Signs of the Times
Montego Bay, Jamaica
The Gropius house, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Thoreau's Cabin at Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts
Philadelphia Human Services
United States Department of Justice Building, Washington, D.C.
"Last year, home sales to minorities rose by 28 percent, compared with a decrease of 1.3 percent for whites, according to an annual survey by the Chicago Title and Trust Co." (Ron Scherer, The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 1998).
"Between 1993 and 1996, home loans to blacks rose by 52.5% and to Hispanics by 55.6% compared with 14 percent for whites and 15.3% for Asians. Lending to minorities by Fannie Mae, the nation's largest source of home-mortgage funds, rose from 13 percent to 17 percent between 1993 and 1997. Last year, this amounted to almost $12 billion" (Ron Scherer, The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 1998).
Even so, "minorities, who have long been left out of the home-buying loop, lag behind whites in ownership. Despite the home-buying surge last year, 45 percent of minorities own their own homes, compared with 65 percent of whites. 'These are communities that have been under-banked and under-loaned," says (Marc) Smith', (president of the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington) (Ron Scherer, The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 1998).
"Mr. Smith recounts a visit to a Harlem classroom. He asked how many students' parents owned their homes. Only one raised their hand. Then, he asked, 'How many of you want to own your own home?' They all raised their hands" (Ron Scherer, The Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 1998).
According to a criminal indictment unsealed Friday, "three men were indicted earlier this month for allegedly conspiring to remove asbestos illegally from an aging Wisconsin factory. Their alleged scheme involved recruiting 13 men from Chattanooga, Tenn., most of the homeless, to go to the small, central Wisconsin town of Marshfield to remove nearly two miles' worth of asbestos insulation from the Weyerhaeuser Door & Stile factory" (The Daily Progress, April 25, 1998).
"When they began work in the autumn of 1996 ... they were assigned false names and Social Security numbers to obtain identification cards permitting them to do the work But they were given little else: They lacked sufficient training, protective clothing, respirators or masks to do the job safely" (The Daily Progress, April 25, 1998).
Calling such activity "a shameful human exploitation," Attorney General Janet Reno "promised the government would take every step to prosecute illegal asbestos removal cases that involve untrained homeless people, teenagers and unqualified day laborers ... Using vulnerable people for such activity violates 'the basic standard of human decency,' Reno said" (The Washington Post, April 25, 1998).
"Asbestos fiber, often used to insulate older buildings, is a hazardous material whose fibers can become deeply embedded in the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses and even cancer. Workers must follow special removal procedures such as wetting down the material and putting it into special containers" (The Washington Post, April 25, 1998).
"The department cited prosecutions in nine states since September involving the hiring of untrained workers ... and announced an EPA telephone hot line, 1-800-368-5888. for people to call if they believe someone is being hired for improper asbestos removal" (The Washington Post, April 25, 1998).
"Federal officials Friday announced a record $2.15 billion settlement with Dallas-based AccuBanc Morgage Corp. after inspectors found evidence that it had discriminated against minority loan applicants. HUD officials said the settlement money should help 15,000 lower-income and minority families buy homes in Dallas and Tarrant counties and across the nation" (George Rodrigue, The Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1998).
"In one Dallas test, an AccuBanc employee qualified a minority applicant for an $85,000 loan. A less-qualified white applicant was offered up to $150,000, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. Three other tests in Dallas and several in Fort Worth produced similar results, HUD officials said" (George Rodrigue, The Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1998).
"Over the next three years, (AccuBanc) will pay $24 million to help Dallas-Fort Worth area families with down payments, closing costs and bonds for lower-interests mortgages. The remaining funds consist primarily of a pledge to write more mortgages for lower and moderate-income borrowers, many of whom would not otherwise get loans, according to HUD officials. AccuBanc anticipates maller profits on that part of its mortgage portfolio because of relatively higher loan origination costs and potentially higher default rates, said senior vice president Gene Lugat" (George Rodrigue, The Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1998).
"Though HUD never officially charged AccuBanc with discrimination, Secretary Andrew Cuomo said Friday that such cases prove the struggle for equal rights is far from over, even on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Dr. King's death prompted Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Mr. Cuomo said ... (and at a Washington new conference,) Mr. Cuomo cited several recent forms (throughout the country) of what he called 'discrimination with a fist'" (George Rodrigue, The Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1998).
