Olympia Activists Respond to Shelter Closing. What Will Santa Cruz Activists Do?

Breaking News: Homeless Shelter by Olympia Artesian Well

Yesterday · · Taken at Olympia Artesian Well.
Press Release for March 1st, 2013 Re: OMJP (Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace) organizes in response to the homeless crisis—hosts a Homeless Solidarity Rally & Community Pizza Party, builds an emergency shelter, and installs Olympia’s only 24 hour public restroom at the downtown artesian well. Attention! Our community is in crisis and the Mayor of Olympia has insisted that we not let it go to waste. On March 1st the Sacred Heart and Saint Michael’s men’s shelters will be closed for the season. The county-funded cold weather shelter at the Salvation Army is only sporadically open at best, and it too will soon be closed. Though shelter is a human right, there are hundreds of unsheltered houseless people in Thurston County. In response to this crisis, we have constructed an emergency shelter and installed Olympia’s only 24-hour public restroom at the downtown artesian well. It is our intention to maintain these facilities as a service to the community until an adequate alternative can be arranged. Furthermore, we draw attention to the fact that in January of this year, the Olympia City Council, with the sole exception of council member Jim Cooper, voted in favor of a reactionary ordinance which banned camping and camping related paraphernalia such as blankets from all city-owned public property. The criminalization of homelessness is a national worst-practice model which negatively impacts not only homeless persons, but also service providers, the criminal justice system, and the broader community. Olympia’s anti-homeless ordinances violate standards of fairness and raise moral questions about community values, priorities, and social and economic justice. They dehumanize the homeless, damage their health, and create even greater barriers to housing. These ordinances are a threat to the general health of the Olympia community and must be repealed.

Homelessness Up For Discussion or Diversion? 7-9 PM Tonight–Monica Martinez & Don Lane

NOTE FROM NORSE:   Tonight Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom hosts a talk at the Quaker Meeting House, 225 Rooney St., east of Morrissey Blvd., in Santa Cruz (next to the freeway) 7-9 PM.Speaking are former Mayor and Board President of the Homeless Services Center (which some of us call the Homeless Lack of Services Center) Don Lane and Monica Martinez, its Executive Director.Their topic is “the current state of homelessness in Santa Cruz and calling for action in support of the 180/180 Initiative which provides permanent supportive housing for the most at-risk and vulnerable of our homeless citizens.”The 180/180 program seeks to raise government and private funds to house a fraction of the most costly homeless folks (i.e. those who scare the merchants most) with  no provision for the rest of the community and no let-up in the criminalization of the other 95%.  It seems to be a successor program to the Housing First! program and the Continuum of Care (“End Homelessness in Ten Years” shuck and jive) that got federal funding for the last decade and a half.

It’s not that providing housing and supportive services for 180 people in Santa Cruz county is a bad idea.  Obviously it’s not.  But focusing all attention and energy on a fanciful grant-magnet 180/180 program is done at the expense of immediate shelter and human rights needs.  It seems largely a self-justifying project for bureaucrats.  Meanwhile the same leaders (Lane and Martinez) counsel colluding with police and courts in their campaign to drive away and criminalize a whole class of people.  Focusing exclusively on 180/180 diverts the public’s attention from the recent smear campaign of anti-homeless warriors on the right led by Councilmembers Comstock and Robinson.  The massive “needles = homeless = illegal camps = crime” rage given unjustified credibility were recently echoed by the Mayor of the City (See http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_22606878/hilary-bryant-public-safety-is-our-top-priority ).

Unfortunately Santa Cruz has several thousand homeless people (Santa Cruz County even more)–currently under rabid attack by vigilantes, police, sheriffs, rangers, security guards, city council, hired clean-up crews as well as courts and D.A.’s.   It is illegal to sleep in Santa Cruz after 11 PM at night, illegal to set up a survival camp site at any time.  The City Council (with Lane voting in favor and Martinez silent) has made “unattended” camping tickets into misdemeanors punishable by a year in jail and $1000 fine.

