Bo’s News Clips: Ft Worth Voids Housing Vouchers

The reality of federal cuts hit the poor first with HUD preparing to cut 100,000 Section 8 vouchers nationwide. Anticipating the losses, local housing authorities in Fort Worth react and void recently-issued vouchers before households can use them.

A study of HUD’s massive efforts to convert Chicago’s public housing into mixed-income units shows dismal results: residents are little better off than before the $1.6 billion project.

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Federal cuts mean fewer low-income families will get housing assistance

By Alex Branch       Fort Worth Star-Telegram      March 8, 2013

Local housing agencies are preparing for federal budget reductions by freezing waiting lists already clogged by thousands of applicants and, in Fort Worth, even canceling vouchers already issued to clients who are still searching for apartments.

At least 600 fewer families in Tarrant County could get assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, because of the sequestration cuts, officials predict.

Agencies will do their best to achieve the cuts through attrition rather than terminating contracts with those currently in housing, officials said.

However, the Fort Worth Housing Authority is already canceling vouchers for clients who have yet to find a rental unit, said Selarstean Mitchell, vice president of assisted housing. The agency stopped processing those vouchers two weeks ago.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do because we have never had to do it,” Mitchell said. “People are surprised. When they get that voucher, they are always so happy and excited.”

Housing agencies nationwide are bracing for the impact of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget cuts that could result in a loss of 100,000 vouchers nationwide, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

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Study: CHA residents marginally better off than when living in high-rises

By Antonio Olivo         Chicago Tribune        March 10, 2013

Public housing residents in Chicago are marginally better off today than when they lived in the high-rise towers that have since been torn down, though more social services are needed to prevent a backslide, a study scheduled to be released Monday finds.

Continuing problems with poverty and crime in their new neighborhoods point to a potentially dark future for many of those nearly 16,000 families, particularly children, the report by the Washington-based Urban Institute says..

“In the absence of a major intervention, most of these young people are likely to be mired in the same type of poverty as their parents, living in neighborhoods suffering from chronic disadvantage and cycling in and out of the workforce,” the study says.

The five-part report comes as the Chicago Housing Authority prepares to unveil a revised version of its 12-year-old Plan for Transformation. The sweeping effort to build mixed-income neighborhoods in place of the demolished high-rises has been hampered as of late by a sluggish economy, with cash-strapped developers unwilling to complete new market-rate homes. Originally a 10-year plan, the current deadline for completion of the $1.6. billion effort is 2015.

About 21,000 public housing units have been built or renovated, just shy of the Plan’s goal of replacing 25,000 public housing units, CHA officials said. About 3,300 of those units are in the mixed-income sites.

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The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis

By Emily Badger        The Atlantic Cities      March 6, 2013

Demographers often describe the baby boom generation as if it were an indigestible mammal – maybe a pig, or a rabbit, or a really big rat – slowly moving through the python that is America’s population. As this generation has aged, the baby boom bulge has remade society in its image, first as a massive class of toddlers, later as rabble-rousers in the 1960s, then as solidly middle-class heads of household and, soon, as the largest class of retirees the country has ever seen.

Along the way, this generation has also left a physical imprint on the American landscape with potential impacts as long-lasting as many of the social changes boomers brought. In the 20 years between 1990 and 2010, these consumers were at their peak family size and peak income. And suddenly, there was massive demand in America from the same kinds of people for the same kinds of housing: big, large-lot single-family homes (often in suburbia). In those two decades, calculates researcher Arthur C. Nelson, 77 percent of demand for new housing construction in America was driven by this trend.

Looked at another way, he adds, in all that time “there was virtually no demand for starter homes.”

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New Game, New Rules? Guessing at the future of American housing

Placemakers       March 6, 2013

If it did nothing else, the last decade should have disciplined some of our enthusiasm for betting the house, literally, on long-term trends deduced from short-term experiences. Remember that little hiccup in the world economy when pretty much everybody bought into assumptions about ever-rising home values?

So where do I get off saying this: For the next 15 to 20 years we’re going to experience the most dramatic changes in American neighborhoods since the post-WWII era?

