Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation


Hearing on S.2733 - The Affordable Housing for Seniors Act


Prepared Testimony of Ms. Ronell Guy
Co-Chairperson
Northside Coalition for Fair Housing


2:00 p.m., Tuesday, July 18, 2000 - Dirksen 538


SUMMARY OF TESTIMONY


The Board of Directors of the Northside Coalition For Fair Housing (NCFH) a coalition of tenants who reside in a Northside Associates Section 8 mutli-family HUD assisted property, support Title IV the Preservation Matching Grant Program. We also support an amendment to Title IV, direct access to the matching grant fund by resident endorsed non-profits.

The residents of NCFH, organized in a crisis to stop the mass eviction over three hundred families. " Our Mission is to engage in activities that insure and improve the availability and accessibility of low-income and affordable housing in the North Side Communities". We have developed a project concept to acquire, re-develop and manage our units, in partnership with a experienced developer and/or manager.

We are a resident community of mostly African American single-female headed household with children. Over 70% of our families are employed in some capacity.

NCFH has managed in a brief period to collaborate with many local and national housing resource and advocacy organizations to empower ourselves with a vast knowledge of what It will take to accomplish our vision.

There is a documented need in Pennsylvania and the Nation for Quality Affordable Housing and we believe resident input and participation is crucial to the success of preserving at risk housing. The Matching Fund Grant could make that a reality for many communities.


FULL TEXT OF TESTIMONY


Good afternoon. My name is Ronell Guy. I am the Co-Chairperson of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing (NCFH), the resident organization for the Northside Associates, a HUD assisted multifamily housing development in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I want to thank you Senator Santorum for holding this hearing on S. 2733, the Affordable Housing for Seniors and Families Act. I also want to thank Senator Kerry, Senator Sarbanes and you Senator Santorum for introducing S. 2733. Finally, thank you Senators for being here today to listen to our testimony about this important legislation. If you please, Senators I would like my written testimony entered into the record.

Before I tell our story, I wish to thank the people who made this possible. First, I want to thank God... I want to thank my family…I want to thank all the people and organizations, which have helped us, come this far. Last but certainly not least I want to thank the residents of the Northside Associates properties for the honor of representing them here today.

I am speaking on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing which represents the residents of the HUD assisted multifamily development owned by Northside Associates. Our housing development is a 333 unit scattered site HUD multifamily development located in the North Side community of the City of Pittsburgh. While I am here to speak on behalf of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, also here in spirit with me are the one and a half million (1.5 million) people who call HUD multifamily housing home. We are elderly, we are people with disabilities and we are families with low to moderate incomes. Above all we are people, people who know we deserve to live in safe, decent, accessible and affordable housing.

I am here today to testify in support of Title IV of S. 2733 which would establish a preservation matching grant program for HUD assisted multifamily housing. I am also here today to tell you about how important it is to involve the residents of HUD assisted housing directly in this program from start to finish. We believe this bill - if provided adequate funding by Congress - can contribute significantly not only toward preserving HUD assisted multifamily housing but also be a catalyst for improving the quality of life of the residents of that housing. In the past others have felt they could better define and design our communities for us without us. Today I am here to let you know that our limited incomes are in no way indicative of a limited capacity for understanding. We have the ability to fully understand and participate in the planning, funding and implementation of development opportunities in our communities.

**

On behalf of the NCFH Board of Directors We thank all of the national, state and local housing organizations who have been engaged in the fight to save and improve HUD multifamily/Section 8 housing in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Specifically, the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT), the national voice of HUD tenants. The Pennsylvania Low Income Housing Coalition, which went to bat for us and helped prevent the owner of our housing from boarding up our properties. We want to thank the Pittsburgh office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) who provided initial support for predevelopment and our capacity building efforts. We also thank The National Housing Trust who has been a partner of ours in developing our housing plan. We sincerely thank Kweli Kitwana and the McCauley Institute who provided us with much needed Professional Leadership Education motivating us to believe that we could shape our own futures, Bob Damewood of Regional Legal Housing Services who expertly at no charge handles all our legal issues and the National Low Income Housing Coalition who are our eyes and ears here in Washington and without whose help I could not have been here today.

