The Nationwide Disappearance of Affordable Housing

House for Sale

As the crisis of housing affordability hits El Cerrito and the rest of California, it also assaults housing security throughout the nation.

According to data held by ATTOM Data Solutions (a multi-sourced national property data warehouse), housing affordability in the United States recently dropped to a 10-year low not seen since Q3 2008.

Prop 10 to remove rent control limits, failed on the November, 2018 ballot in California. Proposition 10 stated that it:

“Repeals state law that currently restricts the scope of rent-control policies that cities and other local jurisdictions may impose on residential property. Fiscal Impact: Potential net reduction in state and local revenues of tens of millions of dollars per year in the long term. Depending on actions by local communities, revenue losses could be less or considerably more.”

But in California, Proposition 1, which authorizes $4 billion in general obligation bonds for housing-related programs, grants, and housing loans for veterans, did pass.

A nationwide survey conducted on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), shows that 75% of U.S. households believe there is a crisis of housing affordability. Many respondents reported having observed effects of housing price increases in their local communities and at state levels.

In the opinion of one El Cerrito resident:

“Landlords should not take advantage of the Tenants, we’re living in the country of Laws, [In] El Cerrito … they keep raising rent 20% per year. They took advantage of the tenants because there is no rent control.”

Randy Noel, Chairman of NAHB, maintains:

“Housing affordability is an increasingly serious problem in communities across America. A mix of regulatory barriers, ill-considered public policy and challenging market conditions is driving up costs and making it increasingly difficult for builders to produce homes that are affordable to low- and moderate-income families.”

People nationwide are watching housing affordability seriously wane and needing to be addressed. Last November voters in several states (including California), counties, and some cities passed a number of initiatives and local measures to address affordable housing.

What do we do about the need for affordable living conditions? How can we pull universal public enthusiasm for affordable housing into workable solutions?

What type of civic response to the critical issue of affordable housing is within the scope of residential resources? Is there a way to negotiate with business interests to formulate local solutions to the crisis? How viable is it to pressure for local or state ordinances that attain and maintain affordable housing costs?

AFC street post

The challenge is daunting.

Locally many El Cerrito residents, including members of El Cerrito Progressives, are tirelessly involved in developing workable solutions to the lack of affordable housing. The challenge apparently lies in the dichotomy of affordable living and profitable real estate investment. The answer could lie in effecting the type of real estate and real estate agreements that produce both affordable housing and profitable returns.

The quest is how.

To reduce the outflow of renters from Boston, at the beginning of this year Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh proposed incentives to landlords that would include tax breaks or credits to landlords who charge rents below market value. Mayor Walsh also proposed that nonprofits would receive $5 million to assist in buying housing to rent at affordable rates.

But by November of this year, the general consensus among Bostonians seemed to be that the proposal’s activation didn’t address enough of the affordability issue.

“There is a feeling that the city needs to do more, but I think it’s good to reflect on what we have done,” said Sheila Dillon, Boston’s Chief of Housing and Director of the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development.

Tenant Housing

As a result of popular criticism, it seems that Boston is encouraging the redevelopment of up to 4,500 Boston Housing Authority public housing units, and protecting tenants in units with expiring affordability restrictions, a decades old state affordable housing program.

Like Boston, innovations employed by other cities, states, and nonprofits that include inclusionary zoning, removing parking minimums, changing building codes to make it easier to rehab older buildings, and new funding models are in operation. Still none offers an all-in-one solution to this enormous problem.

While the progress towards affordable housing is initial, public concern pleads for organized efforts towards effective solutions.

More information on the crisis of affordability in housing can be seen in the EAST BAY TIMES: Housing affordability crisis is nationwide article by ROSE MEILY | rmeily@silvar.org | Contributing columnist, from which much of this information was derived.

In Case You Hadn’t Heard … Federal Judge in Texas Rules Obamacare Unconstitutional

ACA1

As we power through this year-end, healthcare concerns hover over Holiday celebrations like a worrisome drone. To exacerbate the stress, Obamacare has suffered another hit. This assault could issue a mortal wound to the collective health of the American people.

