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Affordable Housing Out of Reach
 Growth in Renters and Low Wages Create Severe Housing Shortage

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By Charlene Crowell

NNPA Columnist

Late last year America’s homeownership rate dropped to 66 percent, the lowest since 1998. Amid continuing foreclosures and short sales, millions of former proud homeowners now find the cost of their American Dream financially out of reach. For many displaced by foreclosures, rental housing has become a long-term housing alternative. But new research finds that the huge growth in America’s renters has worsened an already troubling problem: an inadequate supply of affordable housing. According to Out of Reach 2012, an annual report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, renter households rose by nearly 4 million between 2005 and 2010. In 2012, a household must earn the equivalent of $37,960 in annual income to afford the national average cost of a two-bedroom market rate of $949 per month. To comfortably afford market price for the typical rental, incomes must meet or exceed $18.25 per hour. However Out of Reach found that the 2012 average renter’s wage was a few dollars less at $14.15.

This gap between housing costs and typical worker earnings will continue to grow until or unless more affordable housing becomes available. Looking ahead, over the next decade the report predicts that the number of renters may increase by upwards of 470,000 annually.

The report states in part, “The analysis illustrates a wide gap between the cost of decent housing and the hourly wages that renters actually earn. The numbers in Out of Reach demonstrate that this year in every community across the country, there are renters working full-time who are unable to afford the rents where they live.” In 2012, many who are severely cost-burdened are adult workers whose wages are less than their locale’s fair market rent. Determined by HUD on an annual basis, fair market rent reflects the cost of both shelter and utilities. This federal standard is also used to determine eligibility for HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program and Section 8 contracts.

Out of Reach found that in every state an individual working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment for his or her family. In fact, there are very few places in the country where even a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent is affordable to these workers. Currently 18 states have minimum wages higher than that of the federal government and earlier this year, the City of San Francisco became the first in the nation to have a minimum wage above $10 an hour. Unfortunately, California rates third highest in the nation’s rental housing costs with $26.02 an hour needed for a two-bedroom dwelling. Other states where a two-bedroom apartment would require an hourly wage of $20.00 or more are: Connecticut, DC, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

Based on a federal standard, affordable housing should cost no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income. When housing costs exceed this threshold, the residents are considered ‘housing burdened’. When housing costs more than 50 percent of household income, the households are ‘severely cost burdened’. By 2010, extremely low-income (ELI) workers, those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income rose to 9.8 million people, or one out of every four renter households. For every 100 ELI households in search of an apartment, only 30 affordable units are available. NHLIC estimates that an additional 6.8 million additional rental units are needed to overcome this shortage.

Commenting on the NLHIC report, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, “This perfect storm of growing need and rising costs is why it is more important than ever that we provide a supply of affordable rental homes at the scale that families require and in the places that need them.”

Secretary Donovan has proposed that HUD’s FY13 budget make renewing rental assistance for over 5.4 million families the agency’s top priority.

Here’s hoping that Secretary Donovan’s budget request will fare better than earlier housing efforts. In 2008, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund was enacted for the purpose of building more affordable housing. In 2012, it remains unfunded.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Supreme Court Hears Health Law Arguments

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By Chris Levister

When Dr. Temetry Lindsey, Inland Family Community Health Center's president and CEO marked the second anniversary of the historic Affordable Care Act in Washington D.C. this week, she and members of the National Association of Community Health Centers quietly bypassed the champagne and party favors.

Instead, says Lindsey, as the Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of the law’s mandate that almost all Americans buy health insurance, an army of foot soldiers set out to methodically help a skeptical public navigate one of America’s most transformative periods.

In one of the most anticipated Supreme Court hearings in years, on March 26, the Supreme Court convened three days of hearings on challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; the health care reform bill pushed by President Barack Obama and passed by Congress over bitter Republican opposition. A ruling is expected in late June.

The legal question for the justices is whether Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in requiring most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.

The fate of the individual mandate provision -- may be in jeopardy, and perhaps with it the entire law's other 450 or so sections, based on tough questions of the government by the court's conservative majority.

