily living activities and services in the comforts of their own homes, arranged by service coordinators.  Living independently as a disabled person or senior citizen, if possible, is important to one’s psyche, sense of well-being, and being afforded the opportunity to be fully comfortable in your own living quarters.  Becoming aware of the $7.5 million grants HUD awarded through its Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator Program (MHSC), I knew that I had to share this positive move towards increasing independence opportunities with the SWH readers.

Secretary Castro made the following statement about how the use of service coordinators will be vital to these particular populations:

Service coordinators connect senior citizens and those living with disabilities with the services they need to live independently … These grants will go a long way toward ensuring these vulnerable populations are well served and allowed to age in place.

The 39 grants awarded will be bestowed upon 39 owners of private housing developments that receive rental subsidies from the Department to house those who are low-income in 21 states.  The grant awardees are subject to hire or contract service coordinators who will be responsible for providing social services and assistance to residents who are disabled and elderly.  The grant money will cover costs related to salary, benefits, quality assurance, training, office space, equipment, and other related administrative expenses needed to retain and support these coordinators working for the grant awardees to provide these resources to residents.

Why is this grant award announcement so important?  Having the ability to stay in one’s home while conquering severe medical conditions has been proven to be beneficial to one’s overall health and improvement.  There is truly no place like home, and when you have chronic illnesses or disabilities, being in familiar surroundings eliminates the issue of having to recover in cold, foreign, unfriendly, sterile environments such as nursing homes and hospitals.  Being comfortable, location wise, is a priority for those with disabilities and our seniors, just as pain management and effective medical treatments are.  Being a helping professional, I have seen clients’ health and will to fight deteriorate when they were removed from their homes, and I have witnessed the complete opposite – clients’ health stabilized or deteriorated at a slower rate because they had the opportunity to remain at home.  Of course, remaining at home may not be the opportune choice in certain circumstances, but if it is favorable, it should be heavily considered as a possible option versus being institutionalized or hospitalized.

Another key point to note is that it is more cost-effective and cost-efficient for someone to remain in their home instead of being placed in an institutional setting; the latter would cost thousands of dollars each year just to house one resident.  The need for more federally-supported programs to assist in allowing individuals to live independently will undeniably reduce the financial strain on our healthcare system when it comes to this aspect.

Seeing that the well-being and quality of life of disabled and elderly Americans is on the consciousness of federal entities like HUD is imperative to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of living independently to the best of their abilities in our communities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Little House Company.)

Nick Hedges Photographs of Poor Housing in Britain: Make Life Worth Living

‘Make Life Worth Living’, a photography exhibition by Nick Hedges, is currently on display at the Science Museum in London. It was commissioned by Shelter, a charity working against homelessness to raise consciousness about the poor living conditions many Britons experience. The photographs were taken between 1968 and 1972 and are an intimate glimpse in to the human cost of bad housing.

Make Life Worth Living 3For all the poetry and romantic imagery about the concept of “home”, there are two ideals that it incorporates which are essential for human prosperity: those ideals are safety and stability. The importance of cerebral discussions about these two topics becomes ever clearer when we consider the corporeal fragility of homeless human beings.

What does it mean to have a home? Have you ever really thought about it or have you ever really needed to think about it? ‘Home’ is a much discussed term, not only in literature, but in the fields of sociology, anthropology, psychology and many others. It is a multidimensional concept most commonly associated with the ideas of a house, family, a haven, travelling and a sense of self. When we think of “home”, some of us think of a place, or many places, others think of a feeling, some think of people or practices. Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

We know that without a safe and stable living situation, adults and children alike are at a much increased risk of developing mental health problems, long-term physical health problems, drink addictions, drug addictions and are much more likely to be victims of physical assault, sexual assault and an early death. Having worked with homeless young people for many years, I know first-hand that safety and stability does not simply equate to owning a bricks and mortar building. It requires adequate space, clean living conditions and an environment in which one can really feel the value of their human worth.