A prior “Homelessness Summit” on December 1st out at Cabrillo College, masterminded by the backers of the 180/180 program completely sidelined the real issue of the need for immediate shelter, campsites, legal support now and has resulted in no further action.

These “feel good” psuedo-positive initiatives sacrifice human dignity and human lives for what some politicians seem to consider the “politically possible”.  Fresno and D.C. are apparently experiencing similar problems as the stories below seem to indicate.

Fresno Activist Mike Rhodes writes:
This is from a Washington Post article published last Friday.  It is painfully obvious that the local government (both the city and county of Fresno) has had many of the same problems.  But, that does not stop them from continuing to push one program after another, even though they are doomed to fail. 
The current plan to build housing (The Renaissance project) houses a small percent (perhaps 5%) of the homeless population, with the vast majority of people left to fend completely for themselves. 
The city and county won’t even provide them with drinking water, portable toilets, or trash pick up.  I believe the reason they (city and county officials) do this is to give people (in the broader community) the illusion that they have a plan to end homelessness, but the bureaucrats in their cynical hearts, know what they are doing is not going to work.  Unfortunately, people who are not paying close attention have the hope that something is being done to solve the problem, when in fact they are being mislead.  In the meantime, the vast majority of homeless people are the ones who suffer, while the bureaucrats collect their fat salaries.
Why does D.C. still have so many homeless?By Colbert I. King, Published: February 15

More than 900 people, including 600 children, crammed into a makeshift D.C. homeless shelter? Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way. By now, we were told, homelessness in our nation’s capital would be a thing of the past. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
In 1993, the Clinton administration persuaded Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to enter into a partnership, called the D.C. Initiative, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The idea, hatched under HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and Assistant Secretary Andrew Cuomo, was to make the District a national model for local governments on ending homelessness.
To get the city’s buy-in, HUD dangled a $20 million grant and other federal bucks, provided that the District kicked in some of its own funds for homeless services.
After weeks of meetings stretched into months, the cash-strapped District signed an agreement in 1994 transferring the city’s responsibility to an entity known as the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.
In 1994, according to city estimates, approximately 3,400 single adults used the District’s shelter system. They represented about 60 percent of the people in the system.
It was thought that 1,200 to 1,500 of those 3,400 lived on city streets and used the shelters or public space intermittently or interchangeably.
About a fifth of shelter residents were families who turned to the system repeatedly because of their precarious and unstable situations.
Some had drug addictions or major health problems; some were victims of domestic violence.
The D.C. Initiative’s solution? Transition from a shelter-based system to a “continuum of care” approach that entailed creating a community network of agencies and programs to tackle not only housing needs but also the root causes of homelessness.
Over time, The Post ran a series of cautious editorials about the feds’ push for the initiative.
The District had been used before as a federal test case — with city officials often left holding the short end of the stick.
Vincent C. Gray, the director of the D.C. Department of Human Services under Mayor Kelly, testified before the House subcommittee on housing and community development on Oct. 26, 1993, as to the D.C. Initiative’s goal.
Yes, Gray has been at this for a long time.
He promised Congress that with HUD money the District would try “to create real, permanent, enduring solutions for families and singles who are homeless . . . and make a contribution to . . . the Nation in how to resolve, once and for all, the problem of homelessness in this Nation.” That was nearly 20 years ago.
The Post tracked the D.C. Initiative through the departure of Cisneros and Cuomo from the Clinton administration, and through Pratt’s leave-taking from the District government.
By 2000, the D.C. Initiative was over and done. But the homeless were still here.
In June 2004, Mayor Anthony A. Williams presented with fanfare: “Homeless No More: A Strategy for Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C. by 2014.” He billed it as a “client centered” approach focused on bringing to the table all the key service providers to create a system that prevents and ends, rather than maintains, the problem of homelessness.
Williams left office. The homeless remained.
In April 2008 Mayor Adrian M. Fenty introduced the “Housing First” fund. “What we are proposing is a new approach to serving our chronically homeless neighbors,” Fenty said. “The systems of the past have not brought us closer to ending this humanitarian crisis.”
Fenty proposed moving chronically homeless people from the streets and shelters to housing where they could be provided comprehensive services to solve the problems that contributed to their homelessness.
Sound familiar?
Fast-forward to 2013.
Today, millions of dollars later and after years upon years of government, nonprofit and private-sector efforts, homeless families are still in the defunct D.C. General hospital shelter, in motels or on the streets.
Is it a question of funding or underfunding, management or mismanagement, commitment or lack of concern? Does part of the problem also rest with those without roofs over their heads? Is the answer some or all of the above?
The Post’s Annie Gowen reported this week that Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, said he would conduct hearings on conditions at the hospital shelter. That’s too limited a focus.
There is no better time to take a sober look at the persistent problem of homelessness in our nation’s capital, its causes, what has worked and failed, and what can realistically be done to get people beyond their plight to greater independence.
That may be a better D.C. initiative.

