Cities Adjust Homeless Counts
Every January, American cities conduct “point-in-time counts” to find out how many sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness they have. But this year, because of COVID-19 concerns, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidelines allowing cities to apply for exemptions to the requirements. As a result, according to a report in Axios, many big cities are changing or canceling their in-person counts this year. A Los Angeles spokesperson said there was “no safe way” to bring together the 8,000 necessary volunteers to do the count, according to the report. Cities that don’t complete the counts now will be required to complete them after the emergency, according to the report. Some cities are moving forward with modified counting plans, the report says. In Tampa Bay, Florida, for example, volunteers will use information provided by shelters and other existing data to estimate the number of unhoused people living in the area. Officials say they’re going to be careful to consider the data provided by new counts in light of the modified methods.
“For a large portion of this year, shelters have had capacity challenges because of social distancing or had periods where they weren’t accepting people,” St. Petersburg City Councilmember Amy Foster told the Tampa Bay Times. “Even if the count shows reduced numbers, I don’t believe that is the reality.”
Historic Public Housing Threatened in San Antonio
Current and former residents of the Alazán-Apache Courts, the oldest public-housing complex in San Antonio, are protesting the proposed demolition of the site, according to a report in the Texas Observer. The board of the San Antonio Housing Authority recently voted 5-2 to apply to HUD for permission to demolish the apartments, according to the report. The Authority has been planning to demolish the project, which includes 685 units, since 2017, according to the report. The project was built in the late 1930s and early 1940s in “a poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood that’s produced many of Alamo City’s most famous musicians, writers, and politicians,” the report says. The Housing Authority plans to replace the complex with a mixed-income housing project, but according to the story, some advocates say that current residents may not be able to find units in the new project, that vouchers are not an equivalent replacement for a public-housing unit, and that the project could gentrify San Antonio’s West Side. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently named the courts as one of the most endangered historic places in the U.S., the report notes.
““This is [our] last big public housing development,” said Sofía López, a housing activist who previously served on the housing authority’s board, according to the report, “and when it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
Activists Project “Cancel Rent” on New York Apartment Building
Housing activists in New York City lit up the Tivoli Towers apartment building, one of the tallest buildings in Crown Heights, with a series of messages this week: Tax the Rich, House the Poor, Stop Evictions and Cancel Rent. The messages, captured and posted to Twitter by Housing Justice for All, a campaign led by the Upstate-Downstate Alliance, which was partially responsible for pushing New York State’s expansion of rent control in 2019. The projection directed tenants to a website where they can declare financial hardship and be protected from eviction until at least May 1, 2021. (The federal eviction moratorium is currently set to expire at the end of January.) The campaign is also fighting for progressive taxes to pay for new investments in social housing and a further expansion of rent control. Earlier in the pandemic, an artist projected similar messages onto a skyscraper in Manhattan. In May, activists hung a “Cancel Rent” banner from the Queensboro Bridge. “We need to #InvestInOurNY and raise $50billion in new taxes THIS YEAR!” the campaign wrote on Twitter. “It’s the only way we can solve a housing crisis that has left 92,000 NYers homeless in a pandemic, and millions of households behind on rent.”
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.
Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.