Massachusetts housing officials announced Friday that they are launching a “90-day push” to reduce the number of vacancies in state public housing by the end of the year. The initiative comes after an investigation by WBUR and ProPublica found nearly 2,300 of 41,500 state-funded apartments were vacant at the end of July — most for months or years — despite a housing shortage so severe that Gov. Maura Healey called it a state of emergency. Massachusetts is one of only four states with state-subsidized public housing, and about 184,000 people are on a waitlist for the units.
In a state with some of the country’s most expensive real estate, Libby is among the 184,000 people — including thousands who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes or living in unsafe conditions — on a waitlist for the state’s 41,500 subsidized apartments. As they wait, a WBUR and ProPublica investigation found that nobody is living in nearly 2,300 state-funded apartments, with most sitting empty for months or years. The state pays local housing authorities to maintain and operate the units whether they’re occupied or not. So the vacant apartments translate into millions of Massachusetts taxpayer dollars wasted due to delays and disorder fostered by state and local mismanagement.
Ellis Island was once the border of New York City, a gated drawbridge for millions of immigrants to what would become their new homeland. But today, when New York’s border is at the Rio Grande, that checkpoint is beyond its control. From the perspective of necessity, prudence and even justice, cities must expand their policies of welcome to match their extended borders. Months have passed since Mayor Eric Adams declared that there was “no more room at the inn” for asylum seekers arriving in the city. Invoking, perhaps inadvertently, a Biblical metaphor, the mayor suggested that New York City’s shelter system was at capacity.
A quick trip through any major American city and you can see it for yourself – “tent cities” underneath highways or alongside parks, people sleeping on the sidewalk, overcrowded and resource-stripped shelters. It is estimated that there are nearly 600,000 homeless people across the US, marking the highest yearly surge since the government began tracking the data in 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal. Major cities like Los Angeles are seeing homeless populations spike almost 10 percent from last year. This problem has been deeply exacerbated in the post-pandemic era. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, rent was already skyrocketing due to inflation levels as well as “development projects”, forcing long-time residents, mainly minorities, out of their own neighborhoods.
By law, the American Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is supposed to be reserved for residents who can’t afford to live anywhere else. For decades, the building was a haven in the city’s sky-high housing market, where artists, musicians and people down on their luck could rent rooms for about $500 a month. At the end of the day, longtime tenants would hang out at Al’s Bar, a legendary punk and alternative rock venue on the ground floor where bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers played long before they sold out stadiums. But amid the largest homelessness crisis in the nation, the American’s owner has turned the building into a boutique hotel where tourists can book rooms for as much as $209 a night.
A celebration with guests, volunteers and partners sharing conversation, hugs, love and laughter isn’t what most people associate with programs for unhoused people. But joyous gatherings may be the secret to creating trusted relationships that restore dignity, rekindle optimism and fuel a sense of opportunity for community members experiencing homelessness. Local government agencies years ago recognized the need to bring services for unhoused people together in a central location. One solution in use across the country is periodic Homeless Connect events, like the Los Angeles County series organized by council members.
There is a strong body of evidence on what works when it comes to resolving homelessness – housing – and what does not work – punitive policies like criminalization and homeless sweeps that move people around while discarding their belongings. So why do so many American cities seem vexed when it comes to this issue, constantly framing people who are unhoused as threats to public safety while simultaneously promising a compassionate approach? A big reason for this is that complaint-driven policies of homelessness prevail in many cities despite being antithetical to resolving homelessness.
Nearly half of all unhoused adults in California are over the age of 50, with Black residents dramatically overrepresented, according to the largest study of the state’s homeless population in decades. University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) research released on Tuesday also revealed that 90% of the state’s homeless population lost their housing in California, with 75% of them now living in the same county where they were last housed. The study further found that nearly nine out of 10 people reported that the cost of housing was the main barrier to leaving homelessness.
On June 14, the DC Court of Appeals will hear arguments around internationally-recognized housing advocate Cheri Honkala’s appeal of a misdemeanor conviction for seeking an audience in 2018 with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson. The case could set an important precedent on the First Amendment right of the people to petition their government for assistance without fear of punishment for doing so, a right that extends back to the 1215 Magna Carta. Watch the hearing live on the court’s YouTube channel: bit.ly/cheritrial. For decades, Cheri Honkala has been a fearless defender of people’s right to have housing.
Minneapolis, MN — During the month of May, the City of Minneapolis has been busy evicting encampments of unhoused people, displacing hundreds and throwing away many people’s only belongings. Minneapolis Police (MPD) displaced about 80 unhoused people on East Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis on May 10. Each week since, they’ve evicted several smaller camps erected from those displaced from the Franklin Ave. sweep, continuing a punishing and deadly cycle. “This is what he touts as his great success,” said American Indian Movement member Mike Forcia about Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and homelessness.
On May 1, 2023, a Black man named Jordan Neely was murdered on a New York City subway. He was unhoused and struggled with mental illness. When Neely became agitated and pleaded for food or water, a white passenger named Daniel Penny responded by putting him in a chokehold for 15 minutes and killed him. After police arrived they questioned Penny and chose to let him go instead of putting him under arrest. Even though the murder can be seen on video, Penny remains free while the Black district attorney of Manhattan prepares to present the case to a grand jury. Penny will be tried if the grand jury decides to indict him.
On May 1, Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old Black man, was murdered on a northbound F train in Manhattan. Just a few minutes before, Neely, who was homeless, began yelling in the subway car, visibly frustrated and pushed to the brink over the lack of regard other passengers had shown him. “I don’t have food! I don’t have a drink,” Neely exclaimed. “I don’t care if I go to jail, and if they give me life in prison…I am ready to die.” Neely had not attacked anyone on the train or behaved violently, yet he was restrained and put into a chokehold by a 24-year-old white ex-Marine, whose name has not yet been released by police.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose administration is struggling to contain a worsening homelessness crisis despite record spending, is trying something bold: tapping federal health care funding to cover rent for homeless people and those at risk of losing their housing. States are barred from using federal Medicaid dollars to pay directly for rent, but California’s governor is asking the administration of President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, to authorize a new program called “transitional rent,” which would provide up to six months of rent or temporary housing for low-income enrollees who rely on the state’s health care safety net — a new initiative in his arsenal of programs to fight and prevent homelessness.
In Houston, TX., where the NCAA Final Four (college basketball tournament championship games) will take place March 31 – April 3, the mayor’s office has taken it a step beyond displacing the unhoused. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office has ordered police to target people feeding those in need. After opening a facility to move people miles from downtown from a homeless encampment near Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center, Mayor Turner began invoking old city ordinances to ticket Food Not Bombs Houston (FNBH) food-sharing volunteers and trying to discourage them from doing what they’ve done for decades: feeding people at the Houston Public Library every night.