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Harvard Study Finds Housing Affordability A Growing Issue

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) While the recession has contributed to a price drop in residential homes, many consumers still lack the resources to transition from renting to homeownership. In fact, according to a recent housing report, not only are the numbers of renters growing; but the nation’s supply of affordable rental housing is shrinking.

According to a recent report, America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Buildings on Opportunities, from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, the number of renters paying more than half their income for housing is at a record. A record high of 19 million American households – homeowners and renters combined - pay more than half their income for housing. One in four renters – 10.1 million households nationwide – spends more than half their income on rent and utilities. Workers earning $45,000-$60,000 saw the biggest increase in housing costs since 2001 with an increase of nearly eight percent from 2001-2009.

The common standard for housing affordability is that the combined cost of rent and utility costs are less than 30 percent of household income. A housing burden connotes monthly costs between 30-50 percent; and when housing costs are more than 50 percent of household earnings, the residents are severely burdened. By 2009, the share of moderately burdened renters stood at 49 percent and those severely burdened passed 26 percent.

With these data points, it is clear that the financial stress of housing affects middle class Americans and the poor alike. Lower and middle income households together represent 79 percent of the nation’s renters– including a significant number of minorities. Blacks and Latinos accounted for 89 percent of the growth in rental housing in this decade.

In the 100 largest metro areas studied, the share of severely cost-burdened renters climbed by an average of seven percentage points between 2001 and 2009. According to the report, by the end of this decade the shares of renters spending more than half their incomes on rent and utilities will be a financial challenge in 73 metros areas.

As the rental market grew from 2000-2010, there was no comparable increase in the supply of affordable housing. By 2009, for every 100 low-income renters, the competition was keen for the 64 available and adequate housing units. The gap between available units and the number of renters contributes to overcrowded housing.

Miami had the largest share of severely burdened renters in 2009, followed by McAllen (TX)and Detroit. Two Connecticut metros (New Haven and Bridgeport) and two Ohio metros (Toledo and Akron) also had shares above 30 percent. New Orleans, Orlando, and Memphis rounded out the list of the 10 least affordable metros.

According to the report, “With millions of homeowners delinquent on their mortgages, further increases in the renter population are likely,” advises the report. “Owners that have gone through foreclosure are especially like to remain renters for a number of years to come.”

With mortgage lenders now favoring would-be buyers who can offer larger down payments, higher credit scores, and verified incomes, few families will readily make the transition to homeownership and the opportunity to build wealth. Remaining current on high rental housing costs removes the ability to save aggressively for a home on the current national median income of $64,200.

The irony is that right now, mortgage interest rates remain historically low and home prices are down in most areas of the country –even for high-end homes. In 2010, says the Joint Center, the median home price fell to about 3.4 times the median household income– the lowest since 1995.

Even so, for the foreseeable future - housing costs for purchase orrental will continue to challenge many American households.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

HIV Portfolio Needed for Black Gay Men That's Rooted in Social Justice

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By Douglas M. Brooks, Special to the NNPA from the Black AIDS Institute –

(NNPA) The theme of this year's National HIV Prevention Conference (NHPC) could not be more timely: "The Urgency of Now: Reduce Incidence. Improve Access. Promote Equity" is a clarion call to action in the wake of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) HIV surveillance report, released on Aug. 3, 2011.

Data in the report show that while the overall number of new HIV infections in the United States has remained fairly stable from 2006 to 2009, there continues to be an increase in new infections among Black gay men. Most alarming was the 48 percent increase in new HIV infections among young (ages 13-29) Black men who have sex with men (MSM) from 2006 to 2009, with a statistically significant estimated annual increase of 12.2 percent.

Simultaneously, the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition highlighted two other disturbing reports released in the same week: The CDC reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that rates of primary and secondary syphilis disproportionately increased in recent years among Black and Hispanic young MSM, and a new study commissioned by Janssen Therapeutics and the National Medical Association (NMA) found that social stigmatization is still the largest barrier keeping African American frontline physicians from testing their patients for HIV.

