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Alliances Across Issues Articles

Housing and Education Project Connects Where Children Live with Where They Learn

Alliances Across Issues

Learning should not stop once the school day ends. By the 6th grade, children in middle-income families by income are estimated to have spent an additional 6,000 hours learning compared with families with the lowest incomes. Of these 6,000 hours, an estimated 4,140 occur in after-school and summer programming. Many non-profit housing providers are working to close this deficit with Out of School Time (OST) learning opportunities designed to solidify the connection between where children live and where they learn. To consolidate and elevate best practices among these providers, the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County (HDC), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, initiated the Housing and Education Project (HEP) and recently issued a report on the project’s Exploration Phase.

HEP advances Out of School Time learning opportunities for residents of affordable housing in Seattle

HEP brought together designated representatives from six non-profit housing provider organizations to identify opportunities and challenges related to Out of School Time education programming, and to explore the implementation of regionalized models to better support housing provider efforts to meet the educational needs of child and youth tenants. Beginning in June 2016, HEP participants met nine times as a group to develop the Exploratory Phase Report.

The report touches on a variety of issues related to OST programming. Among these are summary findings on currently offered programming (characteristics of programming, school district relationships, common funding sources, etc.) and summary recommendations for future programming. In addition, it provides a recommended model for achieving systems change, details the essential features of any future system, explores factors impacting program support, identifies barriers to change, and provides guidance for expanding and strengthening networks.

For children, education is a powerful predictor of future success. Many housing providers, such as those involved with HEP, recognize the opportunity we have to help improve predictors of success such as family engagement and absenteeism. The Exploratory Phase Report is a valuable tool to any organization looking to increase its out-of-school education capacity.

To learn more about HEP, go to: http://www.housingconsortium.org/housing-and-education-project/.

For more information on the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County go to: http://www.housingconsortium.org/.

By Kyle Machicado, Emerson National Hunger Fellow

Mapping Housing and Health Intersections in the Williamsburg, VA Region

Alliances Across Issues, Raising Awareness

Last year, Housing Virginia began studying the relationship between housing, health, and community in the Williamsburg, Virginia region. These efforts, made possible by the Williamsburg Health Foundation, are part of its mission to connect housing needs with other important socioeconomic issues.

When possible, Housing Virginia uses local-level geographic data to show such issues “up close and personal,” and to illustrate the need for targeted, specific solutions. In this case, demonstrating linkages between housing and health will provide community advocates, providers, and decision makers the information needed to implement “preventative medicine” that improves living conditions for everyone in the community.

Where you live has a substantial impact on your personal health. Previous research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation organized the relationship between housing and health in three unique categories:

  1. Physical condition of the home: Accessibility, lead exposure, inadequate cooling or heating.
  2. Quality of community: Public spaces for physical activity, walkability, access to healthy food.
  3. Housing affordability: Cost burden, threat of foreclosure or eviction, housing insecurity.

These concepts help to frame Housing Virginia’s research and final recommendations.

Housing Virginia’s analysis encompasses the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and York County. These localities have experienced surging population growth over the past decade, especially among the senior population. The number of persons over 65 increased by 78% from 2000 to 2014. One in five seniors live alone, and four in five live in single-family detached homes. Helping seniors “age in place” – and not letting them become “stuck in place” – will be an important priority in the near future.


While the region has a lower poverty rate and a smaller share of housing cost burdened households than the state average, these socioeconomic problems are not evenly distributed. For example, the poverty rate in Williamsburg (20.5%) is over double that of both James City (8.5%) and York counties (6.2%). Six out of the region’s 28 census tracts have poverty rates above 15%. Not surprisingly, these areas correspond closely with housing cost burden.

The Williamsburg region is, on average, just as healthy or healthier than Virginia as a whole. But for a significant portion of the population, quality healthcare remains out of reach. Over 11,000 adults in the region could not afford a doctor’s visit in 2013, and nearly 10,000 residents live in “low-income, low-food access” census tracts – more commonly known as food deserts. The region’s average life expectancy is 80.6 years, but ranges from 74 to 86 depending on neighborhood.

As this scatterplot shows, life expectancy declines as the prevalence of housing cost burden increases.

The disparity in life expectancy is highly pronounced in the distribution of the region’s affordable housing. Nearly 80% of the 483 households using housing vouchers are in neighborhoods with life expectancy below 80 years. Over three in five of the 1,300 families living in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or public housing units are in areas with below-average life expectancies.

What can local leaders do to improve the health of all citizens – and not just those who already have the means to afford a good home and decent care? To make homes safer, localities can invest in weatherization and home accessibility modifications for low-income seniors. To create healthy spaces, planners can prioritize walkability and encourage affordable housing in amenity-rich areas. And to reduce housing insecurity, localities can create trust funds and back supportive housing programs.

There are many other programs and strategies available, and the correct “prescription” should be the result of due diligence by local policymakers. But perhaps most importantly, stakeholders should recognize that these problems are all related, and work collaboratively to make efficient use of limited resources.

