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Recession Makes Renting a Nightmare for Low Income

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By Nisa Islam Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

The Washington family knew home ownership was light years away. Unemployment and bad credit had left them barely able to do more than join the legions of renters across America. Then it hit them, they were barely making enough to even rent.

“It's just really hard out here,” James Washington told The Final Call. “I lost my job and then my wife lost her job. I'm working now and she has a part time job. We have four kids. A one bedroom just won't do but that's about all we can afford.”

The Washington's are a prime example of new research that shows American renters on average must earn at least $18.46 an hour to afford a modest apartment, yet the average renter makes just $13.52 an hour according to “Out of Reach 2011,” a report released annually by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The study shows the mismatch between the rents available across the country and what low income renters can afford.

According to the coalition, more than 38 million households rent their homes, 1.9 million more than in 2007. The current rate of homeownership (66.5 percent) is now at the lowest level since 1998.

With the foreclosure crisis and recession on the one hand, an aging baby boomer population, and post baby boomers coming of age, the demand for rental housing is projected to grow.

“This year's Out of Reach report is a reminder that millions of Americans are still waiting for economic recovery,” said Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in the preface of the report. “People burdened by unaffordable housing have less money for other essential needs like transportation, food, and medicine—leaving too many families facing impossible choices at the end of every month.”

High unemployment, falling wages, and low rental vacancy rates driven by a post-recession return to renting have combined to put housing stability beyond the grasp of low income households across the country, according to the report.

“Another problem is that just as we're looking for a place in D.C., so are lots of other families who have experienced the same problems we have like unemployment,” said Sharron Washington.

According to the report, in the District of Columbia, the average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,461-a-month. In order to afford this rent and utilities, without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, a household must earn $4,870 monthly or $58,440 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a housing wage of $28.10-an-hour.

However, in D.C., a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $8.25. In order to afford the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 136 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 3.4 minimum wage earners working 40 hours per week year-round to afford a two bedroom, said the report.

According to Out of Reach 2011, the national two-bedroom average rent is $960 per month. A household must earn $38,400 annually in order to afford that rent, the report said. Other key findings include: The two-bedroom housing wage tops $30 in Hawaii, and is over $20 in seven states, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Arkansas.

In 2011, the estimated average wage for renters in the United States is just $13.52, a significant decline from $14.44 in 2010.

At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a household would have to work 102 hours each week to afford the national average for a two-bedroom home.

Much attention has been paid to the effect of unemployment on foreclosure rates. But, the central finding of this report is that the housing crisis is the most severe for low income people.

“Out of Reach 2011 shows that simply having a job doesn't guarantee you will be able to afford even to rent,” said Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The coalition has called on Congress to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which would provide communities with funds to build, rehabilitate, and preserve rental homes to end the housing struggle of low-income people. This program is not yet funded.

North Carolina Groups Fight for Health Disparities Outreach

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By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –

Outreach to eliminate health disparities including the more severe progression of diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS can wind up saving taxpayers money, but community organizers say that their funding to do this is being threatened.

Recently in Raleigh, leaders from community-based health organizations, faith-based health advocacy groups, and legislators gave remarks on the importance of these groups maintaining this funding.

A budget provision was recently proposed for funding for the Community-Focused Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative to provide grants-in-aid to the local health department. The funding is used to close the gap in the health status of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians compared to Whites.

Specifically, the grants are supposed to focus on the use of preventative measures to eliminate or reduce disparities in infant mortality, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and other conditions that disproportionately affect minorities.

Sharon Elliott Bynum, co-founder and executive director, CAARE, Inc. said that before they went into the press conference, a representative told them that State Rep. Beverly Earle was able to offer an amendment to the proposal. This amendment says that the CFEHDI grants could also go to community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and American Indian tribes in addition to the local health departments. The N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities coordinates the grants program.

Elliott-Bynum said that that this funding is especially important because the OMHHD is one of the only state agencies that have made a concerted effort to disseminate money into community organizations, faith-based organizations, and American Indian tribes.

The budget provision with the amendment is before the N.C. House, but still has to get through the State Senate. A State House proposal also calls for an 11 percent cut to N.C. OMH administration and five positions. Director Barbara Pullen-Smith declined comment until the budget is finalized.