The law’s challengers — 26 states led by Florida, the National Federation of Independent Business and several individuals — present the central question as one of individual liberty. The Obama administration urged the court to answer a different question. May Congress decide, in fashioning a comprehensive response to a national crisis in the health care market, to regulate how people pay for the health care they will inevitably need?

Lindsey says popular consumer benefits are already here, yet there are plenty of bitter pills waiting in the wings.

“Many of us on the delivery side of the law have mixed feelings,” she said. “On one hand we want people to become insured and gain access to care. On the other hand the law is complex, expensive and increasingly difficult to implement.”

She points to the federal government and the states weighing in with differing arguments.

“Then you have patients for and against the measure, many of whom are confused and afraid they will be forced to buy health coverage they don’t want or can’t afford. Unfortunately, it’s a mess we can’t afford not to have.”

Lindsey says despite widespread opposition and legal challenges health care in America is changing, no matter how the Supreme Court rules on Obama’s historic overhaul.

Health experts insist the unappreciated reality is there may be no going back to the world before March 23, 2010, when President Obama signed the law before a cheering, whistling crowd in the East Room of the White House.

The way millions of Americans receive and pay for medical services is going to be different, driven both by the new law, which goes by the acronym ACA, and industry responses to the escalating costs it was intended to curb.

According to the latest government figures, more than one of every four Americans last year received a free mammogram, colonoscopy, or flu shot, thanks to a federal law that many despise. Roughly 3.6 million Medicare recipients saved an average of $604 as the same law began closing a gap in their prescription drug coverage. And 2.5 million young adults were allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until their 26th birthday.

The Obama Administration argues health reform is already making a difference by: creating new coverage options for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Under the new law, insurance companies are already banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. In 2014, they are banned from discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition, such as cancer and having been pregnant. Today, the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan in every State offers an option to people who have been locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition like cancer or heart disease

Historically, African Americans and other underrepresented groups have faced significant barriers to accessing affordable health insurance and these barriers have contributed to significant health disparities.

Administration officials say under the new health law, care will be more proactive and patient centered. Medical providers have already begun revamping their operations. Hospitals and health care companies are collaborating to improve Medicare and chronically ill patient care.

The law encourages a move away from the traditional fee-for-service model in which doctors are paid for each test, X-ray or treatment they provide. Instead healthcare providers would be paid based on patient outcomes, offering higher payments for better quality care.

It is not just hospitals and doctors that are changing under the law, but also health plans, which are branching into new businesses as enrollment slows in their primary, and most profitable, market of providing employer-based health coverage. Health insurers are increasingly shifting their focus to managing the care of the poor and the elderly through contracts with Medicaid and Medicare, buying physician groups and urgent care clinics and offering consulting services to doctors and hospitals.

“Americans will have the security of knowing that they don't have to worry about losing coverage if they're laid off or change jobs. And insurance companies now have to cover preventive care like mammograms and other cancer screenings,” Lindsey said.

The new law also makes a significant investment in State and community-based efforts that promote public health prevent disease and protect against public health emergencies.

Lindsey says while a Supreme Court finding that the mandate, the law’s essential feature and most unpopular feature is unconstitutional would upend Obama’s signature achievement and roil the 2012 presidential campaign, even without the controversial mandate the law would likely survive its demise in part because as the old adage in politics goes: “Benefits once conferred are virtually impossible to take away.”

The Affordable Care Act: An Appeal to the Repealers

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Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing more than 2.1 million working families dedicated to quality, affordable healthcare for all issued the following statement on the two-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“Today, millions of working families across America are saying ‘thank you’ for the Affordable Care Act as it continues to deliver on its vision of providing quality, affordable, secure healthcare to all, regardless of age, race, income, faith or profession. The law is the great equalizer -- no one man or woman is more or less deserving than another. In the eyes of the Affordable Care Act, there is no 1% or 99%. There are only Americans who all deserve an equal chance to live longer, healthier lives.

“The Affordable Care Act is working. If you care about the future of this country, move on to a real challenge. Stop playing politics with the health of Americans and stop engaging in threats in the form of lawsuits, refusal of federal dollars and legislative foot dragging. That will not make America great; it will make us broke and sick.