Santa Cruz County relaxes affordable housing rules

By Jason Hoppin – Santa Cruz Sentinel
08/14/2012SANTA CRUZ – In a nod to what remains a tight housing market, the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday relaxed the county’s affordable housing rules, handing developers the flexibility to rent out units that would otherwise be sold to low- and moderate-income residents.County staff said they hoped the deal encouraged banks to lend to builders who are still having a difficult time securing financing on large projects. The deal sunsets after two years, and likely impacts a high-profile plan that’s been three decades in the making – the Aptos Village Project.

“It’s going to provide an incentive for large-scale housing developments in the county, which we have not seen over the years,” Wanda Williams, the county’s assistant planning director, told the board.

But the shift touched off a debate among supervisors about how best to fund affordable housing after the statewide loss of redevelopment agencies, once the primary force behind new affordable housing.

The move was championed by Supervisor Ellen Pirie, who represents Aptos and is retiring from politics in a few months. She has said one of her goals is to push the Aptos Village plan through.

“The last thing we want is an affordable housing ordinance that actually inhibits affordable housing,” Pirie said.

Under the county’s voter-approved 1978 Measure J affordable housing program, roughly 15 percent of new units are set aside of low- and moderate-income homeowners, providing one path to homeownership in a county where housing prices remain sky high.

Rather than sell the units, the changes approved Tuesday allow the developer to rent them out for up to seven-and-a-half years, at which point they would be sold as affordable housing or at market rates, if the developer pays a substantial fee.

That last provision caused much of the debate, with the board eventually voting that it would have final say over any developer’s decision to pay the “in lieu” fee.

“I’m concerned that if we allow that, we’re going to have more units that fall outside the affordable housing stock,” Supervisor Mark Stone said.

That option is available to developers, who pay a sliding scale fee based on the value of a home. For example, a home valued at $500,000 would trigger a 40 percent fee, or $200,000.

Those funds go toward building affordable housing. For example, they were recently plowed into Santa Cruz’ Nuevo Sol Apartments, which serves the chronically homeless.

But they have also been used to helped fund programs aimed at vulnerable populations, and county staff praised their value. Because they are flexible, they can be used as matching funds to help secure state and federal grants, for example.

“I think in terms of the overall program it’s a real benefit to have those resources,” county administrator Susan Mauriello said.

The Aptos Village Project is targeted for an undeveloped swath behind the Bayview Hotel. It includes a mixed-use village, more than 60 housing units, new roads and the relocation of the old apple barn.

The project is being developed by Barry Swenson Builder. A representative could not be reached to comment.

Facing Foreclosure After 50

NY Times: July 19, 2012

T. Lynne Pixley for The New York Times
Roy Johnson, 79, recently lost the home he built 48 years earlier in Georgia to foreclosure. Older Americans are increasingly facing this problem.

MABLETON, Ga. — Roy Johnson fell so far behind on his $1,000-per-month mortgage payments that last year he allowed the redbrick, three-bedroom ranch he had owned since 1963 to lapse into foreclosure.