Elliott-Bynum said that a premise for the press conference was a letter that she received from Ashley Rozier, a community planner and organizer in Fayetteville.

“It’s imperative that the $3 million previously allocated to the CFEHDI to provide grants-in-aid is targeted to community-based organizations [CBOs] not the local health departments,” Rozier wrote in an email to Elliott-Bynum. “The original purpose of these resources was generated because there existed a major portion of the minority community that was not receiving timely and culturally appropriate services from their local health department.”

He continued: “Available services to males throughout this state are all but absent within the local health department system. Most CBOs as compared to the local health departments have minimal administrative overhead resulting in a greater amount of the resources actually being directed to patient and community services.”

Rozier, CEO of the Cape Fear Regional Bureau for Community Action, said CBOs are uniquely positioned to address health disparities because of their “non-traditional approach” to reach people on nights and weekends. In contrast, local health departments operate on traditional hours typically around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

In addition to reaching the poor, who Rozier said may not be able to afford to take off work to get to the doctor during traditional hours, CBOs have advocates who can go out and talk to at-risk individuals and test them for HIV.

“We have people who are former drug dealers or prostitutes, but have changed their life,” he said. “Now they have training and schooling, and now they’re able to go back to the community and speak their language.”

He added: “People complain so much about the health care system being overwhelmed. We need to face it. If you don’t go out and inform the poor and also do early screening and early diagnosis we’re going to take care of it one way or another. Prevention and early screening is the best.”

Elliott-Bynum also said CBOs must be included because they are in a unique position to address health disparities. “Because no health department in the state will be able to reach the amount of people and get inroads we’ve been able to do with our connections and because of our positions in communities and relationships in the county,” she said “We’re just really troubled that this is the climate of things.”

Her non-profit organization, CAARE, offers a holistic program of case management, substance abuse treatment, Veterans Administration traditional housing, and the Jeanne Hopkins Lucas Education and Wellness Center.

Elliott-Bynum said that the grant helps CAARE provide free mammograms to screen for breast cancer and pap smears to screen for ovarian cancer.

The CFEHDI grants-in-aid are awarded in the memory of recently deceased members of the General Assembly, including former Rep. Pete Cunningham of Charlotte, who died last year. Elliott-Bynum said that the proposed cut in grants-in-aid to CBOs – including a center named after Lucas, who died from breast cancer – has been “a slap in the face.”

Rozier added: “The importance of this is not a race issue this is a human issue. It affects everyone.”

Has Donald Trump Trumped Himself with 'The Blacks'?

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By TaRessa Stovall, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

His headline-making announcement that he’d seek the GOP nomination for the 2012 presidential race, distinguished by an obsessive insistence on seeing President Barack Obama’s original birth certificate to establish American citizenship increased the ratings for his NBC reality show, Celebrity Apprentice, and provided rich fodder for pundits and comics alike.

His popularity has seesawed in recent weeks. Talking Points Memo, stated that Trump’s 15 seconds as “frontrunner in the Republican primary is over, according to a [Public Policy Polling] PPP poll released on Tuesday. One month ago, a handful of surveys showed Trump trouncing the GOP field, leading all comers by as much as a nine-point margin. But now, after a month of bruising press coverage, the latest PPP poll shows that Trump’s support has quickly dried up, as he’s dropped back to a tie for fifth place,” or eight percent, after Mike Huckabee (19 percent), Mitt Romney (18 percent), Newt Gingrich (13 percent), and Sarah Palin (12 percent), and tied with Ron Paul (eight percent). PPP polls Republican registered voters nationwide.

“That’s a stunning turnaround from one month ago, when Trump led PPP’s national survey with 26 percent to Huckabee’s 17 percent,” Talking Points Memo reports, adding that Trump’s “sudden downfall” might be due in part to “the fact that the birther population, a group Trump heavily courted by insisting that Obama release his long-form birth certificate, was cut in half” when the document was revealed.

Tom Jensen of PPP wrote on the company blog that, “As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month Republicans didn’t just decide they weren’t interested in having him as their nominee —they also decided they flat don’t like him.”

Meanwhile, for Black people, Trump had other proclivities to consider.

