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HUD Report: Low Income Renters Suffering

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released its bi-annual report to Congress on the housing needs of low income Americans.

It shows an increased number of very low income households have severe housing difficulties, particularly housing costs that far exceed what they can afford.

The findings of the 66-page “Worst Case Housing Needs 2009: Report To Congress,” released Feb. 1, reveal that in 2009 there were 7.1 million worst case needs households in the country, up significantly from 5.9 million two years prior.

HUD defines these worst case needs households as very low-income renters who do not receive government housing assistance and who either paid more than one-half of their income for rent, lived in severely inadequate conditions, or both.

“This report makes clear that worst case needs cut across all regions of the country; all racial and ethnic groups; boundaries of all cities, suburbs, and rural areas; and all household types,” said a HUD assistant secretary.

Fewer than one in four very low income renters currently receive housing assistance. HUD's report finds that these worst case housing needs can be linked to three factors: decline in renter's income, the availability of housing assistance not meeting the increasing need, and the increased competition for affordable rental units.

By race, Hispanic very low-income renters had the highest incidence of worst case needs in 2009, with 45.3 percent. White renters had the next highest incidence, with 42.7 percent, followed by Black renters, with 36.5 percent, according to the report.

During the 2007–2009 period, the number of very low-income renters increased by 11 percent for Blacks compared with 7.7 percent growth for Whites and 5.9-percent for Hispanics, the report says.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to spare federal housing aid programs from the budget cuts.

Increases in these two types of housing need have occurred just as many in Congress have suggested that the path to the nation's economic sustainability is through cuts to safety net programs like affordable housing, the group warns.

“Cuts to the programs in existence today would cause increases in many of the other indicators of need tracked by HUD, such as the rising rate of homelessness in the U.S. These data show that the imperative should be to expand and improve low income housing programs,” Sheila Crowley, president of NLIHC, in a released statement.

The group further believes that if the government directs more resources to solve the housing problems of the lowest income families it would create more jobs in construction, a sector that has a 20 percent rate of unemployment, over twice the overall rate of 9.4 percent.

The coalition is also pressuring the government to fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund at $15 billion a year for the next decade. They believe this could double the number of housing vouchers, and preserve all existing federally assisted housing units. Their recommendations were sent to White House policy chiefs Jan. 21 in a letter signed by 32 other organizations representing thousands of housing, civil rights, and social needs advocates across the country.

Texas Minority Businesses Remain Underused

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By Imani Evans, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –

The state of Texas Historically Underutilized Business program was founded in 1991 with the aim of helping minority- and women-owned businesses gain access to public and private sector contracts. Housed within the comptroller's office, the program allows for a business to be certified as an HUB, and thus eligible for contracting opportunities with the state. A recent disparity study commissioned by the comptroller, however, has revealed that the state still has quite a ways to go when it comes to achieving across-the-board equity in contracting opportunities. For example, of $38.61 billion in state spending on prime contracts, HUB vendors received a little more than $2.95 billion, only 7.64 percent. For African American HUBs, it was a paltry 0.63 percent.

The report, which covers the period from September 1, 2005 to August 31, 2008, shows HUB utilization to be strong in some areas. For instance, the rate of HUB utilization for "special trades" construction, a procurement category, was nearly 27 percent. However, the general picture that emerges is one of deep and continuing disparities, particularly in categories such as heavy construction, where some of the largest and most lucrative contracts are to be found. Data was gathered from a variety of sources, including data from 210 participating state agencies and institutions of higher education, a review of anecdotal evidence from four public hearings, and a survey of 1,032 firms.

Clifton Miller, believes there is one way to have sustained economic recovery. "It has to be job-based," he said. "In order for it to be job-based, it must include small businesses - because small businesses have been acknowledged for the last 15 years as the engine of economic growth and job creation - and the fastest-growing segment of small businesses are those owned by people of color."