It helps that it’s not me making that argument. There’s a growing chorus of analysts smarter and more experienced in the housing economy than I am predicting a seismic shift – and worrying more than a little whether communities can meet the challenges.

Arthur C. Nelson, who directs the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah, may the smartest and most experienced of the lot. Nelson and his grad students are the source of many of the most authoritative trend analyses used by real estate pros and planners. I borrowed liberally from them in posts like this one, this one and this one. Nelson’s new book, Reshaping Metropolitan America: Development Trends and Opportunities to 2030, summarizes and updates all the previous data. It’s a must-read for planners.

Here’s Nelson’s core argument:

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Report finds insurers unready for climate change-related disasters

By Erika Bolstad         McClatchy Newspapers      March 9, 2013

WASHINGTON — The insurance industry is ill-prepared to handle climate change-related disasters, regulators and industry watchers warned Thursday, saying the business hasn’t evolved enough in the face of rising sea levels and extreme weather fueled by climate change.

Failure to plan for the effects of climate change might challenge the stability of one of the largest sectors of the world economy, said Mindy Lubber, the president of the sustainability nonprofit organization Ceres, which authored a report that looks at insurers in three states. There were 11 extreme-weather events that each caused at least a billion dollars in losses last year in the United States. Superstorm Sandy alone caused $50 billion in economic losses.

“If climate change undermines the future availability of insurance – something we’re already seeing in places like Florida – it threatens the economy and taxpayers as well,” said Lubber, whose nonprofit encourages investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate sustainable business practices.

Regulators in California, New York and Washington state in 2012 required big insurers to disclose their climate-related risks. Ceres looked at those disclosures, which were made before Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast last October.

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Mapping the urban poor: 12 reasons why you should conduct enumerations of your settlements

Community-led mapping and enumerations are powerful tools to return power and democracy into the hands of the urban poor. Marcus Tudehope sets out twelve reasons why you and the communities you work within should embark upon an enumeration of your own.

By Marcus Tudehope         Global Urbanist       March 7, 2013

Enumeration: to be counted; it is the fundamental basis of inclusion in the city. To exclude a community from census and mapping activities is to effectively render it invisible to urban decision-making processes. But as the world urbanises, an ever-increasing proportion of humanity is coming to reside in urban poor settlements, outside the scope of most traditional methods of enumeration such as government censuses which underpin land management and urban planning. The implications of the trend for how cities will look and function in coming decades are legion. However one implication becoming increasingly apparent is the need for more flexible and inclusive systems of mapping and counting in developing cities.

In settings where the capacity or will to include the urban poor in official mapping and enumeration activities is lacking, participatory, community-led processes frequently come to occupy the void. Following the seminal work of SPARC India’s We the invisible, its 1985 census of pavement dwellers in Mumbai, the concept has gained international recognition and is now widely practiced throughout the developing world. However, community maps and data are not ends in themselves, but they can form vital steps in the larger process of creating more inclusive cities. Here are 12 reasons why:

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Patient Urbanism – Build Neighborhoods Without High Debt

By Steve Mouzon      Original Green     March 6, 2013

Building neighborhoods patiently requires far less debt for infrastructure and results in places that are more interesting than those that are built all at once. This was once the way we built everywhere, but it is now illegal all over. Why? Because cities insist on “seeing the end from the beginning,” meaning that they want the developer to begin by building the final condition of the neighborhood. In human terms, it would be like deciding that we can no longer tolerate giving birth to a child that grows into an adult; we will only allow giving birth to an adult… an incredibly painful proposition that simply doesn’t work.

Go to any great city or town that has been there for at least a couple centuries, and the buildings that make up the historic center are highly unlikely to be the ones that were originally built there. At the beginning, the buildings may have been little more than shacks that were replaced or transformed a few decades later into proper wood-frame buildings. A generation or two later, those detached buildings were likely replaced with the larger (and often attached) buildings we see today.

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Beyond Architecture

As the world’s population of informal-settlement dwellers races to the 1.5 billion mark, designers and planners must play a central, if redefined, role.