What, then, could be more fiercely urgent for a convening of HIV-prevention professionals than to address the tragedy of adolescents and young adults contracting HIV at alarming rates; whose greatest risk seems to be loving, desiring and sexually connecting with one another in their own communities; and whose communities are ill-equipped to respond to the emergency?

The data here are also clear. Through his research, Gregorio Millett, senior policy adviser at the Office of National AIDS Policy, has demonstrated that these men do not engage in riskier behaviors, do not have a greater number of sexual partners and often do have health insurance.

This is not new; we've been here before, in various ways. For example, six years ago this summer, we were all shocked to learn that a CDC-funded study of MSM conducted in five U.S. cities between June 2004 and April 2005 showed that 46 percent of Black MSM tested were HIV positive, and 64 percent of those men were unaware of their status.

The theme of the NHPC is inextricably linked to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (pdf) for the United States (NHAS). We cannot truly claim fidelity to the NHAS vision if we do not actualize an America where new HIV infections among Black gay men are rare and, when they do occur, each man "will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination," as the strategy describes.

The United States has to become a place where Black gay men are enveloped in a system of medical, mental-health and spiritual care as well as nurturing, not a place where they personify a tragic, seemingly intractable, health disparity. As an Institute for Gay Men's Health statement argued six years ago: "If Black, gay men mattered, HIV-prevention interventions would be democratically developed and framed in the language of love, intimacy, connection and sex. HIV prevention would honor the knowledge and wisdom Black gay men bring to bear in creating solutions that make sense to their day-to-day realities. We would embrace this knowledge as credible evidence."

Our country needs an HIV portfolio that considers every possible culturally competent option for Black gay men: behavioral interventions (including trauma resolution), biomedical interventions, spiritual interventions and any other supports that can transform the untenable situation in which we find ourselves.

This should not be read as a call to forget other populations. In fact, this is a plea for inclusion, not exclusion. It is a plea for an HIV portfolio rooted in social justice. Drawing from the social work profession's values of honoring the "dignity and worth of the individual," it is a call for treating Black gay men caringly and with respect, promoting socially responsible self-determination, and enhancing the capacity and opportunity for Black gay men to change and to address their own needs.

Such action will fortify those whose work is to employ their very best open-minded thinking to advance this vision. It will also usher in a brave new world in which empowered Black gay men are supported by the Black and gay communities from which they hail, and the government of their country, so that they can walk with the bold confidence that comes with knowing that they are seen, valued and cherished and that they matter.

Douglas M. Brooks, M.S.W., is senior vice president for community, health and public policy for the Justice Resource Institute and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).

Mothers' Forum Pushes for Answers to 'Flash Mob' Violence

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By Nathaniel Lee, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

A diverse crowd of concerned parents and residents from a cross section of Philadelphia gathered at the Vare Recreation Center, in South Philadelphia, to discuss possible solutions to the escalating problem of youth violence.

The event was organized by Mothers in Charge, an organization consisting of mothers who lost children in acts of violence.

According to the group’s founder, Dorothy Speight, the forum was held in an effort to engage parents in a dialogue intended to find solutions as opposed to focusing on the problem.

“We had 20 organizations there that provided resources to youth and families. I think many of the parents were frustrated but glad that they came because they were able to access information needed for their children,” said Speight.

Not only did parents and residents have an opportunity to express their concerns during the forum and suggest possible solutions to help prevent flash mob violence in the future, they also were provided with materials outlining some of the services and programs available to them.

One mother, Denea Whitest, who joined Mothers in Charge after losing two of her children to a train accident in 2004, is both a single mother of three, a foster parent and an advocate for children and youth suffering emotional and behavioral health challenges.

After the death of her two children, Whitest began to notice behavioral problems in her other children.

“I knew something was wrong and I went to seek services for them,” said Whitest, who was turned away without help several times and told that there was no help for her children unless they violated the law.

“There are likely other parents whose children are out there who see the problems and seek intervention but the programs aren’t made available to them,” explained Whitest.