Precisely on the eve of the federal insurance exchange sign up deadline, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be unconstitutional due to a recent change to federal tax law. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor completely overturns the law nationwide.

If allowed to stand, the ruling would injure Medicare, Medicaid expansion in many states, and Native American Health Services, along with hundreds of other provisions afforded under the Affordable Care Act achieved by President Obama.

The law currently stands, pending a probable appeal to the Supreme Court.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), probable Speaker when the House convenes in January, vowed to lead House Democrats in saving the Affordable Care Act. In a recently issued statement, Minority Leader Pelosi said:

“When House Democrats take the gavel, the House of Representatives will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans’ effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”

ACA2

A spokeswoman for Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General (D) who leads states’ attorneys general against the lawsuit which threatens the Affordable Care Act, stated that Democrats are ready to challenge the U.S. Court of Appeals on its unfavorable ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled the ACA as constitutional in 2012 and 2015, although the 2012 ruling denied the ACA’s nationwide expansion of Medicaid. In the 2012 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, stated that the penalties issued to those who don’t sign up under the ACA law are constitutional because Congress “does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance”.

Although the executive branch traditionally argues to uphold existing federal law when a law is challenged by court cases, in this case, initiated as a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the administration stated it will not defend the ACA against the lawsuit challenge.

Legal experts anticipate an appeal to the high court in respect to the Texas case.

If interested in preserving the Affordable Care Act, contact your senators and representatives.

This communicated information was First published in The Washington Post.

 

Auditor Findings to El Cerrito City Council Raises Red Flags

At the November 20, 2018 El Cerrito Council meeting the new independent City Auditor Ahmed Badawi presented on the findings.

cityhallFirst a bit of history. The City of El Cerrito’s last 6 audits were conducted by the same auditor. For the 2016-2017 audit,  the El Cerrito Financial Advisory Board (FAB) recommended that the city put out a bid for a new auditor. The bid was late and as a result, the 2016-17 audit only recently came before the City Council in November. Although the auditor completed the final Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) in August of 2018, it is not known why the presentation to the Council did not occur until this November meeting.

The findings of the auditor are sobering, according to City Council Member Quinto. To see the video please click here and then go to the Baldawi presentation. Findings included the following:

  • For the last three years the City has been borrowing money from the General Fund to various agencies such as Integrated Waste Management. Those loans totaled about 2 million dollars. For the most part very little if any of that borrowed money has been repaid. The auditor stated that typically loans such as these are used as bridge funds.

For example, city projects that are grant funded are often reimbursable grants.  The City can temporarily use general funds to front projects costs and the City is then reimbursed. This is generally done on a quarterly basis and considered short-term. However, in this case, funds have been outstanding, without reimbursement for almost three years.  As a result, the “so called” balance budget reported by the City staff, and passed by the Council, is by no means balanced. When funds were transferred out of the general fund it was done without action by the Council and without a plan for repayment. The auditor also reported most of those agencies did not have any identifiable ways to pay back the money. He also stated in most cities something like this would normally be approved by council and there would either be a write off of these funds or a repayment plan.

  •  As a result of the above borrowing for the the last three years, the city budget has been showing these loans as assets even though they were not. That money should have been marked as unusable. Essentially the city was spending money they did not actually have.City staff convinced the auditor to postpone the adjustment of  the city budget for this approximately 2 million dollar deficit for FY 16/17 until the completion of the 2018 audit.  There is the suggestion that revenues not previously reported may be forthcoming and reimbursed into the General Fund based on the timing of the review.  The auditor reported that thus far in FY 2018 approximately $300, 000 has been repaid. He anticipates a budget deficit of over 2 million dollars.
  • According to the auditor, the deficit needs to be addressed before any other spending priority. The city cannot operate with a negative balance sheet.
  • During the presentation Councilperson Abelson suggested using transfer tax monies (the result of the passing of Prop V). City staff also said none of that money should be spent until this was figured out.
  • Other council members asked questions that seemed to indicate that they did not understand the severity of this issue. They were talking about building a reserve. The auditor clearly stated you cannot have a reserve if you have a deficit.
  • There was no discussion on how this happened or what was going to change to make this not happen again. The auditor suggested a policy that such loans be approved by city council and the council asked if other councils did this. He answered” yes.
  • The auditor also found a few additional deficiencies. A prior financial report had to be amended due to be incorrect.
  • The closing of the fiscal year was reported to be not done in a timely manner.