Make Life Worth Living 1“The thing about people living in slum housing,” Nick Hedges’ states, “is that there is no drama… it’s about the absolute wearing down of people’s morale in a quiet and undemonstrative way.” It is that quiet wearing away of hope that these photographs capture so brilliantly. Living in the UK where homelessness is currently dramatically increasing and housing stability decreasing, this exhibition is more poignant than ever.

Last year, United Nations rapporteur, Rachel Rolnik, reported that whilst Britain has previously been a powerful inspiration when it comes to housing, the progress made is now being eroded and British people “appear to be facing difficulties in accessing adequate, affordable, well-located and secure housing.”

To look at Nick Hedges’ photographs is to remind ourselves of why good, affordable housing is a human right and what we stand to lose if we do not fight for it. “Home” is an active state of being in the world and we must ensure that we do not allow our fellow citizens to sink any further in to the depths of hopelessness. In 2014, we want all human beings to be filled with the sense that life is worth living which starts at home.

‘Make Life Worth Living’ is at the Science Museum until 18th January 2015.

HUD Charges University with Housing Discrimination of College Student with Support Dog

A new school year means that disabled college students are adjusting to their new environments, and are making accommodation requests to their school’s disability services department that will allow a smoother transition.  Accommodations can range from needing note-taking assistance, placement in a quieter environment to take tests, and/or being able to use service/support animals on campus.  Such accommodations are protected under several federal mandates, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other pieces of legislation that outlaws discriminatory practices based on disability status(es).

Support Dog 1In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a statement that it had charged Kent State University, one of the largest universities in Ohio, with discrimination.  The University, along with four of its employees, allegedly refused the accommodations request a disabled student made to allow her emotional support animal to live with her in the university-owned and operated housing unit she resided in.

Details of the Alleged Discriminatory Practice Conducted:  

According to HUD, the student filed a complaint stating the details of the claimed misgivings she and her husband experienced from the university regarding this matter.  The student and her spouse resided in housing designated for families and upperclassmen attending the University.  The student was receiving services from an on-campus helping professional, and the professional stated in documentation that the appropriate means for the student to cope with the disabilities she faced was by having an emotional support animal.

The student, acting on the helping professional’s recommendation about her care, sought and retained the services of an emotional support animal, and filed a reasonable accommodation request to the university about housing the animal.  The housing unit the student resided in had a “no pets” rule, and the student was hoping that the university would waive this policy, given that her support animal would be providing her assistance surrounding her disabilities.

The student claimed that the university did not respect her support animal housing accommodation request; though they did honor the requests she made regarding the academic accommodations she needed.  Her inability to obtain the housing waiver for her support animal caused her and her spouse to move and search for housing off-campus.  When the alternative housing arrangements were made, the student and her spouse contacted Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), Inc. about this incident.

What the Fair Housing Act States about Housing Accommodations:  

In this case, refusing to accommodate a student with an emotional support animal violates the Fair Housing Act.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed in 1968, prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability status, and family status.  In regards to disability, the Fair Housing Act states the following about reasonable accommodations and housing providers’ responsibilities:

Your landlord may not:

• Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)

• Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

(Excerpted from Fair Housing – It’s Your Rights.)

In this case, the Fair Housing Act prohibits the refusal the student claimed to have experienced – housing providers like Kent State University cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to waivers regarding “no pets” policies, especially when the accommodation is needed for the disabled person to live an independent life.  Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, made the following statement about housing providers honoring a service/support animal accommodation requests:

Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life. .. The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.

Why Other Colleges & Universities Should Keep a Close Eye on this Case:  

Until a ruling is handed down in this case (if it is seen in court), Kent State University and its employees are innocent of any wrongdoing and discriminatory practices.  However, this case should be on the radar of the colleges and universities in this country.  As I say time and time again, being ignorant of the law IS NOT an excuse to hindering someone’s rights.  As a former disabled college student, I remember several students of various disabilities with their service and support animals in the classrooms, cafeterias, and dormitories.  These animals serve a purpose – they are NOT toys or pets; students deserve, and have the rights, to utilize the incredibly freedoms these animals bestow upon those who need them.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Working Service Dog.)

