Housing

Preserving Affordable Transit-Oriented Housing



As the U.S. economy slows, the likelihood of significant federal or local investment in new mass transit diminishes. But low- and moderate-income families depend upon housing close to transit to reduce their commuting expenses and improve access to jobs, schools, and other opportunities. Not surprisingly, the rental market has already begun to grow tighter in communities near existing transit and will most likely lead to escalating property values, making it more difficult to ensure long-term housing affordability.

Thousands of privately owned affordable apartments—both HUD-subsidized and unsubsidized—located near transit are at risk as property values rise. A 2009 AARP report co-authored by the National Housing Trust (nhtinc.org) and Reconnecting America (reconnectingamerica.org) claims that there currently exist over 250,000 privately-owned, HUD-subsidized apartments within walking distance of quality transit. However, over 150,000 of them are covered by federal housing contracts that will expire in 2014, which raises the possibility of their being converted to market rate housing as transit-oriented housing values rise.

These HUD-subsidized apartments house a very vulnerable population: The average annual income is less than $12,000; approximately 66 percent of residents are elderly or disabled; and most are people of color. In fact, low-income and people of color are about four times more likely to rely on public transit to get to work than middle class whites. Consequently, preserving transit-oriented housing is critical to maintaining access to jobs and resources for these disadvantaged populations.
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New Housing near Highways Threatens Community Health

"We had to fight the City to not allow developers to tear it down and to put local hiring in place to make sure that residents will benefit.”—Margaret Gordon

The landscape at 14th and Wood streets in West Oakland has quite a story to tell about reclaiming a community’s future from industrial pollution.

Fourteenth Street, which runs through the downtown office district, ends at the sound wall bordering one of the busiest interchanges in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearby, a historic train station that community activists fought to preserve from profit-driven redevelopment shows telltale signs of neglect: litter, broken windows, overgrown grass. The panoramic view of diesel trucks on the freeway framed by large gantry cranes at the Port of Oakland contrasts sharply with the new market-rate housing development next door.

The developer’s website offers a provocative vision for this newly rebranded area: “Once the end of the line for transcontinental rail passengers, Central Station will soon become a new kind of urban community: diverse, stimulating, and welcoming.[1]” But environmental justice activists have a cautionary tale about the politics of infill redevelopment and smart growth that are ushering this neighborhood into a new era.

In a converted trucking facility across the street from the new housing development on 14th and Wood, a small but mighty community-based organization goes toe-to-toe with developers in the fight for the future of West Oakland.

History, Smart Growth, and Health
Margaret Gordon, cofounder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (EIP), has long been a key community voice in redevelopment planning for the properties outside her office window. “The community has been through two different planning processes with the City around the train station development, and now we are on our third process,” she says. “Now the people in that new development next to it have different ideas. All these new residents see is an abandoned building... they don’t know about the baggage wing in that train station where the Pullman Porters did all their organizing because that was the only place that African-Americans were allowed to do so. We had to fight the City to not allow developers to tear it down and to put local hiring in place to make sure that residents will benefit.”

Unmodified: "Making Home Affordable" Program Fails to Address Foreclosure Crisis

Transcript

Irene Florez: Making Home Affordable is a key part of the Obama Administration's effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. If you are struggling with your monthly mortgage payments or if you have already missed a payment, now is the time to take action and apply for HAMP the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). But what if taking action means butting up against a system that repeatedly loses your paperwork and often starts the foreclosure process without your knowing it?

She remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs and notices in her amassed document binders she looks up somberly almost reciting the circumstances. This is the story of one woman, a single mother, who is facing foreclosure.

For the last three years, Ana Romero has wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David and Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension and lachrymose reflection in its wake.

When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two income household. Divorce changed all that. With only one income since 2008 Romero has not been able to meet her monthly payments.

Unmodified

Ana Romero remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs, and notices amassed in her document binders, she somberly recites the circumstances. A single mother of three facing foreclosure, Romero has for the last three years wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David-and-Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension, and lachrymose reflection in its wake. 

When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago, the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two-income household. Divorce changed all that.

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California's Fight Against Foreclosures Goes National

Rosaura Vazquez has owned her Whittier home with her brother-in-law Jaime for over seven years. In 2008, the economic downturn forced Jaime to close his business and Rosaura had to take a pay cut. Anticipating difficulty in making their monthly mortgage payment, they requested lender JP Morgan Chase to modify their loan. Chase responded by putting them on a three-month reduced monthly payment plan.

Rosaura and Jaime were able to find more work to supplement their income and paid their reduced monthly mortgage on time for well over a year. Then in early 2009, Chase informed them that they were ineligible for a permanent modification and moved to foreclose on the house because of the thousands of dollars in arrears that was owed from the trial modification. The bank stopped accepting the monthly payments and has made numerous attempts to sell Rosaura and Jaime’s home.

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Foreclosed Tenants Shut Down Utility Shut-offs

Shortly after the birth of her youngest child, Kim Isaacs received notice that her West Oakland apartment building was now owned by Countrywide Home Loans, which had foreclosed on her landlord. They wanted her out. Isaacs had become one of the hidden victims of the foreclosure crisis—tenants in foreclosed buildings. According to a study by the statewide organization Tenants Together, 7,000 housing units hit by foreclosure in Alameda County last year were tenant-occupied. That’s 40 percent of all the foreclosed units in the county.

Countrywide offered Isaacs $1,000 and two weeks to find a new place to live, pack up her things, and move out. “I told them, ‘No way!’” she said. She needed more money and more time to find another place for herself and her seven children. And as a member of Causa Justa/Just Cause, an Oakland and San Francisco tenants-rights organization, she also knew that city, state, and federal laws prohibit new property owners from simply evicting tenants.

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Floodlines: Preserving Public Housing in New Orleans

Among the roughly 15,000 people gathered in Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) this year were some 250 grassroots activists and organizers from New Orleans. They were seeking insight from activists in Detroit—the other U.S. city with the largest percentage of empty or unlivable housing—albeit the Rust Belt took several decades to achieve what Hurricane Katrina did overnight.

Of all the housing issues that New Orleans faced following Katrina, the battle over public housing developments stands out for its blatant bigotry and unfairness. Not long after Katrina, politicians, developers, and planners began talking about tearing down all the remaining public housing in New Orleans because, as Baton Rouge Congressman Richard Baker gloated, they had “finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans! We couldn’t do it, but God did.”[1] In truth, a lot of the public housing had made it through the storm in solid condition and with a few repairs could have been used for many years to come. But the decision-makers had their own agenda and chose to follow their prejudices and stereotypes with city council president Oliver Thomas (who later went to prison for a corruption scandal involving bribes related to a city contract for a parking lot) stating, “There’s just been a lot of pampering, and at some point you have to say, ‘No, no, no, no, no’!.. We don’t need soap opera watchers right now.”[2]

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