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Archive for the ‘policy’ Category

Over the past few decades and especially since the onset of  the “Great Recession,” city, county, and state governments around the country have had to cope with increasingly dire budget deficits. The go-to solution for many policy makers has been to make large funding cuts to programs that address poverty and inequality.

While this may help balance some budgets in the short term, recent reports find that not addressing poverty and inequality, especially child poverty, ends up costing billions more in the long term.

In 2007 the Center for American Progress released The Economic Costs of Poverty in the United States: Subsequent Effects of Children Growing Up Poor. In it they found:

Most arguments for reducing poverty in the U.S., especially among children, rest on a moral case for doing so—one that emphasizes the unfairness of child poverty, and how it runs counter to our national creed of equal opportunity for all.

But there is also an economic case for reducing child poverty. When children grow up in poverty, they are somewhat more likely than non-poor children to have low earnings as adults, which in turn reflects lower workforce productivity. They are also somewhat more likely to engage in crime (though that’s not the case for the vast majority) and to have poor health later in life. Their reduced productive activity generates a direct loss of goods and services to the U.S. economy.

What’s more, crime often imposes large monetary costs to the taxpayer, costs associated with administering our huge criminal justice system. And their poor health generates illness and early mortality which not only require large healthcare expenditures, but also will  impede productivity and ultimately reduce their quality and quantity of life.

How much does childhood poverty end up costing the country?

The Center for American Progress’ report results suggest that the costs associated with childhood poverty  to the U.S. total about $500B per year, or the equivalent of nearly 4 percent of GDP.

In 2008 the Human Services Policy Center at the University of Washington released The Cost of Child Poverty State by State which broke down those costs by state.

The annual cost of New York’s 888,000 children growing up in poverty?

$33.4 billion.

Thanks to the New York State Community Action Association’s recently released 2010 New York State Poverty Report we can break that down by county.

The annual cost of Erie County’s 39,528 children growing up in poverty?

$1.51 billion.

This begs the question:

When running government like a business, does it not make sense to invest in ending poverty?

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The Buffalo News’ recent investigations into City Hall’s housing policies raised some very important issues.

How much is too much to subsidize the construction of homes in the city?

Should developers receive these subsidies? Or should homeowners receive these subsidies?

Should private developers be relied upon for the development of these homes or should non-profits?

These are important questions that City Hall should spend more time thinking about as they move forward with projects like Sycamore Village. However these types of questions do not begin to challenge the ideal upon which this kind of housing policy rests: homeownership.

There are obviously many benefits to homeownership and for many people it is probably ideal.

Unfortunately homeownership is not a very affordable option for many people in Buffalo.

Homeownership requires homeowners to have a very steady and relatively high level of income. As the UB Regional Institute’s new report Playing an Insecure Hand: Low-Wage Workers in the New Economy points out, an increasingly large number of people in Buffalo are only finding inconsistent low-wage work. This kind of an income prevents many people from getting past the high upfront costs associated with buying a home. Further, even if one is able to get a mortgage, the costs associated with maintaining a home can be high. Many home owners are thus at risk of falling into foreclosure.

The Buffalo News’ report bears this out:

“Of the 431 subsidized homes that resold among the 1,500 [that have been subsidized by the City], more than half — 231 — were foreclosed upon, with most — 184 — involving the original subsidized owner. These foreclosures basically wiped out the $4 million in publicly funded subsidies the 184 foreclosed owners received.”

Obviously homeownership is a risky proposition at best for many people in the city.

Even renting is unaffordable for most people! According to the US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, 55.8% of renters in Buffalo spend over 30% of their household income on rent. HUD states that the “generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing”.

Additionally, according to the Homeless Alliance’s statistics, roughly 2000 people cannot even afford rent on any given night and as a result are homeless.

Bearing all this in mind, should homeownership be the main focus of our housing policy?

We believe that it is time for our community to broaden its outlook on the housing situation in Buffalo beyond homeownership and begin to focus housing policy on making housing affordable to all people.

PS: For a great discussion of the development of federal housing policy and issues with its emphasis on homeownership as a guiding principle see Thomas Sugrue’s article Why the New American Real Estate Dream is Renting.