Recognizing April 2014 as Fair Housing Month

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

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The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declares April as Fair Housing Month.  Fair Housing Month is HUD’s way of commemorating the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and family status.  More recent protections were added to prevent housing discrimination based on one’s source of income.

In addition to the legal protection of the aforementioned identifiers, twenty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, have expanded the Fair Housing Act to forbid discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families.  HUD established regulations to ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are available to all eligible recipients, regardless of their sexual orientation, in 2012.

The following quote from HUD’s Acting FHEO Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene explains why celebrating Fair Housing Month is so important:

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on just how far we’ve come to make our housing more equitable and how far we still have to go to end housing discrimination.  Fair housing is about giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and whenever this opportunity is denied, not only do families lose, our entire nation loses.

When it comes to disability, HUD developed the Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing Initiative.  Below are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpted from HUD’s Disability Rights in Housing webpage.)

This year’s theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right:  Use It!”  HUD aims to raise awareness about your housing rights, and discuss the overt and covert forms of housing discrimination that still persists today.  I have read and written stories about housing discrimination, and am aware that key legislation like the Fair Housing Act are steps toward the right direction in creating equality and justice; however, more has to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their disability status and other identifiers, are afforded the same opportunities to obtain housing that fits their needs.

During Fair Housing Month, how do you plan to ramp your voice about the housing discriminatory practices that exist to prevent people with disabilities, LGBT members, minorities, and other groups from accessing housing?  If you have experienced such discrimination in your quest in obtaining housing, are you willing to share your story?  What actions can be taken within your community to bridge the gaps in creating available housing options for those with disabilities, minorities, LGBT members, and other groups?  Share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me to commemorate this observance.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of the New York Times.)

Disability.gov Resource Guides for People with Disabilities

Let’s start the new year by educating and informing ourselves of the invaluable resources that are available to people with disabilities in the United States.  Disability.gov, the federal government’s one-stop access website for disability-related resources, services, and information, has a plethora of guides that breaks down topics that matter those with disabilities, caregivers and families, and helping professionals who interact with this particular population.

Disability.gov Logo 1With a new year comes new goals and dreams on how to improve one’s quality of life and livelihood.  Disability.gov’s guides answer many of the most frequently asked questions surrounding how does one become eligible for disability benefits, where job training services are located in one’s community, as well as being informed about the housing assistance programs that those with disabilities can utilize.

The Disability.gov’s guide to disability benefits answers many burning questions about what is considered a “disability” by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria; the differences between SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Social Supplemental Income); what to do if your disability claim is denied; the programs that exist to assist people with disabilities who desire to return to work; and a host of other imperative subjects that matter to those who are seeking benefits.  From personal experience, it can feel as if you are on a wild goose chase when seeking such answers when it comes to learning about your benefits; Disability.gov has done the work for you by providing detailed information on obtaining and maintaining the benefits that you may qualify for.

The guide to employment broaches such matters regarding the online job searching tools that can be helpful in finding employment opportunities; the new job trend of telecommuting, or working from home; how one’s disability benefits may be affected once employed; the legal rights of a prospective employee with a disability; etc.  As the unemployment rate of people with disabilities rose to 12.3% in November 2013, and the labor force participation fell to 19.6%, the issues of seeking employment, sustaining employment, and figuring out how to keep one’s benefits (if possible) are undeniably on the consciousness of those with disabilities who want to earn a living.

The guide to housing provides details as to how to find an affordable place to live; what resources are available to make your living quarters accessible for your needs; advice on buying or renting a property; programs that can assist in paying rent; your housing rights as a person with a disability; and so forth.  Obtaining an apartment, home, or form of housing is an empowering moment for a person with a disability.  It means that you have a place and space to call your own, and this thrusts the door of independence wide open.

Disability.gov’s getting help in your community guide has information about programs and organizations in your area that provide key services and support when it comes to health care, resources for families in need of temporary financial assistance, and receiving aid to pay home heating bills (which is greatly needed during this time of year).  This guide is especially useful for those who live in rural areas who may be unfamiliar with what is available to them outside of their town or county.  This particular guide can also come in handy for social workers and other helping professionals when trying to locate appropriate resources for the clients they serve.

