Housing in Brief: Mayors Say They Don’t Have Tools to Deal With Homelessness

Also, private mortgage lending still not serving Black and Latino lenders, and more.

Skid Row

(Photo by Laurie Avocado / CC BY 2.0)

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Report Finds Mayors Without Dedicated Staff Are Relying on Police To Handle Homelessness

A survey of 126 mayors in 39 states found that mayors felt reducing homelessness was outside of their control, that most did not have a metric for success, and that a third of those interviewed were using their police departments to handle homelessness. The report, published by the nonprofit Community Solutions in collaboration with the Boston University Initiative On Cities, is the eighth annual survey of its kind and the first to include questions about homelessness. According to the report, 73 percent of mayors believe they are held responsible by residents for homelessness while only 19 percent believe they have control over reducing homelessness in their cities.

The survey highlights some of the challenges mayors believe they face. Over 60 percent said the main impediment to dealing with homelessness is a lack of funding. The second most cited challenge is public opposition to housing and homeless shelters. Perhaps most alarming is how many mayors acknowledge that police have an influence over homelessness policy. According to the report, “78 percent of mayors say that police have at least some influence over their city’s homelessness policy,” and their influence was behind only homeless service providers and city and state agencies that deal with homelessness. Many mayors have no homelessness staff at all, and 22 percent of mayors placed their homelessness staff within their city’s police departments.

All the mayors were anonymized in the report, but it does include geographic and political information, with East Coast mayors more likely to believe they lack control over homelessness and Republican mayors more likely to lean on police departments. But the overall picture paints one familiar to anyone who has watched mayors struggle with homelessness — in the face of housing disinvestment, lack of a coordinated plan and public opposition, many mayors have leaned too heavily on enforcement as a tool to address visible homelessness, often pairing it with meager available services.

Private Mortgage Lending Still Not Serving Black Communities

A report from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition looked at shifts in mortgage lending during the Covid-19 pandemic. It found a gap in homeownership rates between Black and white families that was at a 120 year high.

Home purchase lending had increased for Hispanic borrowers (1.5%) and Asian applications (1%) and decreased for Black borrowers by .1%.

Even when homes were purchased, their values were not equal, according to the report: “Black and Hispanic borrowers bought less valuable homes than White (and some Asian) borrowers, and they paid more to do so.”

At the same time, the report notes, many more households were refinancing — renegotiating the terms of their loans based on their credit and their home’s value— during the pandemic due to the Federal Reserve’s lower interest rates. A full 15 million borrowers — more than twice as many in 2018 — refinanced in 2020, but those refinanced mortgages flowed mostly to white borrowers and borrowers of Indian and Chinese descent.

Parsing these findings is also getting more difficult, because private lenders are providing race identifying data less often, the report says. The report recommends federal policies that explicitly target race to improve mortgage lending for underserved communities. This is something lawmakers tend to avoid, as policies that are not race-neutral in their language are more susceptible to court challenge.

New York’s Eviction Moratorium Expires

Despite ongoing protests, New York Governor Kathy Hochul allowed the state’s eviction moratorium to expire. City Limits visited Bronx Housing Court the first day after the moratorium elapsed, where the numbers of tenants waiting for court remained more or less the same as the weeks prior, though that is expected to change. “A lot of folks are coming in terrified that they’re going to be out on the streets today or tomorrow now that the moratorium has ended,” one housing attorney with the organization BronxWorks told City Limits.

Tenants who did not pay rent between March 16, 2020 and June 15, 2021, and who can prove it was due to pandemic related job loss are still protected from eviction, according to City Limits. The federal government will provide more pandemic relief to the state’s depleted eviction prevention fund in April and the governor will include an as yet determined amount of funding to renters in arrears in the state budget, according to the outlet.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: homelessnessbanksevictionsmortgages

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