rhino!UP June 2021

PREthinking the next eviction crisis rhino!UP for June 6, 2021

As advocates look forward with trepidation to the tsunami/avalanche/flood of evictions that will follow the end of the moratorium in a few weeks, there's an awareness that "back to normal" could mean a return to the "normal" crisis.

Remember that before the Corona Recession, there was already a crisis level of evictions resulting from the high cost of rental housing, stagnant wages, and a low savings rate. These made low and moderate income tenants subject to homelessness as a result of a medical bill, a car repair, or a sudden job loss.

Happily, in the short run this crisis may be mitigated by rising wages, a perceived labor shortage, a homeownership boom that reduces demand for rental housing, and local courts made accustomed to "non judicial" solutions to back rent. One hopes for a brief respite from "crisis" so that advocates can look at the past year for lessons for the future.

  1. Why a moratorium? The nature of a moratorium is a temporary halt to normal business as usual until conditions return to normal. The idea of a moratorium was to halt evictions until emergency assistance was delivered. The failure of federal and local agencies to deliver timely assistance bolloxed the plan. Lesson 1: Economic disasters aren't that different from "natural" disasters. FEMA has learned from multiple failures that local health and housing facilities are as vulnerable to a disaster as their constituents. Communities need to build resilient systems.

  1. Why CDC? This is still a puzzler. An agency focused on public health is writing legal procedures for local courts? HUH? Lesson 2: CDC is not set up to handle local judicial systems. There's no precedent and so the CDC moratoriums were easy targets for conservative legal firms.

  1. Why not HUD? Unfortunately, HUD has been gutted by budget cuts and reorganizations to the point that there's little or no "local knowledge" in their systems. Lesson 3: Congress should invest in a Federal agency that has local roots to deal with emergencies.

  1. How long is an emergency? In March 2020 it was clear that emergency measures were required to keep the economy from falling into a dead stall as emergency rooms filled up and businesses closed down. But three "stimulus bills" later Congress continued to use stop gap measures to stabilize the economy. Legislators had opportunities to create structures for the longer haul of recovery and re-stimulus, but they continued to depend on non-existent delivery systems. Lesson 4: Stop the bleeding and start rebuilding along a continuum, not a series of crisis interventions.

  1. Entitlement vs. assistance? One system that worked well in the series of pandemic legislation was the IRS checks that went to taxpayers. No rules, no forms, no reports--in essence it was an entitlement. Rental assistance, by contrast, was rule burdened and documentation intensive. Part of the problem was the requirement that tenants had to do all the paperwork and landlords got the money. Lesson 5: Keep housing assistance simple, more like an entitlement.

Let's not wait for the next financial disaster, let's start planning now for the worst. One key step will be to make housing vouchers an entitlement and strengthen public housing authorities (PHAs) to deliver them efficiently. These relics of the Great Depression could be recast to be affordable housing service centers. Rethinking PHAs could complement the progressive agenda of A Green New Deal for Housing. An alternative would be renter tax credit administered by IRS. The newly enacted Child Tax Credit will be creating a model for this kind of direct to the citizen assistance that bypasses local delivery systems.


  • June 10, 2021. Roll Call. Senators press Fudge to rebuild HUD’s depleted staff. "Fudge said low capacity at the department had slowed the rollout of pandemic housing relief to local governments. Without the staff available to provide technical assistance to grantees, many local governments that received funds were reluctant to spend them, she added."

  • Emily Benfer writes "Over the last few months, the American Bar Association partnered with Harvard's Dispute Systems Design Clinic to study eviction diversion programs and surface best practices. The final report, authored by Professor Deanna Pantín Parrish, provides a roadmap for communities interested in diversion programs and includes the results of stakeholder interviews and surveys of landlords and eviction diversion programs. The report emphasizes that the goal of diversion programs must be housing stability and that safeguards must be adopted to ensure tenants have agency - including access to legal counsel. Here is the link: Designing for Housing Stability: Best Practices for Court-Based and Court-Adjacent Eviction Prevention and/or Diversion Programs (Joint Report of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program and American Bar Association)

  • New Report! Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Programs in 2021: Analysis of a National Survey. "NLIHC, the University of Pennsylvania’s Housing Initiative at Penn, and the NYU Furman Center’s newest report, “Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance Programs in 2021: Analysis of a National Survey,” provides an initial analysis of key program design features of Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs and compares results to NLIHC’s ERA program-tracking database as well as results from the three organizations’ previous survey in the fall of 2020. The survey took place in April 2021, and the results reflect key program design features of early implementers of the Treasury ERA program. Two additional rounds of surveys will help us better understand how programs adapt and change and how different program features translate to outcomes.