By Flavie Halais        Architectural Record       March 2013

This century’s biggest architectural challenge is taking place in the developing world. There, already overcrowded cities must absorb a constant influx of migrants fleeing the lack of economic opportunities or the armed conflicts plaguing their rural hometowns. Soon the world will house 1.5 billion slum dwellers, half of them in Asia, with the 2 billion mark scheduled to be reached by 2030.

In large settlements such as Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, Nairobi’s Kibera, or Mumbai’s Dharavi, hundreds of thousands of residents coexist in the highest densities ever seen, often squatting on the land where they built their makeshift homes. Living conditions engender poor sanitation, a dire lack of public services, and gang-induced violence. Quick, cheap, and efficient infrastructure solutions for the urban poor were needed yesterday. However daunting, the challenges have been made more bearable by the past successes of municipality-initiated upgrading programs such as the recent one in Medellín, Colombia, and in Rio’s Favela-Bairro, as well as the community-based Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan, led by architect Arif Hasan in the 1980s.

These programs have revealed that, more than ever, architects and planners are needed to play a central, though largely redefined, role in the development of substandard neighborhoods. In the slums of this world, problem solving and creativity are favored over design in its purest form; vernacular aesthetics over an architect’s distinctive style; community participation over unilateral decisions. The approach to architectural practice that these qualities suggest can be at once thankless and deeply gratifying, as a single project holds the potential to dramatically affect the lives of thousands.

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Intersection of homeowners associations interests and environmental ones at center of legislative proposals

By Asher Price        Austin American-Statesman       March 11, 2013

A handful of legislative proposals this session arrive at the collision between environmental and homeowner association interests, raising long-disputed questions over individual property rights within managed subdivisions.

“Early man may justly consider his home his castle and himself as the king thereof,” wrote B.J. Driver, a state appeals court judge in Florida in 1971 in an oft-quoted opinion, “nonetheless his sovereign fiat to use his property as he pleases must yield, at least in some degree, where ownership is in common or cooperation with others.”

One proposal filed this session would lend more power to homeowners associations to limit solar panels; three proposals, similar to one another, would give homeowners more power in establishing drought-resistant lawns.

The solar panel proposal filed March 5 by state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, is spurred by a squabble in his Metroplex district pitting a homeowners association and a homeowner who has put more than 100 panels on his property, according to Parker’s office.

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Nonprofit breaks ground on Dalhart low-income housing development

By Eboni Graham      Amarillo Globe-News      March 7, 2013

Guadalupe Economic Services Corporation, a Texas nonprofit, held a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday for the $3.2 million Rita Blanca Apartments project in Dalhart.

The 28 unit affordable rental housing development is targeted toward low-income agricultural workers. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation, which helped finance the development, also attended the event.

“Our ground-breaking represents a culmination of experiences to expand housing opportunities available to the community by constructing safe and affordable housing for families who otherwise would not be able to find or afford a suitable place to live,” Executive Director of Guadalupe Economic Services Corporation Diana Lopez said.

The Rita Blanca Apartments will be constructed on 5.73 acres located on East 9th Street and Maynard Street and is expected to begin leasing by Spring 2014.

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Homeless man ticketed for looking for a meal in trash

By Mike Glenn        Houston Chronicle      March 12, 2013

James Kelly was hungry and looking for something to eat. He tried to find it in a trash bin near Houston City Hall.

For that, the man, who said he spent about nine years in the Navy but fell on hard times, was ticketed by a Houston police officer.

According to his copy of the citation, Kelly, 44, was charged on Thursday with “disturbing the contents of a garbage can in (the) downtown business district.”

“I was just basically looking for something to eat,” Kelly said Monday night. “I wasn’t in a real good mood.”

Houston city officials referred questions about the citation to the Houston Police Department.

HPD issued a short statement: “The ordinance is specific to the Central Business District. It is a violation for anyone to remove any contents of any bin, bag or other container that has been placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable materials. An officer has probable cause to issue such a citation when a person is seen opening a lid and rummaging through contents of a dumpster or trash can.”

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