“I couldn’t pay it any longer,” he said. “One day, I woke up and said, ‘Hell, I’m through with it. I’m walking away from the house.’ ”

That decision swept Mr. Johnson, 79, into a rapidly expanding demographic: older Americans who have lost their homes in the Great Recession. As he hauled his belongings by pickup truck from this Atlanta suburb and moved into his daughter’s basement, Mr. Johnson became one of the one and a half million Americans over the age of 50 who lost their houses to foreclosure between 2007 and 2011. Of those, the highest foreclosure rate was for homeowners over 75.

Once viewed as the most fiscally stable age group, older people are flailing. On Wednesday, AARP released what it described as the most comprehensive analysis yet of why the foreclosure crisis struck so many Americans in their retirement years. The report found that while people under 50 are the group most likely to face foreclosure, the risk of “serious delinquency” on mortgages has grown fastest for people over 50.

While the study classified even baby boomers as “older Americans,” its most dire findings were for the oldest group. Among people over 75, the foreclosure rate grew more than eightfold from 2007 to 2011, to 3 percent of that group of homeowners, the report found.

“Despite the perception that older Americans are more housing secure than younger people, millions of older Americans are carrying more mortgage debt than ever before, and more than three million are at risk of losing their homes,” the report found. “As the mortgage crisis continues, millions of older Americans are struggling to maintain their financial security.”

The report was based on nationwide loan data that covered a five-year span. The profile of those facing foreclosure has changed since 2007. As the average age and wealth of those people rise, their foreclosures are less likely to involve high-interest loans. In fact, most foreclosures are now the result of prime loans rather than subprime ones, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Instead, older Americans are losing their homes because of pension cuts, rising medical costs, shrinking stock portfolios and falling property values, according to Debra Whitman, AARP’s executive vice president for policy. They are also not saving enough money. Half of households whose head is between 65 and 74 have no money in retirement accounts, according to the Federal Reserve.

At CredAbility, an Atlanta-based credit counseling agency, the average age of callers needing help has risen to 49 from 43 in recent years. Scott Scredon, a spokesman for the agency, said most older Americans facing foreclosure are frugal but are unable to live on fixed incomes with the rising cost of living.

“When we think of foreclosures, we think of someone who was a little reckless and spent beyond their means,” he said. “The older the person, the less likely that is to be the case.”

Foreclosures create unique challenges for older people, Ms. Whitman said. They are less able to find new jobs and more vulnerable to becoming homeless, analysts say.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Charlotte Orton’s three-bedroom apartment has been under foreclosure for four months. Since losing her job as a real estate agent, Ms. Orton’s only source of income has been Social Security payments of $1,200 per month.

If she is evicted, Ms. Orton, 69, who has no family members in Florida, says she does not know where she will live.

“This is the lowest point in my entire life,” she said. “If I were in my 30s, it would be easier to get employment. But all they want to know is what your recent experience is, and the real estate market has collapsed.”

Other older foreclosure victims have managed to negotiate with banks to stay in their houses. Josephine Tolbert, 76, was temporarily evicted from her house in San Francisco for two weeks. Protesters from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment staged a sit-in at Bank of America, and eventually Ms. Tolbert was able to renegotiate her loan.

“At my age, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. “But let me tell you, it was a fight.”

Selling houses is also a challenge for many older people. The value of real estate has collapsed, especially in wealthy suburbs of Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and other sprawling metropolitan areas.

For Mr. Johnson, it was painful to watch the house he built 48 years earlier sell for only $33,000 at auction last year.

Now he lives in what his 55-year-old daughter calls his “man cave” in her basement. It is an hour away from his old house. Although Mr. Johnson is grateful to have been helped by a relative, he misses having space for all of his belongings and the tree from which he made pear preserves.

“I planned to die in that house,” he said. “But I guess it won’t work out that way.”