Whitest began a personal campaign to find help for her children and in the process discovered a wealth of programs and services she would otherwise not have known existed. This is her concern for those attending the Mothers in Charge Forum.

Whitest was pleased that the forum offered knowledge about many public and private resources for parents with concerns about their youth, but she still believed that the forum — like other responses to the flash mob crisis — leaned too heavily on punishment.

“What I heard was a lot of what we can do to punish but what I wanted to hear more of was what solutions are out there for them. We all really know what to do and what not to do — but teach me how to do it,” said Whitest who suggested another forum be held that would outline a list of strategies and provide more extensive lists of services and programs parents can take advantage of to help their children.

Jordan Harris, executive director of the city’s Youth Commission, saw the forum as a sign of hope.

“We saw the pain but we also saw the promise of doing something about the problem,” said Harris. “One of the things I heard a lot from the community was that they needed someone for their children to look up to, mentor them.”

Harris agrees with others who did not believe that punishment for offending youth was sufficient to eradicate the problem of juvenile delinquency. A combination of parent, community and government working together would, said Harris, be needed for sustained change to occur.

“The only way we are going to get out of this problem is to expose our youth to more than what they are seeing today. When they see more they will want to do more,” said Harris.

New Program to Help Close 'Digital Divide' in Atlanta

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By Adrienne Leon, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –

ATLANTA – More than 300,000 low-income students will be able to access broadband in their homes through a new program designed to bridge the digital divide between people with access to technology and people without it, officials announced.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Mayor Kasim Reed and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) applauded the launch of Internet Essentials, part of a 28-county partnership between Comcast and area school districts that aim to provide low-cost internet service, affordable computers and online literacy training.

The program, which has several qualification guidelines, is considered a key step in providing information technology to low-income minority communities and other critically underserved populations.

"The internet is no longer a dispensable item. It's essential in almost every aspect of our lives from our education to our careers," Deal told a throng of reporters at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta's East Lake neighborhood, one of the targeted communities.

Atlanta Public Schools Chair Brenda Muhammad agreed, adding: "We're excited that children who need it most will get this opportunity." Under the program, Internet Essentials participants will receive:

• Home internet service for $9.95 a month, plus tax
• No price increases, no activation fees, or equipment rental fees
• A voucher to buy a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax
• Access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person

Eligible households must have a child who receives lunch under the National School Lunch Program, officials said, among other guidelines.

Comcast executive David Cohen said the Internet Essentials program has the potential to be a "great equalizer and a life-changing technology."

"Internet Essentials will help level the playing field for low-income families by connecting students online with their teachers and their school's educational resources," Cohen said. The program also will empower parents to receive digital literacy training so they can apply for jobs online or use the internet to research items of interest, he added.

Empowering people to access information online also can yield a positive economic impact for state and local governments, added House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

"When you give communities accessibility," she said, "you decrease their dependency on the government."

For years, the so-called "digital divide" between advantaged and disadvantaged communities has been a key issue for civil rights activists concerned that limited access to the internet meant limited access to information and power.

That's why closing that gap is so important, Reed said.

"While America has increasingly become a digital nation, many metro Atlanta families are at a disadvantage because they can't afford internet service at home," Reed said. "Comcast is leading the charge in making broadband adoption a reality for more families."

While the city is proud to pledge its support, Reed said, "we can't do this alone. We need parents, educators, community leaders and other government officials to join in this effort, spread the word and help increase broadband adoption in our community."

Disparities Facing African-American Communities Widen

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By Wendell Hutson, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

There are so many disparities facing the Black community today state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-13th District) said she has lost count. “The number of disparities facing our communities continue to grow with no end in sight and I no longer can keep up with them,” Hunter told the Crusader. “But if I had to list the top three it would the criminal justice system, education and employment.” E. Hardy knows too well the struggles Black men face once they are cycled through the criminal justice system. In 2002, he pled guilty to felony retail theft to avoid a trial and possible incarceration if convicted.

