Federal HOME program makes a big difference in Waco. Time to make sure it doesn’t get cut.

By Phil York

Summer is my favorite season and the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. As a Navy brat, I shared many 4ths with other military families under an illuminated Washington, D.C. night sky; the glow of each explosion brilliantly reflected off of the marble monuments and served as bright dramatic reminders of the sacrifice many service members and their families pay for our freedom.

This past 4th, many of us may have traveled far and near to be with friends and family. We can all agree on one thing: there is nothing like returning home.

As we learned from our previous discussions in our housing blog series, many of our brothers and sisters here in Waco do not have safe, decent and affordable places to call home. Several local nonprofits work diligently alongside the dedicated staff members of the City of Waco and hard-working first time homebuyers to make the American Dream of homeownership a reality.

These efforts depend on HOME funds. Appropriately named, “HOME” is a federal program. Its longer name is “The HOME Investment Partnership Program.” HOME funds are appropriated to local jurisdictions, such as the City of Waco, so that organizations like Waco Habitat for Humanity can build a stronger Waco. These funds can be spent towards new construction, infrastructure improvements and repairs.

Drastic cuts in the HOME program are currently proposed. The latest policy updates from D.C. report that the Senate appropriations proposed to cut the HOME program by 93%. This is a cut from $950 million to $66 million. This will essentially eliminate the HOME program at a time when the need for affordable housing is growing across our nation. The United States Conference of Mayors December 2014 report “shows that 48% of the surveyed cities experienced an increase in homelessness. The report identifies a lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness among families with children.”

Affordable housing is defined as that which does not require a household to spend more than 30% of gross annual income. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports in 2013 that the fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Texas is $847. In order to afford this level of rent without paying 30% of income, a household needs to make $34,671 annually. The median income in the Waco Area is $32,239 compared to the $51,900 state-wide; affordable housing is a need in our community.

Why the Cut?

We understand that our law makers have a duty to balance the budget and to make sure budget funds are spent wisely, and the HOME program has come under some harsh criticism. A 2011 Washington Post investigation launched a probe into the misuse of HOME funds. The article reported startling misuse of HOME funds: “hundreds of millions of dollars squandered on abandoned projects ; 700 projects with $400 million left idle for years; abuse was seen across the nation in communities such as Inglewood, California, Newark New Jersey, and Orange, TX.”

These reports are undoubtedly disturbing, but as with all policy discussions, it is important to have a balanced view on an issue.  Misuse of some program funds by some agencies may mean those agencies need to be re-organized, it does not necessarily mean that a whole program needs to be defunded.

HOME funds accomplish exactly what they are meant to accomplish in many communities – for example, Waco!

HOME Here in Waco:

On-time Construction timelines, completed construction production numbers and experienced staff preserve the integrity of the HOME program here locally. Here in Waco organizations that use these funds go through annual on-site audits. They build based on a stringent federal and local building codes. And they partner with applicants that are financially ready for the obligation of a 25-30 year mortgage. Staff members attend continuing education in construction, management and loan origination best practices. Each year, Waco’s organizations have to apply for funding and prove that they are worthy of another year of support based on the previous year’s performance.

The reality of how HOME funds are managed here in Waco is in sharp contrast to the 2011 Washington Post investigation. Here in Waco, precious tax payer funds are managed with the highest due diligence by both CHDOs and City of Waco leadership.

How I was Welcomed HOME

This past week, I was blessed to visit a Habitat homeowner with two members of my board (names have been changed to protect privacy). Sarah greeted us to her home. The purpose of our visit was to share the Star Garden Award; a program our board shares with the best of the best lawns in our Habitat communities.

Sarah greeted us from her driveway with a warm smile and a high-energy wave. Her hospitality beamed nonstop for the next hour. She proudly took us on a tour of her home. Sarah showed us the swing set she installed for her 6 year old daughter, Abigale. Sarah said Abigale can now invite friends over to play. The neighborhood is safe. The home is something her child is proud of. The swing set is lined with beautiful brick pavers she bought from the Habitat ReStore.

Sarah said something that stuck with me. “I literally helped to build this house through my own hands,” she said. “I continue to use those skills not only around the house but also outside with projects like these. I feel an independence that I never felt before in my life…this is our home…a place my Abigale will have long after I am gone.”