**

I would like to provide some background on the North Side Community of Pittsburgh I have called North Side home for over 40 years and have been witness to many changes. The Northside community is made up of 18 distinctly different Neighborhoods most of which have a community-based organization to represent the greater interest of each neighborhood. The families, I have the honor of representing today reside in four of the eighteen neighborhoods and without this housing many of us could not afford to live in the communities in which we currently reside. This is because of aggressive housing re-development plans of the 80's and 90's some of the communities have become gentrified. No one included low-income families in the planning and low- income families are becoming priced out of some neighborhoods. The Northside is also the site of two brand new sport stadiums currently under-construction. We feel we should be able to save our homes, rebuild our community, and benefit from these massive publicly supported developments.

**

In a recent collaboration with Beyond Shelter of Los Angeles, NCFH completed a socio-economic profile of the resident families. Some indicators revealed by the study are :

General resident needs:

· There is a high level of multi generational and persistent poverty among the primarily African American residents of the area.

· According to rental data obtained from the management company, the average household income is $12,786 per year.

· Many residents, particularly the elderly, have an annual income of less than $10,000.00 and depend on public assistance programs to provide or supplement their incomes

· A majority of the family units with children residing in the home are single parent or grand-parent female-headed households, in which the head of household is employed either full-or part-time at minimum wage with little or no opportunity for higher income.

· The average number of children per household with children in 3.6.

Transportation

· Ninety-eight percent of the resident use public transportation or jitney service for grocery shopping, getting to and from child-care providers, jobs, and services.

· Because they must use public transportation, working mothers often seek employment in close proximity to the North Side due to parenting responsibilities and child care alternatives, although better paying jobs are available outside the area.

Employment

· Discrimination based on ethnicity, age, gender, class and/or lifestyles has been identified as a barrier to upward mobility in the City of Pittsburgh. ( Black and White Economic Conditions in the City of Pittsburgh, June 1995).

· African Americans have difficulty obtaining employment opportunities above minimum wage. This is particularly true among males across all age levels.

· Many resident have participated in specialized training programs but were unable to obtain employment in the field for which they trained.

Children and Youth

· Many parents in the area are employed during non-traditional hours

· There is a need for 24-hour child care, child care for sick child and child care for children with special needs.

· Children and youth in the target area have limited access to sports, recreational, enrichment and educational programs and activities.

· There is a 49 percent un-employment rate among teenage boys.

More information is available upon request from the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing.

**

With some back ground into who we are and where we live I begin our story.

**

For many years it has been the dream and the plan of the residents of Northside Associates to own and manage these properties and be in control of ensuring the quality and affordability of our homes. In the early 1980's, we were inspired by Jack Kemp's proposal for tenant management and ownership and the Northside Tenants Reorganization was formed to work toward this goal. When that organization fell on hard times and the leader the late Ms Harriet Henson was dying with cancer, we were hit with a blow that almost cost us our homes and our community. In late 1997, the owner said he was going to terminate his Section 8 contracts when they expired because HUD was forcing his rents down to market. His plan was to evict us, voucher out the residents and board up the properties. It was at this point in time that we realized that we were not going to stand by and allow the owner to lock us out of our communities and support systems. Thrusting a community primarily of single females with children into fear and panic. The residents with the help of stakeholders and advisors were able to stop the evictions. We resident's rallied quickly, because this was not the first time the owner had threatened our way of life. The women with the support of the larger community organized and incorporated The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. The residents primarily Women and Children began attending meetings and forming committees. We were fed up and determined not to be held hostage again by an owner who had profited for years from his affiliation with the families in the properties, and seemingly had no concern for their future well being. In an honoring an affirming way we began to gather information from our neighbors as to what they would like their community to be. The following major themes emerged:

q Residents were long time members of the community 5 to 35 years and wanted to remain in their community.

q Residents want to participate in the ownership, redevelopment and management of their units.

q Residents wanted to understand why many of them had been trapped in low-income housing for generations.

From this information our work was outlined:

I. The Mission: The mission of NCFH is to engage in activities that insure and improve the availability and accessibility of low income and affordable housing in the Northside communities of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Thus improving the quality of life for all Northside Residents.

II. Organization Structure: NCFH is incorporated under the Pennsylvania Nonprofit Corporation Law of 1988. We are a 501-C3 corporation. The board is governed by a 13 member board of directors. The board has six standing committees including finance, membership, fundraising, housing development, empowerment services, organizational planning.