“I did what I had to do to stay out of jail but now I am paying a life sentence for it,” Hardy, 40, recalled. “Every time I apply for a job I get asked if I have ever been convicted of a felony crime. I’m always honest and say yes and then I never hear back from them.” The inability for many Black men to get a job has not only hurt the Black community but society as a whole, said Leonardo D. Gilbert, a community activist and pastor of Sheldon Heights Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago.

“In order to improve the economic status of so many [Black] communities we need to make sure the men from those communities are working,” he added. “God made man head of household but without a job that is hard to do.” Studying disparities in Black communities is something Hunter has been doing for nearly a decade. She was a member of The Disproportionate Justice Study Commission, created in 2008 by the General Assembly to assess the effects of Illinois’ drug laws on racial and ethnic minority populations and the incarceration rates of members of those populations. The commission concluded in a report released earlier this year that an increase in prison populations across the state was attributed, in part, to changes in drug policies that focused on punishment and enforcement opposed to treatment alternatives. Hunter agreed.

“There are a disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated throughout the state. It makes you wonder because it made me wonder, ‘Why were there so many?’” she said. “I visit prisons (all the time) to try to talk to them [inmates] and encourage them. Over at Cook County Jail there are so many African Americans. It’s so overwhelming.” In Illinois, there are 44,000 inmates and more than 24,000 are Black, according to a report in the Chicago Reader. State Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th District) pegs unemployment, education and healthcare as the three top disparities facing Blacks today. Davis was first elected in 1987 and is the second, longest serving Black, state representative in the General Assembly behind state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st District).

“Healthcare is a major problem for Blacks. On the South Side where most Blacks live there is no adult trauma center. Why is that? There is a trauma center at Northwestern Hospital for folks who live downtown and on the North Side,” Davis said. “And there is a trauma center at Stroger Hospital for those living on the West Side. But for the South Side we must travel north or to the south suburbs to Christ Hospital, which is just as far as the others.”

The third leg of the disparity tripod is education. “Education connects people to jobs. If you do not have a descent education then you are lost,” she added. “The governor wants to abolish the General Assembly Legislative Scholarship because he said it is being abused by state legislators who award them. But this scholarship has made it possible for so many Black kids to go to college.”

Every state representative and senator is allowed to award two to four GAL scholarships each year to students who live in their district regardless of financial need. The scholarship waives tuition and can only be used to attend a four-year, public college in Illinois. Disparities are a fact of life but does not mean Illinois residents have to accept it, said Gov. Pat Quinn.

“We know that disparities exist within the African American community, preventing some from achieving their full potential,” Quinn said. “In Illinois, we want everybody in, and nobody left out. We won’t shy away from examining the root causes of inequality, and working to correct them.”

Community activist Harold Lucas said he is not surprised that both Hunter and Davis list employment and education as top disparities facing Blacks, but concludes it must end. “The disparity and lack of gainful employment or entrepreneurial business development opportunities among African American residents living in Chicago is unacceptable,” Lucas, president and chief executive officer for the non-profit Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, noted. However, he said he is disappointed that the commission will not present its findings and offer recommendations for another two years. “Forming a commission to address the disparities that does not present its findings to the Illinois General Assembly until December 2013, ignores the severity of the extremely serious problems of poverty,” explained Lucas. “The so-called underclass, economically inspired class stratification, political corruption and patronage greed has dominated the city of Chicago for the past 50 years.”

Recently, Quinn signed House bill 1547, which was sponsored by Davis and Hunter, into law. The new legislation, went into effect immediately, will create the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African American Community. The commission will research the disparities facing Blacks in the areas of healthcare, health services, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, and other social and economic issues. Both Davis and Hunter and will more than likely be co-chairs of the commission, which could hold its first meeting by January 2012, according to Hunter.

The commission will be comprised of a bipartisan group of legislators from both houses of the General Assembly and will also include up to 10 other individuals representing Black communities throughout the state. All members will serve without compensation. Residents interested in being considered to join the commission should contact Davis, Hunter or their local state legislator.

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