“If you are running false ads against the Affordable Care Act, stop them. If you are undermining the foundation of Medicaid and Medicare and attempting to embarrass American taxpayers and veterans who depend upon on these essential services, take a moment and remember who built this country.

“While this week underscored that Republican extremists in Congress are happy to continuing stacking the deck against our struggling middle-class and aging parents and grandparents, I would appeal to leaders in our government who truly want America to recover from this recession to focus on what matters most: creating good jobs.”

Celebrating two years of the Affordable Care Act helping Latinos

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By Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) 

Two years ago, a new healthcare bill was signed into law that dramatically increased Americans’ access to quality, affordable healthcare. The Hispanic community was disproportionately affected by the old unfair healthcare system, but this new law positively impacts our health and economic security. 

The rising cost of healthcare and discriminatory policies used by insurance companies have plagued our country for far too long, but it wasn’t until President Obama and congressional Democrats took action that real change was finally accomplished. During debate of the bill, the airwaves and newspapers were saturated with gross misinformation, scare tactics, and heated rhetoric that gave many Americans a false impression of the healthcare bill.

Now, two years later, Americans have been able to witness firsthand how the Affordable Care Act is helping millions save money and live healthier lives. 

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against and deny coverage to millions of people with preexisting conditions, including 17 million children with preexisting conditions like diabetes or asthma.

 Now, 105 million Americans, including nearly 12 million Hispanics, no longer have lifetime caps on their medical care. Insurance companies cannot deny or drop coverage for you or your family just because of expensive medical treatment. 

Thanks to the new healthcare reform law, 3.6 million seniors whose prescription drug coverage was suspended due to the infamous ‘donut hole’ have saved an average of $600 on their prescription drugs. And preventive care on procedures like flu shots, mammograms, and colon cancer screenings are provided with no out-of-pocket costs.

Two-and-a-half million young people working hard to begin their careers can stay on their family insurance plans until they turn 26, a rule which provides coverage to 736,000 young Hispanics. And now, thanks to the President’s landmark healthcare reform, your family will no longer have to go bankrupt because a family member was born with an illness or became sick. 

While these new policies and statistics are a testament to the benefits of the new law, the real amazing examples are the individual stories of how the law has touched millions of Americans.

In California, a woman who initially hated the bill discovered the only way she could receive cancer treatment was through the new law’s Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan, and now she is a living example of the Affordable Care Act’s intent and success. In Colorado, a small business owner was able to continue insurance coverage to his employees only because of the healthcare law’s small business tax credit. And in North Dakota, a young girl born with a rare genetic disorder would have been close to her lifetime maximum on her father’s insurance policy, but under the new law, her lifetime limit is removed so she can receive the treatment she needs. 

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies played by their own rules when it came to your health care. They could raise premiums or drop your coverage if your medical care wasn’t good for their bottom line. But now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you and your doctor are empowered to do what’s best for your medical care. 

American families, and especially the Hispanic community, cannot afford to go back to the way things were and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, they don’t have to.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) is the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Police Shootings, Beatings in New York Fuel Activist Call for More Oversight

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By Saeed Shabazz, Staff Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The killing of an unarmed Bronx teen, Ramarley Graham, 19, by an undercover narcotics officer; the police beating of another 19-year-old Bronx teen, Jatiek Reed, shown on video being kicked and punched by four New York City police officers; and the shooting of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., 68, a retired Marine Corps veteran and correction officer in White Plains, NY renewed the call for oversight of police departments throughout the state.

“Yes, it is true that these acts have reignited the discussion amongst community leaders regarding law enforcement’s use of force policies, training of officers, and investigations of complaints of questionable actions by officers,” said Damon Jones, the Westchester County, N.Y. representative of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement in America.

Mr. Jones told The Final Call the main problem facing anti-police brutality activists in the state is the failure of officials to admit a need for a critical review of law enforcement policies.

Case in point, a Poughkeepsie Journal study of the use of Tasers by 19 local police agencies found Blacks were hit by Tasers far more than Whites. The Journal’s analysis and the 2011 study by the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union of eight New York police forces showed clearly a disproportionate use of stun guns on people of color. The NYACLU study found stun guns were used against non-Whites 58 percent of the time.