  • June 30, 2021. Wapo. FAQ: The CDC’s final eviction moratorium expires July 31. Here’s what Biden is doing to avert a crisis. "Now, the White House is rushing to organize courts, states and localities, legal-aid organizations and housing groups to help keep families in homes, because at this point the White House’s toolbox for tenants is pretty limited." BTW, White House advisor Gene Sperling did one of the worst interviews on this topic ever heard. Nothing wrong...just bad presentation.

  • 07/02/2021, politico. State, local officials disbursed less than 4 percent of rental aid through May, "Even as officials picked up the pace of disbursal, the delivery of the funds remained well behind demand. State and local officials responsible for doling out more than $46 billion in federal rental assistance had distributed just $1.5 billion as of the end of May, according to new Treasury Department data that illustrated a severe bottleneck in the aid. Even as officials picked up the pace of disbursal — they served 160,000 households in May, a 60 percent increase from April — the delivery of the funds remained well behind demand, with fewer than 350,000 households served so far by programs intended to help millions."

  • July 22, 2021. CNN. Short-term fixes aren't enough to solve America's looming eviction crisis. "Finally, and most importantly, all of these steps are necessary because we don't have a strong housing safety net. If the government were to expand rental assistance permanently to the many households who qualify, but who normally don't receive assistance due to a lack of funding to cover the need, there would be fewer evictions for nonpayment of rent and greater housing stability."

  • AUGUST 13, 2021. American Prospect. To Improve Rental Assistance, Just Make It Cash Assistance. "Programs in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and elsewhere could serve as national models for quick and efficient emergency relief."

  • 08/28/2021. Politico. ‘Anti-poor people bias’: States, cities face backlash over rental aid slowdown. "Affordable housing groups are blasting state and local officials with accusations of negligence and racism over the sluggish delivery of rental assistance, warning that persistent red tape and bad targeting have had an outsize impact on low-income Americans. The outcry from regional housing organizations against their local leaders in places like Louisiana, Georgia and New York is poised to become even more heated after the Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked the nationwide eviction moratorium. The decision exposed millions of renters to the threat of homelessness during a surge in Covid-19 cases."

  • August 19, 2021. Shelterforce. Universal Housing Vouchers: A Promise or a Pipe Dream? "Had the voucher program been adequately funded before the pandemic ravaged the jobs sector, not only would thousands of tenants have likely remained housed, landlords would have pocketed guaranteed income from unemployed or underemployed renters, allowing property owners to keep current on their mortgages, pay local property taxes that support essential services, and even pay their own employees."

  • September 14, 2021. NLIHC. Legislation to Reform Emergency Rental Assistance Program Passes House Committee. RHINO suggests: don't hold your breath, this is an important statement of principles for the next eviction crisis.

Let's get serious about making real change. rhino!UP for June 13, 2021.

One thing we know about government is that old programs never die. Much of the resistance to change comes from advocates who are devoted to outmoded "benefit" models of assistance. Pandemic rental assistance, for example, relies on enforcing strict qualifications to receive the benefit. Determining the qualifications of need becomes an new industry requiring time and staff for professionals and frustration for households in need.

Or, take Rapid Rehousing (RRh) for homeless families. RRh was designed around the laudable idea that unhoused families should be diverted from temporary shelters to temporary housing, before being "treated" for the longer term health, employment, and social barriers. So social workers morph into real estate agents for families experiencing homelessness. Why not just give them a Housing Choice Voucher through an already established system?

Oh, that's right. There aren't enough vouchers for everyone who is eligible. And the limited supply is further restricted by "special needs." Some families are given preferences, eg. VASH vouchers for military veterans and Shelter+Care vouchers for households burdened with mental health issues. Everyone else who is just rent burdened (paying more than 30% of income for rent) are lumped into a lottery, with the winner to go on a waiting list.

All this is managed by a small army of housing and service providers in each community (Continuums of Care) which makes the decisions about who gets what. Each "provider" gets a slice of housing dollars. In the low income housing business, the only ones not getting paid are the tenants in need. "And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee..."

Will testing more babies for lead poisoning end the problem?