"Liza Costa, the mother of three young children, recalled how a group of teenagers burned a cross on her lawn in Rushville, Mo., last August. Mr. Cuomo noted that nonwhite residents of the Riviera Oaks complex in New Orleans were shunted into a 'black' half of the project and forbidden to use what was effectively a white-only swimming pool. But, Mr. Cuomo said, lending bias is a more insidious problem, 'an institutional discrimination that is hidden behind a smiling face'" (George Rodrigue, The Dallas Morning News, April 4, 1998).
In 1980, Orlando, Florida banned panhandling. But "when federal courts found similar statutes unconstitutional, Orlando decided to accomplish through regulation what it was forbidden to do by prohibition. Since February 1997, anyone wishing to beg on the streets of Orlando must apply to the police department to wear a laminated panhandling permit. No permit? Arrested!" (Eric Brosch, Harper's Magazine, April 1998).
In an attempt "to 'attract and consolidate' the homeless away from downtown shopping areas, (the) panhandling ordinance moves Orlando's policy of containment toward its logical conclusion. The law provides 'officers with an easier way to arrest for panhandling,' according to the city prosecutor. Police frequently sweep the city and arrest people for violating the ordinance. According to the ACLU, of the first 200 people arrested, all were homeless over the age of 65. Unlicensed panhandlers are given a chance to register, though if they're caught begging again before they do, they can be arrested" (Eric Brosch, Harper's Magazine, April 1998).
Orlando has approximately 3,500 homeless people. A shelter run by the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida (CHCF) "has 200 beds for women and children; men are given a mat and sent to a pavilion where yellow lines mark off 500 spaces ... Of the 275 people who have registered (for a panhandling permit), 35 have had their licenses revoked (and) begging without a permit can lead to 60 days in jail and, laughably, a $500 fine" (Eric Brosch, Harper's Magazine, April 1998).
"'We're actually hoping we'll displace people to other cities,' admits an Orlando police sergeant" (Eric Brosch, Harper's Magazine, April 1998).
"A Waste Management driver making the rounds in a Shady Grove research office park yesterday got the 4 a.m. scare of his life when he emptied a park Dumpster into his truck -- and a man climbed out of the garbage. 'He looked out his sindshield and saw legs coming down,' said Capt. John Rooney of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue" (Susan Levine, The Washington Post, March 31, 1998).
"Waste Management Inc. said the man apparently had been sleeping in a different Dumpster around the corner in the 2400 block of Research Boulevard. The driver made a pickup there, compacted his load once and continued to his next stop, where he was surprised to learn he had a passenger. 'We're very fortunate [the man] made it out,' said Robert Guidry, the company's environmental health and safety director'" (Susan Levine, The Washington Post, March 31, 1998).
"Fire officials refused to release the man's name, saying they had not been able to confirm it or his address. He was transferred later to Washington Adventist Hospital ofr psychiatric observation, Rooney said" (Susan Levine, The Washington Post, March 31, 1998).
John Grisham first became interested in the problem of homelessness when he began to work on his forthcoming new book, "The Street Lawyer." In this week's edition of Newsweek, he talks about how his research took him into the world of the homeless.
Homelessness, says Grisham, "is a problem that is not going away. There are more homeless this year than last, and the number keeps growing. The new welfare overhaul our politicians are so proud of is sending more poor people into the streets. Many homeless people actually work, but not where they prefer. They are relegated to minimum-wage jobs with few hours and no benefits. The cost of housing is high, so they have a choice: sleep under a bridge or fight for a spot in a shelter" (John Grisham, Newsweek, February 9, 1998).
"About 40 percent of the homeless are substance abusers, and this number is expected to increase as rehab programs dwindle ... Many of the homeless are mothers with children, and shelters are not always equipped to handle them. Tonight many thousands of children will find a place to sleep without a decent bed, shelter or roof. They will sleep in trunks of old cars, and in parks I wouldn't walk through in daylight, and in abandoned buildings in inner-city combat zones" (John Grisham, Newsweek, February 9, 1998).
"There is now a new and growing threat. Some cities are in the midst of an effort to criminalize homelessness. Attempts have been made to outlaw panhandling, sleeping on park benches and sideqalks, eating near fountains and leaving personal property on public property. Some of these ill-advised ordinances have been struck down, so the cities selectively enforce existing laws ... Sweeps have become routine in some cities ... Everyone has to be somewhere. The problem of homelessness is not solved by removing the victims from our view. The issue borders on the brink of hopelesness" (John Grisham, Newsweek, February 9, 1998).
"... Is this the Third World, I asked myself? Or is this America?" (John Grisham, Newsweek, February 9, 1998).