Police officials maintained Blacks are not targeted, saying officers try to use the stun device only when necessary to make arrests, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The Journal concluded the use of Tasers “echoes consistent and disturbing practices of over-policing in communities of color.”

One of the main supporters of current police practices is a conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute, which insists: “Serious crime is being deterred by the NYPD’s relentless efforts to reassert the rule of law in high-crime neighborhoods.”

“Time for the federal government to come in, historically when local municipal police departments could not discipline their officers, the feds would investigate and put in safe guards to protect innocent citizens,” said Sen. Eric Adams, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn. He added that for some “strange” reason, probably 9-11 attacks on the city, the Justice Department hasn’t taken on NYPD.

“They have turned their backs on the trauma police misbehavior is bringing to our communities, 9-11 is no excuse,” he told The Final Call.

Ron Hampton, the Wash., D.C. representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement in America explained that the Justice Dept. has a special Litigations Branch that monitors police departments nationally. “The law creating this department was passed in 1992, known as the ‘Omnibus Crime Act of 1992’ that established a system for monitoring departments, particularly if there has been notification of a culture of police brutality,” Mr. Hampton said. The monitor may stay with a department for up to five years, looking at the behavior of the officers, he noted. You cannot have 20 questionable shootings and think there is no problem, it’s referred to as “pattern and practice,” Mr. Hampton continued.

“We have met with people from the DOJ several times, and New York comes up in our discussion, so, I know the DOJ is aware of what is happening with the NYPD,” he said.

The Justice Dept. has successfully monitored police departments in Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and New Orleans and changes were made, according to Mr. Hampton. “The DOJ responds to information from citizens,” Mr. Hampton said.

The Justice Dept. did not respond to calls from The Final Call, nor has any statement been issued concerning these latest incidents in New York.

In the meantime, several state legislators sponsored a bill Feb. 9 that establishes an independent inspector general for the NYPD to report to the commissioner of investigations. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the bill, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman for the three-term mayor told AP: “The department already has an aggressive and independent Internal Affairs Bureau.”

“We agree the police department cannot police itself. For many years we have called for greater oversight of the NYPD, this is a step in the right direction,” Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, noted in a press release.

In an attempt to quiet the community, the NYPD announced Feb. 14 a so-called revised policy for using deadly force, according to the N.Y. Daily News. A department spokesman told the newspaper officers cannot shoot “if innocent bystanders” would be injured.

Some activists see this revised regulation as a smokescreen and not an answer. The N.Y. Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying the NYPD should be working on “improving training and procedures as to eliminate unjustified shootings.”

The new directive is designed to restate that police shootings are not judged by the standard applied to civilians, noted Prof. Eugene O’Donnell, professor of political science and law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Because the police use force pursuant to the work they do, and do so at our behest, their actions are judged in the context of their training and experience as police personnel,” the professor told The Final Call in an e-mail.

The reasonableness of their actions can only be judged by taking into account what they know and how they are trained in assessing a given situation, added Prof. O’Donnell, who is also a retired police officer. “The police act unilaterally and summarily-they, and they alone, make the on-the-spot decision, so there is no formal charging process or the participation of any non-police people in examining the decision,” he said.

Sen. Adams, who retired from the NYPD with the rank of captain, said he understands the mindset described by Prof. O’Donnell. Officers must be given a psychological test that deals with racial stereotyping and that this test should be administered before coming into the NYPD, he said. “And there should be a lesson plan used in the Police Academy dealing with stereotyping,” Sen. Adams added.

Columbia Law professor Jeffrey Fagan explained to The Final Call it is not “unconstitutional” for a police officer to put his hands on someone in the course of making a stop. “Cops can legally handcuff someone, for example, if they believe that person has a weapon,” he said. “It would be interesting to know the racial breakdown of those stops that don’t end up in use of force.”

New Yorkers must remain vigilant, and must keep up the pressure; the Justice Dept. will come around, said Mr. Hampton. “We will be meeting with the DOJ soon to discuss what is happening in Westchester County, and I am sure the NYPD will be discussed,” he said.

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