Sarah’s home was partially funded with HOME funding. HOME allowed Sarah to realize the independence of the American dream. But Sarah reminded me that her homeownership has a multi-generational impact in our community. Abigale happily swung on the swing set and sang a happy tune while Sarah continued to smile non-stop during her reflection of her home buying process. Sarah and Abigale embody the purpose of the HOME program.

CALL TO ACTION

There are many ways to let your voice be heard so that more homeowners like Sarah may realize the hard-earned status of homeownership.

Next time you are on social media, simply copy and paste the language below into your favorite social media outlet.

Tweet:

Americans are struggling more than ever to afford rising housing costs #UseYourVoice to tell Congress to #SaveHome! http://bit.ly/HFHHOME

Facebook:

Don’t let Congress cut funding for HOME, an efficient and effective program that helps Habitat provide affordable housing for those who need it most. Use your voice today to save HOME: http://bit.ly/HFHHOME

Speak Directly to your Elected Officials

Find your representative with this link. You can type in your zip code and your representatives will appear: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Zip.aspx

Do not hesitate to contact all of the officials that represent you; federal, state and local.

GO here to learn of your City of Waco Council representation:

http://www.waco-texas.com/district-map.asp

Use information from this blog post as you speak to your representative. Here are some more talking points:

Production Numbers of the HOME Program (HOME Advocacy Coalition):

  • Every $1 million in HOME funds creates or preserves approximately 18 jobs.
  • Since 1992, HOME has created more than 1 million affordable homes
  • 496,000 homes for new homebuyers
  • 232,000 owner-occupied homes repaired
  • 298,000 tenants received direct rental assistance
  • More than half of HOME Funds have been used to assist “very” and “extremely” low-income families.

Get Involved

These are the websites of nonprofit builders (CHDOs) in Waco that build alongside the City of Waco. Ask to get involved, volunteer or to give to their powerful missions.

When the glow of sparklers fade, when the last plume of BBQ smoke disappears with the last of summer’s warm, lazy nights we will all be asked that annual question: “what did you do this summer?”

With these easy action steps, we will be able to say that we helped to preserve HOME not only for our nation, but for our community right here in Waco.


Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

Affordable Housing: A New Year’s Resolution we can all Support

By Phil York

Happy New Year!

The holiday leftovers are long-gone; decorations are starting to find their way back to storage reluctantly and the sound of holiday music is replaced with the resounding resolutions for the New Year.

This week, President Obama addressed Central High School in Phoenix, Arizona. He asked the audience to remain resolved about the continued American economic recovery. The President cited the housing market crash, especially the market of Arizona, as the source for economic decline. Now, in 2015, that same market is the engine for the Arizonan and American economic recovery.

A cut in mortgage insurance premiums on Federal Housing Administration loans was at the center of President Obama’s policy announcement this past week. Starting this month, mortgage premiums will drop from 1.35 percent to .85 for responsible and eligible applicants. According to the President’s remarks, the cut would attract 250,000 more people to buy homes over the next three years and allow for the typical homebuyer to save $900 a year.

Of course, any proposal by the White House is potentially subject to mixed reviews. Sen. Bob Corker, for example, responded to President Obama’s address by saying: “[this is] bad news for tax payers and is yet another irresponsible, head-scratching decision from the administration in regards to our nation’s housing finance system.”

Sadly, policy issues such as this one are often divisive at the national level. Fortunately, here in Waco, we are united as a community that embraces collaboration and collective impact. This new policy idea provides a good opening to discuss the importance of affordable housing for our community and to think about ways we can work together on this issue here at home.

Affordable Housing in Texas – Opportunities for Growth

“Affordable housing” is defined as that which does not require a household to spend more than 30% of gross annual income on housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports in 2013 that the fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Texas is $867. In order to afford this level of rent without paying 30% of income, a household needs to make $34,671 annually. The median income in the Waco area is $32,239 compared to $51,900 state-wide. In short: affordable housing is a need in our community.

Homeownership and affordable housing are points of possible improvement for our local economy. Waco’s homeownership rate is around 47 percent compared to 63 percent in Texas and 65 percent nationally.

The statistics help us define the problem; they do not define Waco or the promise we have for growth in the near future.

Housing impacts all aspects of the American Dream.