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Developer Mark Croce will be receiving a $1.35 million hand-out from New York State tax payers to turn a vacant downtown building into an “upscale boutique hotel at Franklin and West Huron streets.” Croce is “convinced there’s a market for an upscale boutique hotel that offers larger rooms with some unique amenities.”

This handout is coming in the form of a Restore NY grant which is intended to “stabilize neighborhoods and revitalize urban areas.”

Which neighborhood is being stabilized here?

Who will benefit from this kind of urban revitalization? The “upscale” market Croce is convinced is out there–we’ll say those households making more than $150,000/year–accounts for about 3% of households in Buffalo.

In other words, $1.35 million of public money will be used to provide a tiny part of the community with presidential suites, pent-houses, and “unique amenities.”

This is money that could be used to stabilize or revitalize the neighborhoods of the 30.3% of people living in poverty in Buffalo, still the third poorest city in the country. This money could even be used to provide basic housing to the hundreds of individuals and families that are homeless on any given day in Buffalo.

Instead this public money will be used to help a wealthy developer provide upscale hotel suites for wealthy travelers and community members.

The County is also looking to tear down buildings in downtown Buffalo. In an effort to avoid being held responsible to Constitutional standards for jails and prisons, the county wants to build a new multimillion dollar county lockup downtown.

Hotels for the wealthy, expensive jails for the rest of us.

Is this how the people of Buffalo and Erie County want their money spent?

Does this benefit the whole or even very much of the community?

Or does it continue to subsidize wealthy developers and their clients while a third of the city lives in poverty?

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GreenJobsForum-6

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Renaissance Hotel
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Thank you, Nan – for that introduction, for your remarkable leadership with the Alliance, and, above all, for the bedrock commitment to end homelessness you have impressed upon five different HUD Secretaries. I look forward to continuing our work together.

I want to also thank your board, particularly Co-Chairs Susan Baker and Mike Lowry. And I want to note the HUD team here helping us address homelessness – Mark Johnston, our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, and Ann Oliva, who heads up our Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.

And of course, many of you know Fred Karnas – Fred is a senior adviser and has been critical in our Recovery Act efforts, including working with Mark and Ann quickly distributing the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds that so many of you made possible.

Will all of you stand up?

I want to also acknowledge the work of the Pete Dougherty, the interim executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the USICH staff, many of whom are here today.

But most of all, I want to thank everyone in this room who labor day in and day out to help the millions of men, women, and children in our nation who experience homelessness.

In the best of times, it is hard work.

In times like these, it is nothing less than the work of angels.

So, thank you.

Three years ago, The New Yorker ran an article that most of you are probably familiar with.

It was called”Million Dollar Murray” and it chronicled the story of an ex-marine who, for well over a decade, was a fixture in the part of Reno, Nevada that tourists rarely see: its shelters, emergency rooms, jail cells, and backstreets.

Like too many of our nation’s homeless population, Murray Barr died while still homeless, still on the streets.

Indeed, his story reminds us that each of us is here today for the same fundamental reasons:

Because we believe that a civilized society does not allow someone to live like that.

Because a civilized society doesn’t allow someone to die like that – alone, on the streets, with no hope, no chance for a better life.

But as much as Murray’s story was a cautionary tale – it was also one of affirmation.

Today, not only do we know we can do better by the long-term homeless, like Murray – because of you, we are doing better.

I witnessed this for myself in New York City, where as Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, I worked with groups like Common Ground, who day-after-day systematically debunked one of the most corrosive myths that even well-meaning people have long held:

That some people want to be homeless.

It led to a twisted sort of logic – that if government couldn’t house and improve the health of those living on our streets-visibly ill and suffering-who could we help?

Well, together, we showed them. By developing the “technology” of combining housing and supportive services-delivering permanent supportive housing via a targeted pipeline of resources- we’ve “moved the needle” on chronic homelessness, reducing the number of chronically ill, long-term homeless by nearly a third in the three years since “Million Dollar Murray” was published.

The fact is, we have now proven that we can house anyone.

Our job now is to house everyone – to prevent and end homelessness.

All homelessness.

That is what the Alliance has fought for in communities across the country – and it’s time that the Federal government not only supported those efforts, but took the lead.