Homeowner protection bills go to governor

Pete Carey

San Jose Mercury News, July 3, 2012

Two bills to protect all California homeowners from arbitrary foreclosures and loan fraud are headed to Gov. Jerry Brown following their passage Monday in the Assembly and Senate.

The bills — part of Attorney General Kamala Harris’ Homeowner Bill of Rights — would make California the first state to extend to all homeowners the provisions of a national mortgage settlement with five big lenders.

“We really got it right this time,” said Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Alhambra, who helped pilot the bills through the Assembly. “It means more Californians will stay in their homes, and the California economy will be better for that.”

The vote passing the bills was 53-25 in the Assembly and 25-13 in the Senate.

The measures address one of the most vexing problems faced by struggling homeowners seeking to remain in their homes — sudden foreclosure while they are working with a lender on a loan modification. The legislation also tackles a common complaint from homeowners, who say they are shuttled from one bank officer to the next in a confusing process that requires the repeated submissions of documents.

The foreclosure crisis continues to roil the state. More than 600,000 homeowners are either not making their mortgage payments or are facing foreclosure, according to ForeclosureRadar. Banks currently own 75,000 foreclosed homes.

If signed by Brown, the Foreclosure Reduction Act and the Due Process Rights Act will require lenders and

servicers to:

–Decide on a loan modification application before beginning to foreclose on a home. This would end “dual tracking,” in which one department in a bank works on a loan modification while another initiates a foreclosure.

–Establish a “single point of contact” at a bank for borrowers who might be eligible for a loan modification. The point of contact would have to be knowledgeable about the borrower’s loan and personal circumstances.

The bills also give borrowers the right to sue before being foreclosed, and to recover damages following a sale, a provision the banking industry felt was too broad.

In addition, the legislation also imposes a $7,500 civil penalty per loan when the lender has filed unverified documents — a practice known as “robo-signing.”

“Passing these key elements of the Homeowner Bill of Rights represents a significant step forward for struggling homeowners,” Harris said in a statement. “These common-sense reforms will require banks to treat California homeowners more fairly and bring more transparency and accountability to their practices in our state. Responsible homeowners will have a better shot to keep their homes.”

The measures would have helped Jose and Maria Carrillo of San Jose. Their three-bedroom home was sold at auction Jan. 10 after a two-year struggle to modify their mortgage with Bank of America. Maria’s sister, Ana Nunez, helped with the modification and said that it involved a long, frustrating process of submitting and resubmitting documents.

During that time a default notice was filed and the house was scheduled for sale. “We were told not to worry,” Nunez said. “But my sister and husband were at home Jan. 10 in the evening when two gentlemen showed up to tell them they had three days to move out of the house.” The men had purchased the home at auction that day.

Nunez said she called the bank officer who was dealing with their modification. “The lady who answered the phone was very apologetic.”

The Carrillos’ story has a happy ending, but many such stories don’t. The Fair Housing Law Project of San Jose took their case and persuaded the bank it had made a mistake. The foreclosure was canceled and the couple’s loan modified.

“It never should have gotten to this point,” said James Zahradka, one of the lawyers who handled the Carrillos’ case. “This wouldn’t have happened” if the Foreclosure Reduction Act bill had been law last year, said Zahradka, who is also a board member of the California Reinvestment Coalition.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who co-chaired a joint conference committee on the bills with Eng, said she expects the governor to sign the legislation. “We did work very closely with the governor’s advisers in crafting the final compromise,” she said.

The measures were passed despite opposition from the banking and mortgage industry, which fears that the Due Process Rights Act — giving borrowers the right to sue their lenders — will spur lawsuits and raise the cost of making loans.

More than half a dozen banking and financial industry groups in California fought the bills. The groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, said the measures are “overly complicated” and are likely to “encourage frivolous litigation.”

“Numerous studies have shown that when you lengthen litigation and lengthen the foreclosure process there’s no tangible benefit to borrowers,” said Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association. “It significantly delays the recovery of the real estate market.”

But proponents said the bills merely level the playing field for all California homeowners.