III. Overview of Organizations Activities:

q Building organizational capacity.

q Housing development.

q Resident empowerment services.

q Advocacy

**

After much hard work and learning the ropes we incorporated a non-profit and all that entailed. The creation of by-laws, an election of a board of directors, regularly attended meeting, and achieving civic and fiscal accountability. We learned how to organize our community through grass roots organizing, issue organizing and consensus organizing to garner larger community support for our projects. We learned how to manage staff and consultants which proved to be one of the greatest challenges. We learned the housing development process from project concept, to pre-development, to project funding, to choosing a development partner, to Tax Credit application etc. All of this education has occurred in the last two years and pretty much from scratch. This education proved to be a life changing experience for the women involved in the process. They went from powerless to being expressively empowered. Our hard work commitment, and dedication earned us the support of the Mayor, other elected representatives as well as the local and national foundation community.

**

Now after two years of intensive work - organizing residents, creating a partnership with affordable housing advocates, community organizations, churches, our elected officials and federal, state and local housing agencies, and putting together a development plan with the assistance of a committed development team - we are ready to buy the Northside Properties and begin shaping our own futures This project requires NCFH to facilitate:

· The acquisition 333 properties

· The redevelopment of the 333 properties. (80% affordable market rate and section 8 rentals, 20% low-income home-ownership)

· Integration of a home-ownership component ( Home-ownership education, ongoing support to transition families to home-ownership and a dollar-match savings program.)

· Integration of resident empowerment service. (We intend to provide empowerment opportunities to residents that will improve social, economic and civic functioning ability.)

· The management of the affordable rentals ( integrated with service coordination).

· The establishment of a no interest loan fund to support Home-owners and renters in financial crisis.

Before we can implement these plans and accomplish our dreams, however, we need the resources to acquire, rehabilitate and develop our homes and community. Preliminary total development costs for the rental redevelopment are estimated at approximately 12 million dollars. We have gained commitments form the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority and plan to apply for federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. We are pursuing other public and private funds but we expect a funding gap. In order to complete this project we recognize that we will need other sources of funding. We also know the more money we bring to the project the more ownership and direct input we will have in the project outcome.

**

Right Now we are at the stage in our process when funding needs to be put into place. We have been extremely limited in our options for acquisition funding. NAHT's recommendation regarding amending S.2377 to include direct access for resident endorsed non-profits to matching grant funding would prove invaluable in our process.

**

We know that a Preservation Matching Grant program will have a significant impact upon our development project and will allow the overall redevelopment plan to be successfully completed, including neighborhood-based services and the homeownership component. Matching funds would be directed toward the rehabilitation, capital expenditures and operating support for the HUD assisted rental units.

**

While we have been working to save, buy and redevelop our homes in Pittsburgh, we know that tens of thousands of our sisters and brothers across Pennsylvania and the country have faced a similar crisis in preserving their homes. According to the National Housing Trust, over 100,000 units of housing were lost between 1996 and early 1999 due to owner decisions to prepay on their mortgages or "opt out" of expiring Section 8. According to the Pittsburgh HUD office Consolidated Plan, there is an overwhelming need in Pittsburgh for additional affordable housing, particularly for renters. A decline in household incomes experienced by the city and region has had a significant impact on the ability of local households to afford housing. Even with little or no inflation in housing costs, the decline in real incomes has by definition expanded the pool of households experiencing housing cost burdens. Almost 30 percent of all Pittsburgh households, or 44,981 households, spend 30% or more of their income for shelter in 1990, and almost all of these households (40,508 households or 90%) had incomes below the city median. Population, households, and housing units have all declined in the city over the last decade. Renter occupied units declined (09.6 percent) at a rate greater than the overall occupied housing stock (-7.6 percent) and almost twice as great as the decline in owner occupied units (-5.6 percent). The effect has increased the proportion of home-owning households in the city to 52.3 percent. As would be expected in a city with an older population, the rate of home ownership is considerably higher than the national central city average (48.6 percent). Vacancies remain high, at 16,676 total units or 9.8 percent of the total housing stock. The city lost 12, 584 units over the previous decade to demolition and disaster, units that were largely substandard and unsuitable for rehab. The housing affordability problem in Pittsburgh is primarily among renters:

q Over 70 percent of the households which spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing - that is, which spend an amount on housing which is sufficient to place an exceptional burden on the household budget - are renters.

q These 32,062 rental households represent almost 44 percent of all rental households in Pittsburgh. Twenty percent of all rental households in the city, or over 14,500 households, spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

q Sixteen percent (12,910) households) of homeowner households spend 30 percent of more of their income on housing.

q A total of 52,510 households, or one-third of all city households, had very low incomes. Over 20, 000 of these households were experiencing a severe cost burden by paying 50% or more of their income for shelter. Note that this excludes households in public or subsidized housing, as their shelter costs are limited to 30% of their income.

q Most of these very low-income households were renters: 36,630 or 70 percent.

q Housing cost burden among very low-income renters and owners was high but relatively constant across all household and tenure types.

q In all categories, roughly 60 to 75 percent of all very low-income households were paying 30% or more of their income for shelter.