At many points in his address, President Obama pointed to themes that we all associate with the American dream:

Education and the Hope of our Children: As we have discussed in previous posts, children who experience homelessness or unstable housing are sick four times more often than other children; go hungry at twice the rate of other children; and are twice as likely to have learning disabilities as non-homeless children. Our whole community benefits for generations when children (our future tax-payers, professionals, and civic leaders) grow up in a stable home.

Work Force and Tax base: The National Association of Home Builders reports that “home building generates substantial local economic activity, including new income and jobs for residents, and additional revenue for local governments.” The report wisely differentiates between the immediate impact felt directly thanks to construction efforts and the long term impact felt long after the dust settles and families close on homes. The annually recurring impact of building 100 single-family homes in a typical metro area includes 3.1 million in local income, 743,000 in taxes and other revenue for local government and 53 jobs. Housing makes a difference for our work force tax base.

Heroes and Service Members: The President reported that “since 2010 we helped bring 1/3 of our veterans who are homeless off the streets”. The White House and previous administrations identified veterans as a key demographic to prioritize in budget decisions. The housing first model implemented in some communities allows veterans to receive care they need while under a stable roof and to continue to have a stable future. Housing makes a difference for our Heroes.

How will You be Resolved in 2015?

President Obama connected to the audience by sharing his own path to homeownership. He said “buying a home is about investing; planting roots in a community…it is a sense of accomplishment that you are building something for your family and for the future”.

The President’s remarks echo the speech we hear from Habitat homeowners as they close on their homes. This sense of accomplishment is what makes it worth it to invest 300 hours of sweat equity; attend 12 “Homeownership College” courses; save $1,000 for an escrow payment, and commit to a 25-30 year zero-interest mortgage. Waco Habitat allows future Partner Families to realize their own dream of homeownership and along with it a brighter future for themselves and their children.

This year, you can be resolved and help Waco build affordable housing. Here are a few ways you can help:

Let your voice be heard:

Sign the petition Habitat for Humanity International generated. The purpose of the petition is to make affordable housing a Global priority: Click here for the Petition.

Contact your U.S. House representative and your U.S. Senators. If your Representative is Mr. Bill Flores, you have the convenience to contact Rep Bill Flores directly via email. The U.S. Senators from Texas are John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, click on their names to find out how to contact each of them. Ask that housing remains on their agenda in the New Year.

Get Involved:

Give of your time, talent and treasure to nonprofits that build a stronger McLennan County, here are three organizations that work directly on the issue of affordable housing:

One Last Note

This quote from John Wood, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Baylor, appeared in the Waco Trib the other day, “Business is not just a way to make money; it is primarily a way to serve others and to contribute to the common good.”  Although nonprofits and government agencies are at the forefront of this discussion, the words of Professor Wood remind us of the calling we all have as Wacoans to make it our business to be resolved to contribute towards the constant care and improvement of our beloved community.

I hope you will join me in your unique way towards our shared efforts to build a stronger Waco in 2015.


Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

Panhandling: Sometimes the best gift is not giving…

by Phil York

Believe it or not, only 35 business days remain until Christmas Day. This headline would intimidate most, but not this seasoned last minute shopper. I consider it a countdown to when I will surely shine the brightest. For many of us holiday traditions offer community, love, hope and the promise of a New Year. Some of our neighbors, however, endure hardships each month of the year. The holiday season seems to highlight this fact as their struggles stand in sharp contrast to the bright lights and carols in the weeks ahead.

While some of our neighbors turn to family and friends, the faith community or the nonprofit sector of Waco for assistance, others may decide to ask the community directly for support. “Panhandling,” or the act of asking for money, food or goods publicly, is our blog topic today.

Stereotypes of Panhandling Unwrapped

Panhandling is often closely associated with homelessness, but it is important to note that all panhandlers are not necessarily homeless, and only a relatively small percentage of homeless people engage in panhandling. According to a report published in the Urban Affairs Review in 2003, less than 15% of the homeless people sampled reported having engaged in panhandling.

According to this same report, which compared homeless people who panhandled with those who did not, those who engage in panhandling tend to be those who lack personal relationships such as marriage or children. They tend to have been homeless more often and for longer periods of time, and they are more likely to have alcohol, drug or mental health problems. This combined set of factors may make it more difficult for this group of people to find legitimate employment, making it more likely that they will turn to panhandling as a means of survival.

