Sunday, December 30, 2012

A rough stretch at Tent City

A week after a local resident died from hyperthermia, there was a stabbing at the tent encampment, as reported by The immediate reaction from some is going to be a sense of outrage -- at the homeless themselves. But the reality is that we have allowed conditions to fester that leave people to the elements like animals. We are the ones to blame for what happens here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tax reform that builds affordable housing

Here is a press release from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition on a proposed change in the mortgage deduction that looks like it could both help middle-class homeowners and the homeless:

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) today announced that it supports legislation to address the affordable housing needs of low and middle income American families through mortgage interest deduction reform and funding the National Housing Trust Fund

The Common Sense Housing Investment Act (H.R. 6677), introduced December 18 by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), would convert the mortgage interest deduction to a flat rate 20% tax credit and cap the maximum mortgage to receive a tax break at $500,000. H.R 6677 would direct the majority of the savings gained from these modifications to the National Housing Trust Fund. Mr. Ellison estimates that the savings would be about $27 billion a year.

“Gearing mortgage interest tax breaks more toward middle class and lower income homeowners will provide a tax benefit where it is needed most,” NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley said. “Representative Ellison’s bill would allow all homeowners with mortgages to receive a tax break, not just those who have enough income to file itemized tax returns.”

Under this proposed change, the number of homeowners with mortgages who would benefit from the tax break would increase from 43 million to 60 million, with 92% of the increase being households with incomes less than $100,000 a year.

The National Housing Trust Fund was established by Congress in 2008, but has yet to be funded. Its purpose is to reduce the shortage of rental homes that are affordable for the lowest income families.
Nationwide, for every 100 households with incomes in the bottom 30% of income, there are only 30 rental homes that are affordable and available to them. Once funded, the National Housing Trust Fund will provide grants to states to build, preserve, rehabilitate, and operate rental housing that these households can afford.

“Funding the National Housing Trust Fund would create thousands of jobs in the construction trades. We can end homelessness in the United States if we put enough money in the National Housing Trust Fund,” said Crowley.

In addition to providing funding for the National Housing Trust Fund, H.R 6677 would expand the Low Income Housing Tax Program and increase funding for HUD’s Section 8 and public housing programs.

Over 600 national, state and local organizations have endorsed NLIHC’s proposal to reform the mortgage interest deduction and use the savings to fund the National Housing Trust Fund.

Individual taxpayers can calculate how these proposed changes to mortgage interest tax policy would affect their taxes by the housing tax reform calculator at

Learn more about NLIHC’s proposal at

Housing money for storm victims underscores lack of commitment to low-income housing

The state is providing 1,000 housing vouchers to low-income people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. According to a press release from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the Christie administration "will set aside 1,000 vouchers from the state-administered Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program to assist low-income households that were displaced by the storm in moving into permanent housing." The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "will provide vouchers that will be used as 'Special Admissions' for households that cannot return to their homes. The vouchers, which average approximately $9,840 per year per household, will total $9.84 million."

The vouchers are good news for those displaced by the massive storm that ravaged the area at the end of October, but they also point to the failure on the part of both the state and the federal government to make a meaningful monetary contribution to battling homelessness.

I've spent a lot of time over the last six months talking with advocates and people who run shelters and the major takeaway from those conversations is this: You need to build housing if you are going to battle homelessness. And that takes money.

New Jersey has a huge deficit of affordable units -- and not just of the Mount Laurel sort. We need an array of housing types that would be affordable to those living at and just below the sustainable wage level of $22 an hour, to be sure, but we also need housing for the large group of people who have not been able to hold down jobs.

Rather than leave the most vulnerable population to shelters -- or to places like Tent City in Lakewood -- we need to find the resolve to get people into real homes. We have a responsibility as a society to ensure that the people left behind, people who are the byproduct of our economic system, have someplace healthy and safe to live.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Raising a new generation of homeless

From today's New York Times:
Across the country, tens of thousands of underemployed and jobless young people, many with college credits or work histories, are struggling to house themselves in the wake of the recession, which has left workers between the ages of 18 and 24 with the highest unemployment rate of all adults.

Those who can move back home with their parents — the so-called boomerang set — are the lucky ones. But that is not an option for those whose families have been hit hard by the economy, including Mr. Taylor, whose mother is barely scraping by while working in a laundromat. Without a stable home address, they are an elusive group that mostly couch surfs or sleeps hidden away in cars or other private places, hoping to avoid the lasting stigma of public homelessness during what they hope will be a temporary predicament.

These young adults are the new face of a national homeless population, one that poverty experts and case workers say is growing. Yet the problem is mostly invisible. Most cities and states, focusing on homeless families, have not made special efforts to identify young adults, who tend to shy away from ordinary shelters out of fear of being victimized by an older, chronically homeless population. The unemployment rate and the number of young adults who cannot afford college “point to the fact there is a dramatic increase in homelessness” in that age group, said Barbara Poppe, the executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The Tent City Project is an artistic look at human rights issues facing residents of a homeless camp in Lakewood, NJ and its connection to the growing number of tent cities across the country. See our Facebook page for more information -- and don't forget to "Like" us.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Buddy, can you spare a jail cell?

Brian Eastman wanted to spend the night in jail; instead, he faces a fine for drinking in public and still must find away to deal with the cold.

As reported by, police approached the 46-year-old Eastman as he was "drinking a 24-ounce can of Mike's Hard Iced Tea in front of Macho Nacho restaurant at 66 Morris St. at about 2:12 a.m. Wednesday, police said."
As O'Brien approached Eastman, the homeless man put down the can, police said.

"You got me. I'll take the ticket. I want to go to jail because it is getting cold out here," Eastman told O'Brien, according to the police report.

Instead of arresting Eastman, O'Brien gave him a ticket for drinking in public and threw out the alcoholic beverage without incident, police said.
The incident -- presented as a brief item in a police blotter -- offers a glimpse into our failed economy and the lack of seriousness with which we are approaching its natural byproduct.

The American economy has been rigged to generate massive wealth for a small subset of the population, who has managed to take the profits off the top while pushing the cost of the economic byproduct (as in a chemical equation) onto the public. Se we have homelessness and poverty and economic instability, pollution and health problems, shattered urban areas and devastated rural towns -- all created by the actions of corporate America, but ameliorated through the auspices of federal, state and local governments with the cost being shared by each and everyone of us.

Perhaps, this is logical. We get some of the benefits, so why shouldn't we share in the cost? The problem is that we are paying on both ends: We pay in higher prices and waning workplace power on the one side and then again through our taxes -- and rising crime, dirtier air and water, etc. -- on the other side. And people like Brian Eastman remain on the streets, and going so far as to commit a petty offense to get himself a warm space for the night.