The Housing and Community Development priorities listed in the Consolidated Plan are:

q Increase the supply of affordable housing units for low income households;

q Increase home ownership for low and moderate income households through maintenance of the existing housing stock and rehab of vacant and distressed properties;

q Increase resident management capacity in public and subsidized housing;

q Expand housing choices for racial and economic minorities and people with disabilities or special needs;

q Prevent homelessness as a first resort and increase the supply of transitional housing with support services.

q Preserve the supply of federally subsidized rental housing while raising the quality of life through capital investment and resident management;

q Eliminate lead based paint hazards in housing units of all income groups;

It is our understanding that Congress's funding of HUD's Mark up to Market program has significantly slowed this flood of affordable housing losses. We also know that HUD units continue to be lost around the country and that limited resources are available to properties going through the Mark to Market program and needing significant financing for rehabilitation will continue to place tens of thousands of affordable housing units at risk.

In Pennsylvania, we lost over 1500 units of affordable housing due to owner opt-outs and prepayments between 1996 and 1998. Adding to these losses, in the past year and a half over 500 units of HUD assisted multifamily housing were lost due to properties going into default, receiving low Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspection scores and being turned over to HUD's enforcement or property disposition program without HUD making the effort to work with residents and community-based organizations to come up with plans to preserve and revitalize these properties. The Pennsylvania Low Income Housing Coalition, based on their experience to date with the Mark to Market program and these other trends, projects that as many as 3500 units of housing could be lost to the Section 8 program over the next three years in Pennsylvania unless increased federal, state and local resources are invested in a system to transfer these properties to non-profit organizations with a long term mission to preserve, revitalize and maintain these properties as quality affordable housing.

**

For all these reasons, we support the passage of a Preservation Matching Grant program as part of S.2733. We urge you to pass this bill and consolidate it with HR 202, which passed the House of Representatives by a 405-5 vote in September last year (1999). In addition, we urge you to take leadership in helping gain Congressional support for appropriating several hundred million dollars this year for the Matching Grant Program to make this legislation meaningful.

In addition to our support for the passage and funding of the Preservation Matching Grant program in this legislation, we urge you to consider two proposals to strengthen this legislation. One, we urge you to create a program where a significant percentage of the matching grant funds, up to 50%, are provided as direct grants to resident-endorsed non-profit housing organizations which have been able to obtain state and local matching funds for their preservation project. In addition, we urge you to provide capacity building funds to resident-endorsed, community-based organizations so that the resources flow to those who can best take advantage of them to advance the participation of residents and non-profit organizations in preserving HUD multifamily housing.

Our experience is a lesson in the fact that the residents of HUD housing know what they want and are capable of planning for their own housing futures, if given sufficient support to pursue a leadership role. In addition, too often in the past large amounts of funds have been expended without directly benefiting the residents who reside in HUD multifamily housing or the communities in which these properties are located. For this reason, we urge you to design a Matching Grant program that gets the resources to those who need them the most. An act that will preserve and maximize the number of safe, decent, accessible and affordable HUD assisted multifamily housing units.

**

In closing, we thank you again Senator Santorum, as well as your colleagues Senators Kerry and Sarbanes, for introducing S. 2733. We appreciate the opportunity to testify before this subcommittee today. At this time the Northside Coalition For Fair Housing board of directors would like to extend and open invitation to you and your colleagues to visit our blossoming community and meet some of our dedicated, committed colorful residents.

We urge all Senators to make this legislation and the Matching Grant program a priority this year. And please understand - we urge you not to raise the hopes of our members and the tens of thousands of other residents of HUD multifamily housing around the country whose housing may be at risk. We need this program now. We cannot wait until after this election year for the President, Congress and HUD to take real action.

We look forward to working with you to pass strong, meaningful Preservation Matching Grant legislation with significant funding this year. The elderly, disabled and families with children who benefit from this program will thank you for that.



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