After branding himself as vehemently anti-Obama and taunting the public with promises of a 2012 presidential run, Trump famously trumpeted his “great relationship with the Blacks,’ on a Talk 1300 AM radio show in Albany N.Y. on April 14.

Trump’s “great relationship” claim was in response to radio host Fred Dicker’s reference to a Quinnipiac Poll showing strong support for Obama from 95 percent of Blacks in New York State.” Trump deemed that statistic “frightening,” according to USA Today, which stated that “Trump has said he will decide by June whether to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.”

What could drive The Donald to leave the business world? “Trump is discouraged with the way the US is being run right now, and feels that we are no longer respected the way we used to be respected, and if we keep going like this, within 10 years China is going to overtake us easily,” Bloomberg News Service reported on May 2. “In my mind, I have already decided,” Trump, 64, said in an interview. “I am going to announce. But I can’t do anything until the [Celebrity Apprentice] show ends.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s birther grandstanding was interpreted by some as thinly-disguised racism. Past actions reveal him to be, if not overtly racist, then seemingly two-faced when it comes to African Americans.

On the one hand, Trump described his dream of an America free of “racism, discrimination against women, or discrimination against people based on sexual orientation,” in his 2000 book/political manifesto, The America That We Deserve. According to The Huffington Post, “he once donated office space to [Jesse} Jackson’s civil rights group, The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, he likes to pal around with African-American celebrities such as P. Diddy and Lenny Kravitz and he once hosted an NAACP convention party.”

On the other hand, as The Huffington Post points out, “Trump has been called out several times for racial insensitivity by former co-workers and civil rights activists. In 1991, Trump was accused of making racial slurs against black people in a book written by John R. O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, called Trumped! O’Donnell wrote that Trump once said, in reference to a black accountant at Trump Plaza, ‘laziness is a trait in blacks.’ He also told O’Donnell: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it!’”

After the 1989 rape of a White female jogger in Central Park, Trump took out full-page newspaper ads calling for the African-American teen suspects (all of whom were exonerated) to be given the death penalty.

Back in 1973, Trump Management Corporation was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for racial discrimination because he allegedly refused to rent to African Americans, giving them false information about prices, conditions, and availability of rental units in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. After holding a news conference to claim that the charges were “absolutely ridiculous,” and telling The New York Times, “We never have discriminated and we never would. He then counter-sued the DOJ for $100 million in defamation damages, then settled the case, but apparently failed to change his ways, since three years later the DOJ again charged Trump Management with discriminating against Blacks to the point where the NYC human rights commission was called in to investigate.

According to VLAD TV, Trump “also talked of running for office in 1988 and 2000, but backed out because of his speculated fear of losing or being humiliated.”

In response to Trump’s birther tirade, Change.org launched an online petition to let the advertisers on Trump’s hit reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, [who] “are directly supporting the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump and contributing toward the negative and hostile political climate in this country … know that viewing public will not buy or support companies who are actively supporting the Donald Trump’s ‘birther rhetoric’ and “politics of fear” in this country . The corporate sponsors of “Celebrity Apprentice” are Enterprise Rental Car Company, Clorox Bleach Company, Sprint-Nextel Cellphones, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and The Walt Disney Company, and Groupon. That petition had more than 3,000 signatures at press time. And it seems to be working: Groupon stopped advertising on the show website so as not to intentionally upset part of their customer base.

Karen Hunter, a publisher and contributor to MSNBC, has called for African Americans to boycott Celebrity Apprentice in response to Trump’s trash-talking about President Obama. “Hunter recently called in to the popular Tom Joyner Morning Show to spread the word about the boycott,” reports Atlanta Professional Magazine. “The reactions were mixed. Some listeners agreed to boycott the television show, but others refused. Tom Joyner Morning Show co-host, comedian J. Anthony Brown, in particular opted out of the boycott because he did not want to miss the show down between feuding Celebrity Apprentice contestants NeNe Leakes and Star Jones.”

The New York Times noted in early April that “Something predictable happens to the ratings of Donald J. Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice on NBC when he hints at running for president: They rise. And when he talks about President Obama’s birth certificate, they really rise … Mr. Trump has a history of simultaneously talking up his presidential ambitions while promoting various Trump-branded goods.”