This week's press announcement that Ohio Senators Brown and Portman have taken the bold step of requiring Medicaid providers to test one and two year olds for lead poisoning is Bold! Except for the fact that mandatory testing of Medicaid children is already the policy. In fact, it's hard to tell from the media stories what is really being proposed since there's nothing introduced, just ideas!

Last month's kick off meeting of Cleveland's Commission on Child Lead Testing made clear that the problem is the health care systems, while the health providers who make up the Commission, mostly blame parents for failing to follow up on testing opportunities. Declining testing is not a pandemic problem.

Data for testing Cleveland children shows a steady DECLINE in testing (the blue bar) from 2016 to 2021.

Besides which, testing babies is not a prevention strategy. Keeping babies from being exposed to lead in their homes is prevention, but political leaders still genuflect to the health professionals.

Getting serious about policy change means shifting from a "scarcity benefit" mentality to an "entitlement" mode. It is like flipping the north and south poles. It's inevitable. It will take some time. It will be a little upsetting.

Watch for these clues that change is in the works.

  1. When everyday people take a role in shaping new policies for programs that address their needs, the shift is beginning. "Clients" can explain why babies are not tested and why rental assistance takes longer than vaccine development.

  2. When providers are forced to think systemically, not just about their own well-being, the movement begins.

  3. And then, ordinary citizens will need to motivate the politicians to enact the changes. After all, it is citizens, not institutions, that have the vote.

Half of making change is push; the other half is consolidation. rhino!UP for June 20, 2021.

The push strategy of social change, embodied in Saul Alinsky's community organizing practice and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's commitment to racial and economic justice, grew out of the Depression era and WWII experiences with disparities of income, wealth, racial, civil and political rights. While the 1950s marked a brief return to conformity, these disparities ignited in the 60s.

The push for change "peaked" in the US in the early 1970s as waves of social movements transformed civil rights, women's rights, and the emergence of the "boomers" as a social force. But, by 1975, with the end of the VietNam war, the stress of the oil embargo, and the shootings at Kent and Jackson State, the energy for change ebbed away. Seizing the moment, political leaders, academics and philanthropists raced to embrace accommodationist change strategies like Asset Based Community Development as alternatives to push strategies. Welcome the community development corporation and neoliberalism.

In 2020, activists ignited another wave of racial, womens', and gender equality movements, this time augmented by direct challenges to economic inequality and climate change, push strategies. Fueled by the 2000 dot.com bubble, the Great Recession, documentation of police violence, and the Pandemic Recession, push strategies are thriving in this period of social, economic, and demographic change. .

That's what is meant by the phrase "when change is in the air, open all the windows." But activists might cynically view this as another boom in a boom and bust cycle of change.

Kurt Lewin's three step Theory of Change can help put these movements into context. From unfreeze to push (change) to refreeze, each phase demands different tactics.

As today's title suggests, "push" is half the battle. Consolidation (refreezing) is the other half. Consolidation can come in the form of enacting laws, creating social norms, and building structures that "institutionalize" the changes established in the push.

Examples refreezing are all around us. The Supreme Court decisions on Obergfell and, just this week, Obamacare, jump to mind. The enactment (albeit temporary) of Child Tax Credits and pandemic stimulus checks are signs of a new policy paradigm based on entitlement, instead of relief which perpetuates class inequality. See last week's rhino!UP: Let's Get Serious.

It is important to distinguish a refreezing strategy from a restoration strategy. Restoration strategies seek to reverse the victories won by the change movements. Think of "Make America Great Again," or the Reagan themes of "Morning in America" or "Just Say NO!" or Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "Ending Welfare As We Know It." Characteristically, a restoration strategy calls people to reject hard won social changes in favor of a mythic past. For activists who instinctively live in the moment, Lewin's model provides a context for for sustaining movements. Knowing that a restoration movement will follow a change movement, change agents can institutionalize the victories, while preparing to fight against the push back.

Dr. Sharon M. Wasco describes Lewin's work as "a big idea that qualifies as 'an oldie, but a goodie.' " Despite the fact that Lewin wrote in an academic dialect sometimes described as "turgid," his gift to today's activists is a theory, based on "action research," that can permit organizers to develop tactics that aren't simply reactive or guided by emotion and the social "moment." Lewin's Maxim is reknown in academic circles for its insight that "there is nothing as practical as a good theory." The organizing trick is in the translation of theory to action.