| From Maria's Desk |
It's a little like Alice-in-Wonderland here in Washington, D.C. these days.
Earlier this week, HUD's Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress included the disturbing news that family homelessness increased 20% since 2007. The report noted that this number would likely have been much higher but for the important one-time help offered through the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP).
Yet at the very same time, the Obama Administration has proposed an initiative that threatens to eliminate or undermine an existing federal program, Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act, which currently helps some 2.4 million homeless and poor people each year. The Senate held a hearing on the proposal last week, and you can read about it and our testimony here.
What possible sense does it make to eliminate a program that's working when need is increasing? We think that instead of cutting back, the Administration should expand its efforts to use vacant properties to help and house Americans who are losing their homes. As a result of the foreclosure crisis, HUD and other agencies now own federally insured properties that are vacant - at the very moment when people are homeless.
As we discussed at our Forum on the Human Right to Housing last week, the U.S. recently made a commitment before the world community to reduce homelessness, and to increase access to housing for all, as a matter of its human rights obligations.
It can start by ensuring that vacant federal properties are put to use housing homeless people.
|HUD Annual Homelessness Report Released
This week HUD released its 2010 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress, which details recent trends in homelessness. While the report says that overall homelessness only increased marginally between 2009 and 2010, it finds that between 2007 and 2010, the use of emergency shelters in rural and suburban communities increased 57 percent, and family homelessness during the same period increased 20 percent. Both are clear indications that homelessness has risen dramatically since the recession began.
This data almost certainly represents an undercount. For example, these numbers do not reflect families living in hotels, or doubled up with family or friends out of economic necessity. Homelessness is rising, and we have got to do something about it. These populations are not currently included in the HUD AHAR count despite the passage of the federal HEARTH Act in 2009, which requires that many of them be included in the official definitions of homelessness.
On the positive side, the report also finds that more than 90 percent of people receiving federal Housing Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) assistance exited the program to permanent housing in its first year of operation. HPRP was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included $1.5 billion for homelessness prevention.
|Highlights & Resources: Human Right to Housing Forum |
On June 7-8, 2011, the Law Center hosted its 6th National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, gathering participants from all across the country and four different government agencies to discuss how to make the right to housing a reality in the U.S.
Highlights of the first day of the Forum included the opening plenary, where NPR reporter Pam Fessler moderated a discussion between Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis; Barbara Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness; and Christopher Williams, Washington representative of UN-HABITAT, about recent advances in addressing housing as a right in the U.S. The lunch keynote provided inspiration, as well as a touch of realism, with a historical look at the U.S. human rights movement from Prof. Carol Anderson. The day's closing plenary, televised by C-SPAN, featured best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich moderating a panel of three formerly homeless individuals. Throughout the day, participants not only learned from each other, but were able to educate government officials about the human rights violations they are experiencing, and advocate for solutions.
That evening, the Law Center hosted a reception honoring its LEAP and pro bono legal partners. Barbara Ehrenreich, Georgetown Law's Peter Edelman, Tom Mikula of Goodwin Procter LLP, and Suzanne Turner of Dechert LLP delivered remarks. NLCHP Board Chair Vas Tsaganos, of Fried Frank, made closing remarks on behalf of the board of directors.
On the second day, participants received training in communicating housing policy and human rights principles to legislators and via social networks, then went to Capitol Hill to use their newly gained skills to advocate for essential housing needs. The Law Center also hosted a congressional briefing offering a human rights analysis of the federal plan to end homelessness. attended by more than 50 congressional staffers and other advocates, featuring Maria Foscarinis, Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, Kirsten Clanton of Florida Legal Services, Rob Robinson of the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative, and Kathi Sheffel, Homeless Liaison for Fairfax County Schools.
Following the Forum, advocates will continue to work together, including as part of the Law Center's new working group on litigation strategies for the right to housing, and on involvement in upcoming human rights reviews of the U.S.
Opening Plenary Video
Carol Anderson Video
The Law Center is tremendously grateful for the financial and in-kind support of the U.S. Human Rights Fund, Steptoe & Johnson, Au Bon Pain, Axios Wine, Fried Frank, Georgetown Cupcake, Jones Day, Kellari Taverna, Manatt, Mayer Brown, Toscana Cafe, and its LEAP partner firms.
| Law Center Testifies to Save Federal Property Program
On June 9, Maria Foscarinis, the Law Center's executive director, testified before a Senate subcommittee to preserve a federal program that provides surplus federal properties at no cost to homeless service providers around the country. Maria spoke at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs' Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management. The Obama Administration has recommended and several members of Congress are proposing that Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act be eliminated.