Waco Ordinance

Sympathetic as a panhandler’s predicament may be to some, cities often work to discourage panhandling out of a concern that it may be bad for business. Like many cities, The City of Waco has a panhandling ordinance. In Waco, panhandling is not allowed on public streets, roadways or medians. In addition, people who are panhandling (soliciting) may not, for example:

  • Continue efforts to solicit from a person once that person has indicated they do not wish to be solicited from.
  • Misrepresent the purpose of the solicitation
  • Engage in conduct that creates a safety or traffic hazard.
  • Or, use children to solicit funds.

Ordinances against panhandling, however, do not completely solve the problem. For one thing, enforcing them comes at a cost. According to the report quoted above, “the average cost of detaining an individual in jail is roughly 25% higher than the daily cost of providing an individual with shelter, food, transportation and counseling services.” For another thing, they do little to address the root causes of the problems that lead to the panhandling.

What should we do when we are asked by a neighbor for money?

Decline out of love – According to a 2012 Trib article on panhandling in Waco, Teri Holtkamp, the City of Waco’s homelessness coordinator discourages giving money. “You never really know where the money is going,” she said. “You may be supporting drugs or prostitution. So, rarely are you really helping a person out.” “Don’t just give because you feel guilt,” she said. “If you want to make lasting change, you have to say, ‘I love you enough not to give you money, because I don’t know where it’s going.’” In a recent e-mail, Ms. Holtkamp reiterated those sentiments stating, “People deserve real change not spare change.”

Recognize the human dignity – What you can give is a smile, recognition of human presence, and perhaps directions to an agency or ministry that can help.

Give Wisely – If you would like to give something directly to a person asking you for help, a meal at a fast food restaurant, a bus pass or a snack from a convenience store are better choices than giving cash. (Note: Do not to serve food directly on the street without first contacting the City of Waco for the proper permits.)

Teri Holtkamp suggests that instead of giving handouts on the street, well-meaning people might consider giving their money to an agency. “When you give to the agency you know where your dollars are going,” she said. Also, as Jimmy Dorrell, founder and executive director of Mission Waco, stated in the 2012 Trib Article cited above, “… generally, when people become so desperate that they beg for food, they have other issues they need to address.” Two organizations in Waco that can help with those issues are The Salvation Army and Mission Waco. The Salvation Army serves hot meals 365 days a year at the Community Kitchen, located near downtown Waco at 300 Webster Ave. Meals are available to anyone who asks. Mission Waco’s social services, including access to the “My Brother’s Keeper” shelter, are available through the Meyer Center at 1226 Washington.

The Easiest Gift to Wrap

I had the honor to work at the National Coalition for the Homeless a few years ago. I assisted the Speakers Panel Program: an event that allowed high school students to hear from formerly homeless citizens of Washington, DC. When one of our speakers, Sarah, was asked, “What was the worst thing about being homeless? The Winter?” Sarah took a deep breath, wrestled with tears that eventually fell, and said, “The worst part about being homeless is the fact that people see right through you…ignore your existence…a smile and hello always shocked me in the rare times they were given and always changed the tone of my day.”

The holiday season is upon us. Gift shopping is on the agenda for most. If you are asked to give by a person on the street, remember Sarah’s soul-penetrating reminder of our shared human dignity and how the best gift can be something that we can all afford to give and to receive this holiday season.


Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected].

Pay Day Lending: Joining hands to Insist on Good Business Practice

by Phil York

Football season is here. As an Aggie transplant to Waco, I have a new struggle: competing loyalties as I slowly learn to cheer for my new home team, Baylor University.

On August 28th, the Family Health Center auditorium was buzzing with the energy of a packed football stadium on the Brazos. But, unlike a crowd that is divided by team loyalties, this audience was united by a powerful bond.

More than 80 Wacoans met under the leadership of Citizens for Responsible Lending (CRL), a group established this year by and for Wacoans for the purpose of advocating for an economically healthy Waco. The event was dubbed, “The State of Pay Day Lending Rally.”

Robin Reid spoke first at the Rally. Robin was the true expert in the room: she took out a pay day loan several years ago and had the courage to share her personal story with us. Robin reminded us that pay day loans provide an important service that is not provided by traditional banks. However, predatory practices such as intimidating phone calls at her home and workplace, automatic renewals, and exorbitant fees are not acceptable. As Robin highlighted, the discussion that night was not about being anti-business; but about being pro-good business.