The general consensus in the social media and blogosphere is that Trump’s promised presidential bid is a publicity stunt to boost ratings for Celebrity Apprentice. “But while Trump has gotten plenty of airtime by suggesting, wrongly, that the president was not born in the United States, Nielsen ratings for Celebrity Apprentice are lower than they were a year ago—and dropping fast,” according to The Atlantic. “One reason Trump’s audience is abandoning him may be that, according to demographic research of primetime television viewers provided exclusively to The Atlantic by National Media Inc., a firm that places political ads on television, the audience for “Celebrity Apprentice” is among the most liberal in primetime television (see graphic).

“Rather than add viewers, Trump foolishly appears to be driving them away,” states The Atlantic.

On the other side of the TV ratings coin, MSNBC, though obviously not objective, reported that on May 2, “a night dominated by President Barack Obama’s speech announcing Osama bin Laden’s death, Donald Trump eked out a minor victory as “Celebrity Apprentice” won Sunday’s top ratings slot, according to preliminary numbers.”

Popularity polls and TV ratings aside, Trump’s real capital is his brand, combined with his brash persona, and ability to have everyone pay attention to what he says and does, whether or not they respect or take him seriously. He is a power player, able to toy with the media—they do his bidding when they broadcast his antics—and whether he runs for president is less important than who he throws his weight and support behind.

When it comes to Black people, are Trump’s comments and actions merely clever branding strategies for his various projects and ambitions? Is he simply playing to ratings and polls; or is he cashing in on the incalculable value of controversy, especially in the Information Age. In any case, it’s important to remember that Donald Trump, the man, the mogul, the brand, the icon, and the franchise represents a very real and increasingly organized segment of America who seem to want anyone except President Obama in the White House.

Or, as rapper Snoop Dogg opined at the Trump Comedy Central roast last month about Trump’s quest to take over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, “Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time he pushed a Black family out of their home.”

TaRessa Stovall is Managing Editor of The Defenders Online.


$18.5 Million Lawsuit Taken From Wrongfully Convicted Man

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By Stacey Patton, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

In 1985 Alan Newton, a Bronx man, was convicted for rape, robbery, and assault and was imprisoned for 22 years of a 40-year sentence before being cleared by DNA evidence and finally released in 2006. Four years later, thanks to litigation support from the Innocence Project, a Manhattan Federal District Court jury ruled that the city had violated his civil rights and found two police officers liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress by denying his right to gain access to DNA evidence.

For his trouble, Newton was awarded $18.5 million in damages, the largest compensation sum of its kind ever awarded — $96 for every hour of the 22 years he spent in prison. Newton’s lawyers argued that the city had shown a reckless disregard for Newton’s rights because the system for safeguarding DNA evidence and a defendant’s access to it was slipshod.

But last week, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin took away Newton’s compensation, ruling that Newton had not proved that any city employees “withheld evidence in deliberate contravention or disregard of his right to due process.” Showing of negligence was not enough, she wrote in her opinion. “Newton’s due process claim cannot be sustained absent proof that a city official acted with the requisite constitutional culpability in withholding evidence.”

Scheindlin noted that the courts “repeatedly granted Newton the right to test the DNA evidence,” but it took years for the police to find the rape kit.

According to her 31-page decision, the city did not intentionally violate his civil rights. “It is not enough for Newton to have shown that the city’s post-trial evidence management system is disorganized. As disturbing as such negligence may be, in the end that is what it is: mere negligence.”

“I’m totally shocked,” Newton told the News after the decision came down. “The city’s saying I’m not entitled to anything, and no one has to answer for what happened to me anymore. … This is the last thing I expected.” Newton’s lawyer says he plans to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, a case against the state is still pending.

Stacey Patton is a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.


Congressional Black Caucus Celebrates 40th Anniversary

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By Ofield Dukes, Special the NNPA –

Washington, D.C. – This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

The contributions of CBC members in ushering a new era of Black political empowerment are enormous. Unfortunately, these history-making legislative accomplishments of Black members of the U.S. Congress are not as well known by their constituents and the new generation of young Black Americans as they should be.