Miller is a founding director of the Minority Business Enterprise Institute of Public Policy, a non-partisan nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to serve as a means for minority entrepreneurs in Texas to participate in the political process. Among other things, Miller, who is Black, is adamant about the need for Black entrepreneurs in particular to act as more of a unified political bloc, even to the point of going beyond a traditional civil rights framework.

Miller challenges the belief that economic development is driven mainly by attracting large corporations to a city. Miller believes that job growth - with the associated building of a city's tax base - is much more determined by small businesses, and that this is true on many levels for African Americans.

"The reality is, when AT&T moved here, they created about 400 jobs. Those were all White-collar jobs, most of those people ended up living in the suburbs, and that didn't bring any economic development to the city of Dallas," Miller said. "Small businesses create the value, create the jobs, and that's how you turn a tax consumer into a taxpayer."

Another "soldier" in the battle to close the HUB utilization gap is Jim Wyatt, chairman of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce. Commenting on the same disparity study that Miller finds so concerning, Wyatt observes, "we are not making very much progress in the realm of minority businesses doing business with state agencies. If you just put it in the capsule and look at that particular document, we're not doing very well."

"As a professional watchdog, [as far as] what's occurring in trying to make a difference for small businesses, we look specifically at where the money is," Wyatt said. "The money is in heavy construction. If we look at that, African American businesses make up half a percent of those firms doing business with the state."

TAAACC recently created its own Professional Services Committee to provide hands-on troubleshooting to HUBs still struggling to land state contracts. "We're on a fact-finding mission, and trying to do the due diligence of figuring out what's causing our African American businesses to not get a piece of the pie," Wyatt said.

Texas' HUB program wheezes along during a time of massive budget deficits for the state, and in the face of a political climate during which the very concept of affirmative action - which includes set-asides for minority-owned firms -as a result of recent court decisions combined with three decades of sustained attacks from conservatives, hangs on by a thread.

"There are always attacks or efforts to eliminate or limit those preferences for historically underutilized businesses, or minority businesses. It happens repeatedly in different [pieces of legislation], or some of it is done by stealth. For instance, that's what the Texas Conservative Coalition and Research Institute is doing; they just want to wipe it out in the name of the budget," said Miller, referring to a conservation organization that has recently proposed completely eliminating the HUB program for the sake of balancing the state budget.

"Under the Bush Administration, funding to the Small Business Administration and to every agency that supported minority- and women-owned businesses was cut. There are a couple of key issues here: Number one, there's a movement to resist what they call 'preferences.' The reality is that preferences exist all the time, and the only time preferences are a problem is when it's for somebody who doesn't look like the mainstream. Preferences exist in college admissions because if your daddy went there, it means you're a legacy. So that's a preference. The reality is that most of the preferences out there benefit large businesses as opposed to small business, and those programs are sacred."

President Obama Presents Nation's Highest Civilian Honor to Three Blacks

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By Dorinda White, NNPA Contributor –

(NNPA) Washington, D.C.-President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor to a diverse group of recipients, including three African Americans prominently known for their civil rights activism. The president and First Lady Michelle Obama honored the winners at a White House ceremony this week.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals recognized for "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Among the 15 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom were Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, celebrated author and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou and former basketball great Bill Russell. These well-known African Americans received their medals along with former President George H.W. Bush, businessman Warren Buffett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, amongst others. It was especially befitting that the African American Medal of Freedom recipients were honored for their achievements during Black History Month.

One of the African American awardees, Civil Rights hero Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helped to organize the first lunch counter sit-in in 1959 at the age of 19, and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. "John Lewis is not only an American hero and a giant of the Civil Rights Movement but time and time again, John Lewis has faced down death and today is the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” said President Obama. “He is an American who knew that change could not wait for another place or time. Since 1987, John Lewis has continued his service to the nation as the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th District, which encompasses all of Atlanta. From his activism in the civil rights movement to serving 25 years in U.S. House of Representatives, he rose with fortitude and purpose to organize during the civil rights movement.” Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his pursuit of equality and justice for all.