After Robin, representatives from CRL (Alexis Christensen, Ryn Farmer, Rucker Preston and Josh Caballero), Texas Appleseed (Ann Baddour), and Texas Catholic Conference (Jennifer Carr Allmon) provided an update about Pay Day lending on the national, state and local levels. Together, the presenters answered several important questions, including these:

  • Why should we care about pay day lending in Waco?
  • What further steps can you take about pay day lending?

Why should we care about pay day lending in Waco?

Payday-LoansWe should care about Pay Day lending because of the negative impact it has on our local economy. Pay Day lending is a big presence in Waco. Waco has 29 licensed Pay Day Loan/Title Loan storefronts. That is more than the total number of McDonalds (8) and Starbucks (5) combined! Under the current laws that do not limit fees, size of the loan, rollovers or refinances, and do not consider the ability to repay based on income, Pay Day lending is a big loser for the Waco community.

Here are a few facts to give you a sense of the economic impact:

  • Borrowers pay an average of $23 in fees every 2-4 weeks for every $100 borrowed. Installment payday borrowers pay about $100 in fees per $100 borrowed.
  • 602 cars were repossessed last year by auto title lenders in the Waco area. To put that in perspective, there are 1,900 parking spaces available in downtown Waco for Baylor Football games. Imagine the cars in almost a third of those spaces being repossessed and their drivers left without transportation to get to work or to take care of the other necessessities of life.
  • 10.5 million dollars were drained from the Waco area economy in 2013 because of excessive fees.

What further steps can you take about Pay Day lending?

Join us! – This powerful rally was the result of concerned Wacoans coming together. When I spoke to Jennifer of the Texas Catholic Conference after the rally, she commented that Waco is one of the most proactive and caring communities she has visited in her Texas-wide research. Whereas other communities need extra support, Wacoans boldy say “we got this!”  You can join your neighbors and friends who are already part of Citizens for Responsible Lending (CRL). Contact Alexis Christensen at [email protected] or 254-235-7358 to learn more.

Know your rights – Organizations such as the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid provide literature about pay day lending. If you or some of your friends and family are already ensnared in debt related to Pay Day or Title lending, one of the most powerful tools for reducing the negative effect is to know your rights. Here are two helpful bulletins:

Share your opinion with the Waco City Council – At the rally, Council Member Toni Herbert (District 4) reminded us that there is a designated item on each Council meeting agenda called “hearing of visitors.” This is time specifically set aside for citizens to have a chance to voice concerns. You could use this time to voice your concerns about Pay Day lending. Council meetings are held the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Here’s a link to more information about how our city council works: Waco City Council.

Sign the petition supporting a Waco City Council resolution about Pay Day Lending – The Citizens for Responsible Lending have drafted a resolution that we would like for the Waco City Council to adopt. If adopted, it would state that our city council resolves to:

  • Urge the Texas Legislature and Governor of Texas to adopt a 36% annual percentage cap on fees/interest,
  • Encourage the City of Waco to explore alternatives and ordinances,
  • Follow the same format of cities such as Bryan and College Station that passed ordinances. Currently. (18 cities have passed ordinances)

If you would like to sign the petition urging our city council to adopt this resolution, contact [email protected].

Alas, football season is here.

Football seasons have winners and losers, and they come and go. Some seasons are filled with “band-wagoners” who follow in the wake of the winning team. Unlike the fickle nature of football followership, the diligent passion, care and concern of Wacoans is as constant as the river Brazos.

Robin Reid’s story is our story. Predatory lending practices that threaten the financial security of many Waco residents are a concern for all Waco residents. These practices threaten the economic health of our whole community by preying on residents who are working hard to gain a financial foothold. We know how to join hands and act locally to insist on fair, pro-good business practices, and that is exactly what we are doing.


Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected]

 

How Decisions in Washington Could Affect Housing in Waco, Part II – Homeless Assistance Grants

by Phil York, Act Locally Waco Housing and Homelessness Policy blogger

In the Act Locally Waco blog post on May 18, we introduced information about a bill called The U.S. House of Representatives Fiscal Year 2015 Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill (HR 4745). In this post, I would like to give you an update on the status of that bill, and also explain how this bill directly affects our goal of reducing homelessness in Waco.