(more…)

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We just got this message from our friends at PUSH:

We need volunteers!

One of PUSH’s national partners, National People’s Action, is bringing the Federal Reserve to Buffalo!

With millions of regular people caught in the grip of foreclosures, ballooning mortgages and predatory loans the Fed is traveling to cities hard-hit by the economic crisis to hear about the urgent need of reform and PUSH wants everyone there!

We need boots on the ground and people on the phones to get the turnout we need at this meeting. If you think you can canvass or phone-bank with us beginning on Monday, June 29th through July 15th, please give us a call at 716-884-0356 or shoot me an email, harrison@pushbuffalo.org

If you’d like to canvass, please show up to the office at 4 and if you’re interested in phone-banking, show up at 5.

The neighborhood needs to turn out to meet the Fed because we need access to credit, banks that invest in our communities, and green jobs that pay us a living wage! Real People have Real Power! Again, please lend us a hand canvassing or phone-banking, we would love to see you.

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The Subprime Crisis has helped force thousands of Americans into homelessness and it is hugely important that the Fed steps in to reform.  The National Coalition for the Homeless recently released  a report that details the effects of the Subprime Crisis on homelessness:

Foreclosure to Homelessness 2009: the Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis

We need you to help bring people out to tell the Fed how the Subprime Crisis has affected people in Buffalo.  Volunteer to canvass or phonebank and try to bring anyone you know who has been affected by predatory lending.  The meeting is:

July 16th, 6pm
Trinity Episcopal Church
371 Delaware Ave, Buffalo

They’ll be here soon so it’s time to get moving!

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One of the main purposes of the Poverty Challenge is to dispel myths and stereotypes about homeless and low-income people and shift our attention to the economic and social inequalities that create and perpetuate the grinding poverty in Buffalo.  A dominant message in our society is that poor people are to blame for their poverty.  That they make bad choices and do not try hard enough to get out of poverty.  Hopefully by taking the Challenge, people will be able to see how difficult it is to live in poverty, let alone move out of poverty with out any outside assistance.

Where do we focus if we shift our attention away from poor people being the cause of their own poverty?  One place that we can focus on is the very intimidating and complex issue of economic inequality.  Obviously there are a number of different sources of economic inequality and it is impossible to separate complex social inequalities from these already complex economic inequalities.

But in his second Poverty Challenge blog Aaron Bartley, of PUSH, touches on one source of economic inequality that has been a major part of Buffalo’s long term economic bottoming out:

Today’s General Motors bankruptcy is symbolic to me of the millions of industrial jobs lost in this country over the last forty years, and all the pain and suffering that continues to cause Buffalonians and others.

A recent Buffalo News article also reported the bankruptcy and what this means for GM workers in WNY.  In “Layoffs slated at GM’s Tonawanda plant”, Matt Glynn reports that the General Motors Corp. engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda will likely face layoffs of up to 261 workers.  Layoffs at this plant are not new; in 1989 the plant employed 4,350 people, in 2003 the plant employed 2,003 people, and after this latest round of layoffs the number could go down to 610 workers.

These were jobs that, through the efforts of local unions, had good wages and benefits.  The kind of jobs that helped build the modern American middle class and kept thousands of local families living comfortably with relatively secure futures.

The loss of these jobs has forced thousands of workers into unemployment and as other industries left the area, local workers were left with few options for employment.  Many of the jobs left in the Buffalo area for high school graduates (which is the highest level of education many people can complete because of financial restrictions among other reasons) are low paying, benefit-less, service sector jobs that are often times part-time.

As Bartley pointed out, the GM’s bankruptcy is symbolic.  It means the loss of even more of what’s left of the well-paying jobs that employed thousands during Buffalo’s heyday.  As made clear through the Challenge, losing income (through both unemployment and the replacement of good paying jobs with very low paying jobs) means not being able to eat and pay the bills; it means that one will be forced into poverty.

Economic changes and inequalities like the layoffs at GM plants are a large part of what has made Buffalo the third poorest city in America.  Policy and action in the area must take into considertaion the loss of  well-paying jobs like the ones that GM offered and strive to create more well-paying jobs.

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