"FOR SALE: Three-bed-room, two-bath ranch-style house. Near good schools and good neighbors. Low taxes, low crime. Located in a white neighborhood. How much would you pay for this house?" (Richard Morin, The Washington Post, December 28, 1997).
"If you're white, a new study of housing prices suggests that you'll pay, on average, about 13 percent more than if the same house were located in a racially integrated part of town" (Richard Morin, The Washington Post, December 28, 1997).
That's the premium that whites appear to be willing to pay to live in the typical segregated white neighborhood, say Harvard economists David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor. And it's this extra cost that's now primarily either reponsible for keeping America's neighborhoods predominantly black or white decades after legal segregation officially ended, Cutler agrees" (Richard Morin, The Washington Post, December 28, 1997).
"Cutler and his colleagues collected a mountain of data on every neighborhood in three American cities: Cleveland, Atlanta and Sacramento. They selected these cities because they were 'representative of the urban experience of the past century'" (Richard Morin, The Washington Post, December 28, 1997).
"Karen Lilleleht, chairwoman of Albemarle County's housing committee, has received an award for her 27 years of work in helping Charlottesville-area residents secure affordable housing." She was awarded the annual Virginia Housing Leadership Award in November at the Governor's Conference on Housing in Roanoke (The Daily Progress, December 24, 1997).
Karen "was the first president of Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, in 1973, and is a past president of the Charlottesville Housing Foundation. She now serves on the Piedmont Housing Alliance's board of directors" (The Daily Progress, December 24, 1997).
"More than 8,000 housing units were constructed in Charlottesville from 1945 to 1970, nearly half of all Charlottesville's housing. Given its current age, and the fact that it will be 40 to 65 years old by 2010, I estimate that at least 50 percent of it will need major reinvestment just to maintain livable quality" (William Lucy, professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, for The Daily Progress, December 21, 1997).
"The 50 percent estimate (4,000 units), plus aging of the 1970's housing stock past the 30 year mark (at least 1,000 more units), equals 5,000 units that will need reinvestment, enlargement and upgrading" (William Lucy, professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, for The Daily Progress, December 21, 1997).
"Charlottesville cannot match Albemarle's lot sizes, scenic views or current dwelling sizes. To be competitive for middle-income home buyers, the city must capitalize on conevenience, quality services, good schools, walkability and ambiance. But Charlottesville must also have housing that is more competitive with Albemarle in quality and size" (William Lucy, professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, for The Daily Progress, December 21, 1997).
"These housing reinvestments are needed to retain and attract middle-income individuals and families to the city, because enough new housing will not be built to halt or reverse erosion of Charlottesvilles' middle-income population" (William Lucy, professor of architecture at the University of Virginia, for The Daily Progress, December 21, 1997).
"For decades, life in California has revolved around the automobile. You can't live on the coast without a car, the saying goes. Now the homeless in San Francisco are taking this tenet one steop further: They say they can't afford to live anywhere but in their cars, and they want the city to provide a space for parking. A group of 150 supporters of the idea have formed the Vehicularly Housed Residents Association, which Judy Appel, staff attorney for the Coalition on Homelessness, an advocacy group, calls 'a neighborhood group without a neighborhood" (The Boston Sunday Globe, December 21, 1997).
"Advocates say the plan bows to the reality of life for a certain segment of the street population: They do not wish to live in shelters, they can't find affordable housing, and they want the autonomy of living in their own buses, trucks, and cars" (The Boston Sunday Globe, December 21, 1997).
Guinea Apollos, who has renovated a vintage 1964 school bus, says "she is proud of what she has achieved. 'I'm not homeless,' she said. 'My home is homeless'" (The Boston Sunday Globe, December 21, 1997).
According to Bill Lucy, a member of the Town Reversion Study Group, "Charlottesville and Albemarle are becoming more unbalanced in their socio-economic characteristics because of their unbalanced housing supply characteristics" (The Observer, January 9-15, 1997).
In the Opinion section of The Observer, he makes a strong case that "Charlottesville does not have enough (available) housing with characteristics that appeal to much of the middle- and upper-income sector of society" (The Observer, January 9-15, 1997).
He believes that "Town reversion can cope with the socio-economic and financial implications of housing supply disparities, such as turning over expensive services to Albemarle and revising school attendance zones" (The Observer, January 9-15, 1997).
While changes in housing supply may be one condition for attracting and retaining a strong middle class in the city, for my part, I think it is too soon to tell whether -- with or without reversion -- if we build, they will come. This may depend upon what kind of equitable arrangements can be worked out between city and county.
For more on reversion, see Reversion on the sidebar under What do you think?