by Nick Swartsell
82 days ago
Posted In: Homelessness
at 02:47 PM | Permalink
Cuts to rental aid programs leave more people on the streets
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit. Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011. That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services. Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts. "I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD. Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
by Nick Swartsell
112 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:41 AM | Permalink
Ticket scalping, Section 8 shenanigans and drugs
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond. Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes. In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3. • Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority. Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner. There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.
by Hannah McCartney
Threat of lawsuit next phase in Anna Louise Inn dispute
Financial giant and Lytle Park bully Western & Southern has accused city officials and other Anna Louise Inn advocates of repeatedly deceiving the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to obtain federal funds for the long-awaited, $13 million renovations to the Inn.
Those renovations are the same ones that have been blocked over and over by a series of legal entanglements initiated by Western & Southern, which tried to purchase the Inn back in 2009 for $1.8 million, refusing to buffer the Inn's $3 million price tag. In 2011, the Hamilton County Auditor valued the plot at $4 million.
Now, the corporate giant, which owns a number of other plots of land in Lytle Park, wants to buy the Inn and convert it into an upscale hotel.
Western & Southern’s lawyer, Glenn Whitaker, sent a letter obtained by CityBeat dated March 19 to City Solicitor John Curp accusing city officials of knowingly violating the federal Fair Housing Act by allowing the owner of the Inn, Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), to pursue federal funding for renovations while providing services to exclusively women in need, which the letter alleges would “discriminate on the basis of gender” and “expose the City to liability under both the federal False Claims Act and the FHA.”
“We share this with you because — no matter where one stands on whether ALI’s renovations comply with Cincinnati Zoning Code — it is in the public interest for the City to avoid a lawsuit that could lead to a significant payout in today’s budget environment,” reads the letter.
Of course, that lawsuit is one that would be entirely fabricated and launched by Western & Southern, on top of years worth of zoning violation allegations that, so far, have failed to gather much merit.Some women-only shelters are deemed permissible due to safety issues, but in the letter, Whitaker alleges that the renovation plans expose ALI to discrimination liability by, in theory, making the safety issue moot by providing clear, separated spaces for men and women. The renovation plans include converting what are now dormitory-style units with shared bathrooms into private residences with private bathrooms and kitchens, according to the letter. Curp, who received the letter, says the city’s relationship with HUD is one that hinges on constant communication, and though Western & Southern's allegations were unexpected, they'll be taken seriously. “We work with them closely, we have a great relationship with HUD. They were the first organization we contacted when we got this letter, ... so they understood the nature of the allegations and because they’re one of our development partners. We have lots of development partners in the city, frankly, including Western & Southern. ... We're disappointed that the city has been pulled into what is otherwise a third-party dispute."
The letter also accuses a number of community members, including 3CDC, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Model Group, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and the YMCA of conspiring to move low-income residents from the Metropole to the Anna Louise Inn in order to ease litigation with the Homeless Coalition and make way for the new, upscale 21c Museum Hotel. John Barrett, Western & Southern’s CEO, is also on the board of 3CDC, which adds an extra element of mystery to the lodged accusations; at best, it seems extreme they'd be willing to accuse ally 3CDC of wrongdoing or conspiracy for the sake of a discrimination lawsuit against a nonprofit social services agency whose stated goal for more than 100 years has been to provide a haven for women in need. Ideally, explains Curp, HUD will respond equipped with some sort of past precedent that would absolve the city and the Inn of alleged discrimination and make the lawsuit irrelevant. "I think a lawsuit would be very much premature. ... Like I said, our first step is to talk to HUD and to make sure that between the both of us, we don’t see any discrimination or compliance issues. If there’s any chance of that ... after our review and a review by HUD, we will fix it to bring it into compliance," he says. "As I sit here today, I can't imagine this situation hasn't been dealt with in the past. I'd be shocked if HUD hasn't dealt with this in another community and come up with a set of guidelines for us to follow."
by German Lopez
More than 700 units being sold to New York company
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing
units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a
similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the
opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut
Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local
communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled
by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the
massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar
situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a
similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between
2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010. Property values went from $21.5
million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the
buildings blighted, with residents complaining about
deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an
apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings:
“Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the
improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to
have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these
properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important
that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale,
Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed
new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to
the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale.
She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen.
Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.