These guides are just a few options offered by Disability.gov that are available with just a click of the mouse.  Review the “Guide Me” link to search for the information that pertains to your, or someone you know, specific needs.  2014 can be the year people with disabilities arm themselves with vital knowledge that will empower and enhance the well-being of their lives.  Are you familiar with similar resources or guides that people with disabilities can employ in 2014?  Share them with me, and I may feature your suggestion(s) in a future article on Social Work Helper.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Disability Blog.)

Thanksgiving: All Grown Up and Nowhere To Go

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Once a young person turns 18 and leaves the foster care system, they should be ready to do what other young adults do–go to college or get a job, right? The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program assists youth by providing assistance in achieving self-sufficiency after leaving foster care. Through supports such as the Educational and Training Vouchers Program (ETV), former foster youth can receive financial assistance with college expenses.

Research has shown that the foster care population generally has poor outcomes as they transition to adulthood. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth found that former foster youth experienced significant challenges including high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment. As recently as a decade ago, college was not an option for most young adults leaving the foster care program. Fortunately, there are now supports and assistance available so that more former foster youth are able to attend college, providing them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workforce.

No doubt, many former foster youth now have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. They have opportunities that few of their predecessors had just 10 to 15 years ago. The reality is, new challenges have emerged.

Many former foster youth must live in dormitories and other college-sponsored housing. Often they do not have the resources required for off-campus housing such as a security deposit to rent an apartment, furniture, and other household items. Most of us had parents or guardians that could help with these items. Former foster youth rarely have this luxury. Living in dormitories may provide an excellent transition for vulnerable young adults. However, there is often a ‘catch’ to this….most colleges and universities close down their housing (and food service) during extended breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This leaves former foster youth with the challenge of finding housing and meals during the holidays.  Options such as spending the holidays with family may not be possible for young adults who were separated from their families as children due to abuse or neglect. Generally, options such as staying at a hotel and dining out are beyond the financial means of former foster youth. If they are lucky, a young person may have friends with whom they can spend holidays. However, this may not always be possible, especially if the young person has a part-time job.

In case you were thinking there is little you can do to address this problem, the following are some suggestions for getting involved.

1) Offer to host a former foster youth in your community for the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter has a former classmate who was in foster care. Or maybe you know of a young person through your community/social circles. Just because they haven’t asked for help, doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help.

2) Suggest that members of your church or other civic organization work together to develop a network of supports/resources for youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition to helping tackle the housing issue, this might include a drive to collect household items such as sheets, blankets, towels or school supplies for college-bound foster youth.

3) Donate gift cards to places like Boston Market, Applebee’s, or Perkins so that college students can enjoy a meal (something other than fries and a burger…) over the holidays. You can contact your local child welfare agency or non-profit foster care agencies to assist with making the connection to young people in need of support. Or if you know of a young person who could use a helping hand, you can give it to them directly (or anonymously by mail).

4) Talk with local colleges/universities about setting up a faculty ‘host a student’ program. Through such a program, faculty can host a former foster youth for the holidays. The advantage is that the faculty member may already know the young person and they likely live in the same community as the college/university. This may also provide an excellent mentoring opportunity that can have a positive, long-term effect for the student.

5) Talk with the local high school about setting up a ‘host family’ program. Former teachers or coaches could host students during holiday breaks.

6) Talk with your local colleges/universities about setting up a holiday housing program in dormitories for former foster youth. Often there are also foreign students who also need housing. (Many larger universities offer some sort of accommodations.)

7) Check with your local YMCA, YWCA, or similar programs to see if they have temporary housing available. If so, offer to ‘pay it forward’ for a young person in need of housing over the holidays by providing rent (if there is a charge).

8) If you don’t have the space in your home to host a young person (or if you opted to assist as suggested in #7), invite students to participate in your holiday meal.

9) Support local foster parents who provide assistance to the young adults previously in their care. Offer to assist with buying school or work clothes. Donate grocery gift cards to offset the cost of food.