Again the auditor is currently working on the FY2018 audit and more information will be known when that report is completed.

Witness at the Texas-Mexico Border

Submitted by Tomi Nagai-Rothe

bollard wall

In June I saw images of tent city prisons built for children separated from their families and all I could think about was the concentration camp where my mother’s family lived for several years during World War II.

The Japanese-American community has made a point of standing in solidarity with those targeted by the US government, including the Muslim community after 9/11. Because almost no one — except for the American Friends Service Committee — stood for them when they were forced out of their homes simply because of their ethnicity. I feel a part of this solidarity movement so that no one and no group targeted because of their identity will feel so alone.

I felt led to do more than organize locally in El Cerrito − to go in person to witness what is happening at the Texas-Mexico border. Going in person felt like one way to embody my commitment.

In October I spent 2 ½ weeks volunteering with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) in Alamo, Texas just outside McAllen which was ground zero for the family separation crisis over the summer. TCRP interviewed 382 families and organized 90 attorneys as part of the #FamiliesBelongTogether effort over the summer (there are only three attorneys in their Alamo office, and six others in the other TCRP offices).

Humanitarian Respite Center

By October the family crisis had abated somewhat, so I worked on a border wall project. I studied the history of the border wall, including the economic, cultural and environmental impacts and created this illustration of the executive summary of the article, Death, Damage and Failure: Past, Present and Future Impacts of Walls on the US-Mexico Border.

To support the work of the TCRP attorneys I created an interactive map of the landowners affected by the October 10 waiver of 28 federal laws that clears the way for additional border wall construction. TCRP is working with individuals who need help negotiating with the government and cannot afford to hire an attorney.

FINAL Impact of Wall on the Border

On my last day in Texas I volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen where newly arrived families and individuals gather before taking busses to reunite with family members in other parts of the state or country. I was struck by how young they were — in their 20s and 30s — and how composed they seemed, having experienced unspeakable challenges. Soon after I arrived I started crying inexplicably. I can only guess that it was the feeling of so many people’s trauma in one small room.

When I returned to the office I edited stories of people killed by the Border Patrol for a Dia de Los Muertos Offrenda (altar). It felt important to write a respectful obituary for those who died a violent death. It was an emotional end to an eye-opening visit.

safe_image

To learn more about why the Bay Area is a border region, why the Texas-Mexico border has the fewest miles of wall and more, come to Tomi’s talk about her sojourn in South Texas.

Saturday, January 5 3 to 4:30pm at Berkeley Zion Presbyterian Church, 545 Ashbury at Lincoln, El Cerrito

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STOP THE TEARS AT THE BORDER!

teargasNationally, Families Belong Together are calling for a National weekend of protest on December 1 and December 2nd.  Locally, West County residents can join the chorus to STOP THE TEARS by Showing UP at the El Cerrito Plaza at Noon on December 1st. Event Sign Up  This visibility action is for ONE HOUR and meant to be a reminder – just 10 hours from our borders, we are placing innocent people in harms way, ignoring international law, and making it virtually impossible for asylum seekers to carry through with their quest for asylum.

When tear gas traveled through the throngs of migrants on the border areas of our State, most citizens stood by horrified by the images of women and children frantically running for safety,   Trumps latest manifestation of a hostile policy toward migrants  follows on the heals of the failing family separation policy,  long term detention of immigrant families, not to mention the newly restricted rules for asylum application.  It is clear that the architects of the current administrative changes at the border are determined to halt any immigration of the refugees who are fleeing from countries that have been torn apart by violence, political corruption and economic deprivation.