Title V grants homeless services providers with an exclusive right of first refusal to apply to own or lease surplus federal property at no charge. These properties benefit approximately 2.4 million homeless people annually, including emergency and transitional housing for more than 17,000 people and education and job training for 24,000 people.
Some members of Congress erroneously blame Title V for the government's inability to sell surplus property. However, Foscarinis testified, "The reason the properties are languishing is not due to Title V." The main reasons properties remain unsold are their deteriorating conditions, their inaccessible locations, and systemic problems with government marketing of properties after the Title V right of first refusal window expires.
In a spirited exchange, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a long-time proponent of eliminating Title-V, told Foscarinis: "You are very effective because you have dead-stopped every movement at property reform in the Congress the last 13 years... It's a compliment. You're very effective at lobbying for the homeless."
In her written testimony, Foscarinis outlined the Law Center's recommendations for improving the federal property disposal process. To read the testimony, click here. To see the C-SPAN footage of the hearing, click here. (The Coburn/Foscarinis exchange is at 51:42).
If your organization or an organization in your community has acquired surplus federal property, you can help protect Title V by providing information about how the property is used to serve homeless people. To share information, please contact Jeremy Rosen at email@example.com.
We also ask you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to preserve Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act so that homeless services providers can continue to make valuable use of excess government property for critical homeless services.
The hearing received important media coverage, as well. A couple of examples:
|New Report Card Assesses U.S. Housing Rights|
As students across the country received their final grades for the semester, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released a report card grading the United States on its response to homelessness and its compliance with the human right to housing. "Simply Unacceptable": Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the U.S. issued D's and F's in more than one category, according to international standards.
According to international standards, the human right to housing consists of seven elements: security of tenure; availability of services, materials, and infrastructure; affordability; accessibility; habitability; location; and cultural adequacy. This report gives the U.S. letter grades on each of them. It also offers common sense solutions the U.S. can adopt to better meet the housing needs of homeless and poor people.
The report calls for the continuation and increased funding for a successful homelessness prevention program, funding for federally subsidized housing, making laws protecting tenants of foreclosed properties from eviction permanent, and the creation of a federal living wage.
|Advancing Domestic Violence Survivors' Rights|
The Law Center's advocacy has recently borne fruit in a variety of policy developments concerning housing access for domestic violence victims:
Late last month, the Washington DC Office on Human Rights (OHR) released its proposed regulations for implementing the District's 2006 landmark fair housing law for tenants experiencing domestic violence. Following the enactment of the DC Protection from Discriminatory Eviction for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act, the Law Center partnered with the District Alliance for Safe Housing and other area providers to draft model regulations to ensure appropriate implementation. OHR's proposed language draws heavily on these recommendations, incorporating many of our recommendations word for word.
A similar victory greeted the Law Center's comments, drafted in collaboration with national advocacy partners, regarding HUD's proposed amendments to the agency's certification form for tenants seeking to invoke protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). These recommendations, which focused on clarifying the language of the form and ensuring that its provisions reflected VAWA's statutory intent, were notably evident in the final certification form that the agency released in early June.
Finally, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo recently released a report of her observations on violence against women in the United States, pursuant to a fact-finding mission that the Law Center helped to facilitate earlier this year. In her recommendations to the U.S. government, she echoed the Law Center's commitment to expand access to affordable, secure housing options for those fleeing domestic violence.
|Save the Date: McKinney-Vento Awards
Stewart B. McKinney Award: U.S. Human Rights Fund
Bruce F. Vento Award: Rep. Barney Frank
Pro Bono Counsel and Personal Achievement Awards TBA.
|Pro Bono Corner
The Law Center recently published a report titled "Simply Unacceptable": Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing In the United States thanks to the pro bono assistance of Sidley Austin LLP who helped both prepare and print it. The team of Freddie Bunch, Kathleen Mueller, and Edward McNicholas provided legal research support, authored the initial drafts of sections of the report, and provided editorial comments. The report addresses issues surrounding the human right to housing in 2011, according to international standards. Thank you, Sidley Austin, for making this important report possible!
The Law Center is also excited to introduce Suzanne Turner of Dechert LLP as our new LEAP Chair. Ms. Turner brings with her years of experience as the chair of Dechert's firm-wide Pro Bono practice and we look forward to her leadership of the LEAP program. Ms. Turner takes over LEAP Chair responsibilities from Jeffrey Simes and Thomas Mikula of Goodwin Procter LLP. Thanks to Mr. Simes and Mr. Mikula for their years of service to the Law Center as LEAP Co-Chairs.