The importance of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants

A key element of the THUD bill that directly affects Waco is funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, in particular the Continuum of Care program. (For an excellent description of this program from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, click here.) According to the most recent update on the Mayor’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, agencies and organizations who work with homeless people in Waco have been able to reduce chronic homelessness in Waco by two-thirds since work on the plan was initiated in 2005. The funds Waco has received via the Continuum of Care Grant program have been foundational to the successful implementation of the plan so far, and continued funding will be necessary for on-going success.

In 2013, for example, our Waco community received over a million dollars ($1,040,292 ) through this competitive grant program. Almost all of the money ($977,639) received from this grant went directly to fund needed programs administered by some of the most well-respected non-profits and agencies in Waco, specifically:

The remainder ($62,653) went to pay for the administration of our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). This is the software that allows us to measure participation in our programs for homeless people and to identify patterns in usage of various services. It is our best source for the information we need to track our progress and to make sure we are working together as efficiently and effectively as possible.

According to the research done in connection with the Mayor’s 10-year Plan to End Homelessness, each chronically homeless person in Waco was costing the city $39,000 in 2005. Best estimates suggest that with the help of the Continuum of Care grant funds, we have reduced the number of chronically homeless people in Waco from 97 (at a cost of $3,783,000 per year) to 32 ($1,248,000 per year). In other words for a $1,040,292 per year Continuum of Care investment, we are generating $2,535,000 per year worth of benefit. And those figures only consider what we have been able to accomplish regarding chronic homelessness; they do not take into account the progress that has been made regarding other kinds of homelessness thanks to Continuum of Care funding.

What does HR 4745 mean to Waco?

President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget included $2.145 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, a $300 million dollar increase. The House version of the appropriation (HR 4745), proposes keeping the funding at 2014 levels, $2.105 billion.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), remaining at 2014 funding levels would be bad news for communities like Waco who depend on money from the Continuum of Care Grant. As the NAEH explains on their website, “Due to expiring multi-year grants and increased renewal demand, the $2.105 billion funding level for McKinney that passed through the House would result in funding cuts to Continuums of Care. If this funding level is enacted, communities will be required to once again make the difficult tiering and prioritization decisions they made for the FY 2013 NOFA (Notice of Funds Availability).”

Where is the Bill Now?

According to Govtrack.us, this bill passed in the House on June 10, 2014 and goes to the Senate next for consideration.

What Can I do?

Remain informed: The most important call to action is for us to remain informed about the current policy landscape. Regardless of your political background or interest, we share common ground in the preservation and long term health of Waco.  You can follow the work of the US Committee on Appropriations by visiting their website: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/. Another useful site for keeping track of legislation is Govtrack.us. This site gives a step by step graphical guide on where policy is within the legislative process.

Speak up: Contact your U.S. House representative and your U.S. Senators. Let your representatives know that the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, and in particular the Continuum of Care Grants, are making a tremendous difference in the Waco community. The money being spent has directly resulted in reducing homelessness, and it is an investment that saves money both immediately and in the long run. Feel free to use points raised in this blog post as talking points in your correspondence. If your Representative is Mr. Bill Flores, you have the convenience to contact Rep Bill Flores directly via email (https://billflores.house.gov/contact/ ).  The U.S. Senators from Texas are John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, click on their names to find out how to contact each of them.

Connect directly to the mission: There are volunteer and giving opportunities at each of the nonprofits listed in this blog post. Connect directly to the work that is reducing homelessness and making Waco a better place to live for all of us.

Special thanks to Jennifer Caballero, Lead Program Analyst – HMIS, City of Waco, for her technical assistance in this blog post research.

Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected]

 

How decisions in Washington could affect housing in Waco

by Phil York, Act Locally Waco Housing and Homelessness Policy blogger

Since the post-holiday season, we have used the motif of unwrapping gifts to understand some of the dimensions of housing and homelessness.

We started our discussion with a definition of homelessness through Housing and Urban Development (the federal agency that administers national housing programs). We then discussed how this definition is applied to children, veterans and our other neighbors who may not have a home.

The purpose of our conversation is to keep us all informed: we need to be aware of how decisions made in Washington affect our lives in Waco.