Locally, other efforts are underway to support the migrants at the border.

The city of Berkeley will donate money for the migrant caravan to the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, not to exceed $250 per council member. Funds will help provide food, shelter and basic needs to caravan members detained at U.S. ports of entry or traveling to immigration hearings, according the Daily Cal (November 28, 2018)

safe_imageTo learn more about the solidarity work that can be done on the border, please join the Interfatih Movement 4 Human Integrity

Saturday, Dec. 8th, 7 pm – 9 pm
People’s Assembly for Migrant Caravan Solidarity
@ 1st Pres. Church Oakland, 2619 Broadway Ave. Oakland
Join IM4HI & the Migrant Welcome Committee of the Bay Area for an evening of sharing and action as we better understand the recent caravans and take action in solidarity with their participants.
  • Find out the root causes of the mass migration of Hondurans and other Central Americans in this historic moment.
  • Hear testimony from participants of the migrant caravans about the realities, stories and power of their journey and collective action.
  • Find out the many ways individuals and organizations right here in the Bay Area can support the material and political goals of the migrants who are seeking asylum in the US.
Financial Donations to support organizations in Tijuana supporting migrants
and migrant legal defense will be collected at this event.

 

Tenant Voices Muted in City Tenant Protection Proposals

When El Cerrito adopted the El Cerrito Affordable Housing Strategy  the staff identified four pillars to address affordable housing needs.  The Community Workshop (above) emerges from staff’s research to address the second pillar: Reduce the Risk of Displacement and  Stabilize At-Risk Populations. In other words, mitigate gentrification as the region grows in this next decade and protect those renters who are on fixed, low or middle incomes and paying over 50% of their income in rent.

In early November,  City Staff  hastily organized a Community Workshop on Tenant Protections. It was no surprise that only a hand full of tenants attended, matched by a similar number of landlords.  The majority of those in attendance were members of El Cerrito Progressives, including tenants and allies.  We learned that non-binding rent mediation anchored the proposal for tenant protections.  Also known as the Rent Review Program, once implemented, the  tenants and landlords sit down together when there is disagreement on rental terms.  Sounds good?  Let’s say the mediator decides that the tenant has a case and that the 20% rent increase is unwarranted, that would be a victory for the tenant, right? Wrong.  The mediation is non-binding and the landlord can ignore the mediator’s decision.  According to Carol Lamont, previous Housing Director for the City of Fremont, and the developer of a rent mediation program for the City of Fremont:

The best the mediation process offered was additional time for tenants to move out before a rent increase that they could not afford went into effect. Now I have been told by one of the mediators, who is a long time resident, that Fremont’s ordinance is useless, and that it reflects poorly on the City.

Many members of the audience  urged staff not to put forward the Rent Review Program. Audience members cited poor evaluation reports of similar programs from San Leandro and Concord as well as Fremont, all pointing to the weaknesses of non-binding resolution.  Even landlords spoke up against the program, but for obvious different reasons.

But most voices were muted, and continue to be muted over the call for a Rent Review Program.  The Rent Review Program will be heard by the City Council on December 18th, when our local officials make decisions on tenant protections.   Tenants and homeowners continue to be concerned that the protections being suggested will be too little too late.  But there can be an alternative or additional course of action.

When the Human Relations Commission met in September of this year, Commissioner Makalia Aga raised the issue of a moratorium on rent increases and help with eviction. As a long time resident, senior citizen and renter, she faces a 20% rent increase in the next few months, and worries about her future in El Cerrito.  Members of the Commission took up the banner and returned the following October to present a strongly worded resolution recommending that the City Council adopt an anti-gouging measure and just-cause eviction ordinance to protect tenants. They voted in the majority to bring the resolution to the City Council for the November agenda. So where is that resolution and why does it not appear on the November Agenda?

El Cerrito Progressives and other concerned residents will be at the meeting on Tuesday, November 20th to ask that question, and hopefully reset the volume so that tenants can truly get some needed protections. (BTW – we know there are good landlords and encourage you to join us !)