So, in a classic contemporary alliance between Black politicians and Black publishers, Danny Bakewell, the chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), has invited present and former CBC members to submit commentaries that will appear in local NNPA newspapers about the challenges they faced across America, and especially in the U.S. Congress, in responding to legislative and societal issues relevant to African Americans.

I had the privileged of assisting in organizing and coordinating public relations for the first CBC dinner, held on June 18, 1971.

Rep. Charles Diggs, Jr. (D-MI) as the senior Black member of Congress, began a deliberate process of organizing the CBC.

Having a prior friendship with Rep. Diggs, a Democrat who was a popular Detroit funeral home director, I was aware of his concern that President Richard Milhous Nixon might try to dismantle the historic civil rights legislation and Great Society programs passed under the courageous leadership of President Lyndon Baines Jonson. Diggs also took umbrage that President Nixon refused to meet with the 13 Blacks that were in the Congress at that time.

Ms. Carolyn P. DuBose, a former press secretary to Rep. Diggs, described in her well-researched book, “The Untold Story of Charles Diggs,” how Diggs began organizing the CBC by establishing a Democratic Select Committee in l969. She quoted Rep. Diggs as saying: “They did not call me. I am the one who called them. I am the guy that called the meetings.”

Added Diggs, according to Ms. DuBose, “I deliberately did not come in there Pharaoh-style. I wanted things to come up through the group to set the pattern about what they wanted to do.”

In addition to a climate of White House hostility, in the civil rights movement, there emerged a militant Black power movement led by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rapp Brown. They both advocated meeting White with Black violence, contrary to the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There was also fear and anxiety in the White community in linking such a radical effort by Black members in the U.S. Congress with the Black power movement.

I was in the second year of operating my public relations firm out of the National Press building when Rep. Diggs called me out of great concern for White and even Black perceptions associating the newly formed Congressional Black Caucus with the Black power movement.

Diggs and I discussed a strategy of my firm convening a press conference at the National Press Club to clarify the objectives of the CBC. At the press conference, CBC members Rep. Louis Stokes and Rep. Williams Clay eloquently explained the political objectives of the Black Caucus and the planned first dinner that June.

A White syndicated columnist had written that the CBC dinner in June could be raising funds in support of a CBC member planning to run for president. The suggested candidate was Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) although Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) actually ran for president in l972.

In my initial news release on the CBC dinner, I wrote: “Funds from the $100 per plate banquet will be used by the Caucus to finance a permanent, independent staff to conduct in-depth analysis of issues and polices relevant to Black and poor America.”

The news release continued, “In a formal statement, the Caucus said, ‘Rumors, news reports, editorials and other media statements are appearing frequently, implying sponsorship of the dinner is related to secret plans in support of a black member of Congress for the presidency in the l972 elections. The Congressional Black Caucus categorically denies that any money raised by us at this affair will go to support one black or white, Democrat, Republican, 3rd party or 4th party who is a candidate for the presidency.”

In my firm’s handling the public relations for the first dinner, there was concern about people coming to the nation’s capital paying as much as $100 to attend a dinner. That was quite a sum of money at that time. But at the dinner, there was an overwhelming crowd. The hotel ballroom had a capacity of 2, 400, 10 persons at 24 tables. However,tThere were 2,800 excited people squeezed into the ballroom, a standing room only crowd.

We had an anxious moment at the hotel when the fire marshal threatened to do something about the unsafely of such an overflow crowd. That could have led to a riot and a public relations disaster.

The dinner, itself, was a huge success, with entertainment by singers Nancy Wilson and Billy Eckstein, humor by Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and an electrifying speech by actor/orator Ossie Davis.

Davis told the audience that “It’s not the man; it’s the plan; it’s not the rap; It’s the map.

Davis went on to say, “At the time when Dr. King died in l958, he was in the process of organizing his forces and calling upon his people to come one more time to Washington, D.C. And, I have a feeling that had he come that time he would not have said, ‘I have a dream.’ He would have said, ‘I have a plan.” And, I feel that that plan that he might have made a difference.”

Ossie Davis’ profound remarks that inspired the founding 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the thousands who attuned that first dinner 40 years ago are as relevant today. And, so is the work of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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