We can use the lessons learned over the past few months and apply them to the latest update from Washington. Let us use our knowledge-base to unwrap:

  • The basics of the proposed legislation
  • Possible local implications of the proposed legislation
  • Ways we can continue our collective efforts to build a stronger Waco

The Basics of the Proposed Legislation:

The U.S. House of Representatives Fiscal Year 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill is scheduled for House Appropriations Mark-up next week.

Here are the basics about the bill (a paraphrased summary provided by CSH – A Housing Policy and Advocacy Group (www.csh.org )):

  1. Overall, the House version of the FY2015 THUD Appropriations bill would decrease funding for HUD by $769 million from the FY2014 levels.
  2. The bill flat funds the Homelessness Assistance Grant programs, providing $2.1 billion. It did not accept the $300 million increase proposed by President Obama.
  3. There is a slight increase in Housing Choice Voucher program; however, the funding provided does not restore the 40,000 vouchers that were lost to sequestration.
  4. Funding for the HOME program cut by $300 million.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee reports specifically about the Community Planning and Development program with the following update in a May press release: 

“The bill contains $6.2 billion for Community Planning and Development programs – a reduction of $383 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The Community Development Block Grant formula program is funded at $3 billion – effectively equal to last year’s level – while the HOME Investment Partnerships Program is funded at $700 million, a reduction of $300 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. 

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Latham provided the following commentary about the proposed bill:

“My priorities in this process were to act in a bipartisan fashion to fund our most vital programs with our critical need to reduce the deficit. This is a sound, commonsense bill that meets our highest transportation and housing priorities in a fiscally responsible way. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this important legislation forward in an open legislative process.” 

Possible Local Implications of the Proposed Legislation:

habitat buildWaco Habitat is just one of many organizations that partner with the City of Waco to build a stronger Waco with the programs described above. Here are a few ways Waco Habitat used these precious public dollars to improve our community:

ReStore:

  • By using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds through a zero percent loan (that was paid back within three years), the Waco economy has been greatly impacted for the good.
  • ReStore offers affordable building materials to people in our community, recycles products thus diverting them from the landfill, and supports administrative efforts of our organization.
  • ReStore diverts 3,000 tons from the landfill annually and saves the city about $164,000. The net income from ReStore assures donors to Waco Habitat that 100% of their gift goes to build and repair homes in our community.

New Home Construction Program:

  • We are concerned that funding levels proposed in the FY 2015 House THUD bill will make it more difficult for us to serve people living at 30% to 60% area median family income.
  • Without HOME funds our partnership housing ministry would be greatly thwarted. Since 1999, Waco Habitat for Humanity has served as a Community Housing Development Organization.
  • With over $3.1 million, we have built 48 houses.
  • Home ownership assures about seven new home owners join the tax paying roles each year.
  • Home ownership adds to the tax base of our community, improves schools, enhances professional opportunities, strengthens school performance, expands likelihood of graduation, and spreads hope for future generations.

Habitat achieved the above accomplishments thanks to our public fund partnerships. Budget cuts today affect Waco’s ability to realize a community where everyone has a decent place to live.

Ways We Can Continue Our Collective Efforts to Build a Stronger Waco:

  • Remain informed: The most important call to action is for us to remain informed about the current policy landscape. Regardless of your political background or interest, we share common ground in the preservation and long term health of Waco. Follow the work of the US Committee on Appropriations: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/.
  • Have your voice heard: Contact your U.S. House representative. Please provide your Representative with the talking points provided above. If your Representative is Mr. Bill Flores, you have the convenience to contact Rep Bill Flores directly via email (https://billflores.house.gov/contact/ ).
  • Connect directly to the mission: There are volunteer opportunities at Habitat and other nonprofit organizations that work directly with our neighbors in need. These organizations offer opportunities for you to give of your time and talent.

Your donations, whether they be of time or money, are important – they bind us together. Once connected, we may share the urgency of the above implications and collectively move our leadership to join us as we build a stronger Waco together.

Phil 2Phil York, Director of Development at Waco Habitat for Humanity, is a self-described “policy nerd;” he is also the Act Locally Waco housing and homelessness policy blogger. You can direct questions to Phil to [email protected]. Would you be interested in blogging for Act Locally Waco? If so please email [email protected]