Basketball great Bill Russell was voted the National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player five times. He was the first African-American coach in national sports. He is known to be a staunch advocate for civil rights. "When Bill Russell was in junior high school he got cut from his basketball team. He learned from that. He was the first African American to coach a major league sports team of any sort,” said Obama. “More than any athlete of his time, he is defined as a winner. When asked if he was a basketball player, he'd reply, "That's what I do, not who I am. I am a man who plays basketball." He endured insults and vandalism as a professional Black basketball player and coach. However, through it all he focused on making his teammates better players.” Bill Russell marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality. Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his efforts which helped to change the culture of a sport and the course of a nation.

Dr. Angelou’s words and actions continue to stir our souls, energize our bodies, liberate our minds, and heal our hearts. Angelou, a prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Dr. Angelou served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

“Dr. Maya Angelou, out of youth marked by pain and injustice, rose to fight for civil rights. Through soaring poetry and prose she has spoken to the conscience of our nation," said President Obama. The President bent down to kiss Dr. Angelou on the cheek after putting the Medal of Freedom around her neck. During the President's speech, he said Dr. Angelou had such an impression on his mother, she named her daughter Maya. Dr. Angelou received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her poetry and activism.

The complete list of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom award recipients is as follows: former President George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Congressman John Lewis, Natural Resources Defense Council co-founder John Adams, poet and activist Maya Angelou (Winston-Salem NC native), Industrialist and Philanthropist Warren Buffet, Artist Jasper Johns, Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, VSA founder and former Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, Holocaust survivor and activist Gerda Weissmann Klein, Dr. Tom Little (posthumous) who was killed in Afghanistan, Musician/cellist Yo-Yo Ma, former Boston Celtic basketball player Bill Russell, Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial, and former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Joins Abu-Jamal Defense Team

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has joined Mumia Abu-Jamal’s defense team to represent him in his ongoing appeal of his capital murder conviction.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal’s conviction and death sentence are relics of a time and place that was notorious for police abuse and racial discrimination,” said John Payton, director-counsel of the LDF in a statement. “Unless and until courts acknowledge and correct these historic injustices, death sentences like Mr. Abu-Jamal’s will invite continued skepticism of the criminal justice system by the African American community.”

Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 for the killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He was sentenced to death. He and his defense team have been fighting to initially, get him off of death row, but now to get him out of prison.

His sentence was vacated in 2001 when a federal court found error in the jury instructions and verdict form used in his initial trial.

In 2008, a formal petition from Abu-Jamal seeking reconsideration of the conviction was denied by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, while the United States Supreme Court also denied his appeal.

However, on Jan. 19, 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider its decision.

LDF will serve as co-counsel with Judy Ritter of Widener Law School.

South Carolina Historic Treasure to Receive Rehabilitation

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Special to the NNPA from the South Carolina Black News –

Columbia, SC – One of the Columbia, South Carolina’s significant historical treasures will receive much-needed rehabilitation this spring. Historic Columbia Foundation recently received a $150,000 matching grant for the dependency building of the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House, located at 2025 Marion Street. This exciting project will be funded through a Save America’s Treasures grant, administered through the National Park Service, as well as support from the City of Columbia and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina.

Owned by the City of Columbia and managed by Historic Columbia Foundation, the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House and Dependency are significant for their association with the life and work of Modjeska Monteith Simkins (1899-1992), a leader in African-American public health reform, the Civil Rights movement, and subsequent social justice movements in South Carolina. Throughout her career as a social reformer and civil rights activist, Simkins used the main house and dependency as a residence, lodging for guests, an office and a meeting space. Local and national civil rights leaders met in the house, prepared lawsuits and stayed in the dependency building while working in Columbia.

The dependency’s rehabilitation will be comprehensive with work being performed on exterior and interior carpentry, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. While adapting the building for use as a work/live space for a scholar-in-residence, Historic Columbia Foundation will ensure that the property’s historic integrity is maintained by adhering to the Department of the Interior’s standards for historic structures.

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