“It’s one rare measure of accountability brought to banks,” said Kevin Stein of the California Reinvestment Coalition. The bills lay out what they are supposed to do. We hope they are going to follow the law, but if they don’t, consumers will be able to enforce their rights.”

The intent is to reduce wrongful foreclosures, but not all foreclosures, said Paul Leonard of the Center for Responsible Lending.

“There are 700,000 Californians who are today in some stage of delinquency or in foreclosure,” Leonard said. “There’s a large number of folks who could benefit from the protections that are included in the bill.”

Unlike the national settlement, which expires in three years, these laws are permanent, except for some provisions that sunset in 2018. The laws would go into effect Jan. 1.

Lending a Hand: Housing Authority gets funds to help first-time buyers

Peter Boutell

SC Sentinel:   05/26/2012

Every year the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County has received funds to help out first time homebuyers with the Mortgage Credit Certificate MCC program. I believe that this is the best program for homebuyers because it puts money back into the hands of homeowners.

This program is offered throughout Santa Cruz County as well as other counties in the state. For as long as I can remember, the Housing Authority here has been offering funds each year to promote homeownership and does a wonderful job at managing the demand for this program. This week the Housing Authority announced a new allocation of funds for 2012.

This is the only first time homebuyer program that actually puts money back in the homebuyers’ pockets each month and here is how it works: The home owner gets a tax credit not just a deduction! of up to 20 per cent of the interest portion of his mortgage payment each month. For example, on a $400,000 loan used to buy a home, the monthly principal and interest payment will be $1,910 for a 30 year fixed rate loan at an interest rate of 4.00 percent. The MCC program will allow the owner to deduct up to $3,100 from his federal income tax bill in the first 12 months of home ownership. That is a savings of more than $280 per month!

The savings will continue throughout the life of the loan as long as the home remains owner occupied and the MCC paperwork is filed each year with the homeowner’s federal tax returns. The cash benefit of this program will decrease each year as the loan balance decreases.

It should be noted that since interest paid on a mortgage for the purchase of a principal residence is a tax deductible expense, the remaining 80 per cent of the mortgage interest paid becomes tax deductible and will represent an additional monthly savings.

There also is the added advantage that since the effective house payment will be reduced by the amount of the MCC tax credit, lenders are able to qualify home buyers for a larger mortgage loan, which translates to a higher sales price.

To receive the credit on a monthly basis, borrowers can adjust their W-4 with their employer i.e. claim more dependents so that they will have less deducted out of their paycheck each month for their federal income tax withholding. Alternatively, if the borrowers choose to receive the credit annually, the credit will come back as a refund at tax time of the following year. Be sure to consult with your tax preparer.

Who qualifies? First of all, you have to be a first time home buyer, which is defined as someone who has not owned the home that they have lived in during the past three years it is OK to own or have owned a rental or investment property. For the property to qualify this year, the house or condo must be purchased for $591,098 or less Last year that was set at $573,881. The annual income of the persons that is buying the home must be less than $87,000 for a family of one or two or less than $100,050 for a family of three or more.

In order to be one of the lucky families who receives a Mortgage Credit Certificate this year in Santa Cruz County, you will need to be prepared.

That means that you must take action now to be preapproved for a loan. The first step toward preapproval is to meet with a participating lender and submit 3 years of federal tax returns, W-2s, 30 days of current paystubs, and two months of bank statements for each one of your savings, checking, stock and retirement accounts.

You also need to start actively looking at homes. To actually apply for one of these precious MCC certificates there is enough money for perhaps just eight this year, you must be in contract to purchase the home. There is a $250 application fee that goes to the Housing Authority; it should be noted that some lenders will fill out the paperwork for you.

In order to take advantage of these tax credits, you or your accountant must fill out IRS form No. 8396 along with your federal tax returns each year. Although there is a recapture provision that could trigger a partial repayment of these benefits if the home is sold within nine years, it is not likely to kick in. Ask your mortgage consultant to explain the details.

Not all lenders participate in this program, so be sure to ask!