10) Provide transportation to college students who may have the opportunity to spend the holidays with former foster parents, friends, or family who do not live in the same community. This may be in the form of a bus or train ticket, airfare, or driving the student to their destination. This may also apply when a young person attends a college/university in a community other than the one they lived in prior to age 18. What may seem like a short distance to travel can present insurmountable obstacles for a young person setting off for college with no car and limited resources.

These are just a few suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas to the list!

Housing in Blue, Homeless in Red

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Today public housing continues to exist, but eligibility and aid depends on one’s location. While the federal government has developed nation-wide programs, states and local agencies provide the actual housing to their citizens. A state must follow the federal guidelines but can determine how much aid it receives, and each state can set some of its own guidelines in terms of preferential treatment and eligibility. All this means that one’s state of choice, particularly the choice between a red or blue state, will determine his or her level of aid in terms of public housing.

Before looking at the differences at state level though, let’s cover today’s policies. The basic principles of public housing today have stayed consistent with the policies beginning in the 1960’s when civil rights were first being incorporated. In 1974, Nixon created the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, which is still very much alive today. The program provides rental certificates for low-income families to use to pay a portion of their rent on privately owned units. This was a change from the past policies because it allowed low-income families to break away from large public housing facilities and instead lease private units. At the time, families were expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities and then HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, would cover the rest as long as it was under the maximum aid level. It seemed that the 1960’s brought positive changes, but in the 1980’s housing programs were dramatically cut. The 1990’s saw a huge increase in the need for homeless shelters due to the lack of public housing. Today, while subsidizing of housing projects has continued to decline, more rent vouchers and Section 8 certificates are being handed out each year.

But how have the changes come about in different states? Massachusetts is viewed as the prime example of a blue state and has one of the best public housing programs in the country. This is generally because Massachusetts applies for and accepts a great deal of federal funding. In addition, the state has low qualifications in terms of who can receive public housing assistance. For example, in order to qualify for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Voucher, one must simply show records of being a good tenant in the past and take in 80% or less than the median income in their community. Statewide, the income limit to qualify as a single person is $45,100 annually.

Texas, on the other hand, is viewed as a strong red state and is not highly prized for its public housing program. In fact, the state accepts much less federal aid and therefore has a much smaller public housing budget than Massachusetts, despite having a population four times the size of MA. Additionally, a single person must take in $33,650 annually or less in Texas to qualify for public housing aid. While the eligibility is calculated based upon the state’s median income; there are large gaps in terms of eligibility between states. In addition, the private sector in Texas has refused to aid low-income families in terms of housing. This means that citizens must rely solely on public sector housing, much of which is in poor condition as, in general, it has not been updated since the 1930s.

While in many eyes the Texas system is flawed, those in opposition to public housing would support Texas over Massachusetts. Many believe that public housing gives people a crutch and allows them to take unearned money. Others argue that public housing should have a time limit so that people have an incentive to work hard and get off the aid. While one can hope that one day public housing programs will no longer be needed, it should be not out of lack of funding or desire, but instead because it is no longer needed.  Until that day though, housing is a basic need that needs to be met regardless of race or income.

While public housing is a federally supported program, it is run by the local public housing authorities. It is up to the PHAs to determine how their public housing system will be run. The federal government applies a base funding to all, but when more funds are available, states can apply for more money. This often means, out of each state’s own choice and differences in opinions about public aid, that blue states will have larger public housing budgets than red states. Therefore, it is clear that a low-income family is much better off living in a blue state.

The right to a quality home should not, however, depend on one’s exact location within the United States. As a social worker, it shall be one’s duty to advocate for adequate housing for all, as shelter is a basic human need. For, as Cohn said, “this country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.”

References

Cohn, J. (2012, October 25). Blue states are from Scandinavia, red states are from Guatemala: a theory

of a divided nation. The New Republic. Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/108185/blue-states-are-scandinavia-red-states-are-guatemala#

HUD. (n.d.). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet. Retrieved from

Mass Resources. (n.d.). Public housing. Retrieved from http://www.massresources.org/public-housing.html

Texas Housing. (n.d.). Public housing in Texas. Retrieved from

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