In March, Housing Virginia presented these findings and a series of preliminary recommendations to the Williamsburg Health Foundation Board of Trustees. Our final report, which will be released in the next few weeks, will precede a series of community meetings in the Williamsburg region. There, local officials and practitioners will have the opportunity to examine this research, discuss where the greatest needs exist, and develop collective solutions to solve these complex issues.

Visit Housing Virginia’s website for more information on its Housing and Health initiative.

By Jonathan Knopf, Senior Associate, Research + Programs, Housing Virginia. 

Housing Virginia is a broad based, statewide partnership of public and private organizations and committed individuals. We believe that all Virginians should have access to high quality, affordable housing in suitable locations. Housing Virginia exists to address the large-scale housing issues that we face by: Informing discussions with current, reliable data and information about housing affordability; Connecting the dots about the consequences of having unmet housing needs; Unlocking housing opportunities by creating an unparalleled pipeline of housing news and information.

Housing Providers Act to Protect Immigrant Tenants

Alliances Across Issues

Around the nation, housing providers are taking steps to protect the rights of their tenants amid the intensification of enforcement and abuse by immigration agents. While attempts to protect the rights of tenants from abuse by law-enforcement are nothing new, they are more important than ever in a time when law enforcement agents, emboldened by a sympathetic presidential administration, are willing to push the limits of their legal authority and in the process infringe on individual rights.

An example of the sort of violations occurring throughout the nation happened recently when ICE agents in full tactical gear approached a family housing complex without a warrant, under the pretext of a search for a resident sex offender (tenant application requirements ensure that no such sex offender lived in the complex). Finding the front desk un-staffed, the heavily armed agents attempted to enter through a ground floor preschool before being discovered and expelled from the building for lacking the legal authority to enter.

Tenant abuses are not limited to just law enforcement officials, however. Landlords are exploiting the growing fear in immigrant communities to raise rents or evict tenants under threat of deportation at record rates. One such case in California involved a landlord threatening a domestic abuse survivor with deportation and separation from her three children if she did not sign a new lease with a rent increase. Another landlord told a mother that if she did not vacate her apartment voluntarily, he would have ICE agents waiting for her at the courthouse when her eviction case went to trial.

Many housing providers are fighting back against these, and other, abuses. Conversation with a number of organizations around the country (who will remain unidentified due to the sensitive nature of the topic) has resulted in the collation of various strategies and initiatives for protecting tenant rights.

Protection against unlawful warrants

ICE has been known to attempt to pass off administrative warrants signed internally by ICE officials as judicial warrants signed by a judge. In truth, an administrative warrant does not give ICE the authority to enter private property without the owner’s consent. While some organizations have trained staff to recognize the difference between administrative and judicial warrants, this can be tricky. Instead, it may be best to follow in the steps of one organization that put signs on every door stating that employees do not have the authority to allow entrance to law-enforcement, and that warrants must first be verified by the Executive Director and his legal counsel to gain access to the building

Know Your Rights Campaigns

For an individual to assert their rights, first they must be aware of what they are. Holding Know Your Rights clinics is an effective way to educate tenants on their rights, and to provide guidelines for how to react when approached by law enforcement or unscrupulous landlords. Beyond clinics, organizations have also put up Know Your Rights flyers and distributed Know Your Rights Red Cards in various languages for tenants to keep on their person.

Access to Legal Resources

Many organizations provide free and low-cost legal assistance to low-income individuals, but people often do not know how to access these resources, especially when there is a language barrier. Partnerships between housing providers and organizations providing low-cost legal assistance provide tenants with easier access to legal expertise.

Family Toolkits

As expedited removal proceedings become increasingly commonplace to fast-track deportations and deny immigrants a hearing before a judge, ever increasing numbers of families broken by the immigration system are thrown into disarray as children lose their mothers and fathers. To decrease the chaos, some groups are helping immigrants put together family toolkits. Family toolkits are personalized guides for what to do if a family member gets detained by immigration, and include listings of who to contact, who will take care of any children, and more. Having a plan in place can help to limit the trauma to children if their parents are taken.

Legislative Advocacy

While less immediate than the above strategies, legislative advocacy is no less important. In response to landlord abuses, California has recently introduced a bill that will prevent landlords from disclosing tenants’ immigration status to authorities. Advocating for the passage of this bill and bills like it nationwide will prove vital to addressing the root of tenant abuse. Similar initiatives include attempts in Los Angeles to stop ICE from impersonating police officers and an Oregon bill to prohibit ICE arrests at courthouses, schools, and health clinics.

It is vital to prepare tenants and staff for possible interactions with law enforcement before they occur, and to make sure that everyone involved knows their rights and responsibilities.

By Kyle Machicado, Emerson National Hunger Fellow

Theodore Payne Foundation Partners with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles on Native Flora and Water Conservation

Alliances Across Issues

It started as a means to save water in drought-stricken Los Angeles, California.  Last spring the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles came to the Theodore Payne Foundation searching for ways HACLA could save on their water bill and provide interesting environments if they planted native flora for their landscaping of public housing sites.

The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants was established in 1960 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the understanding, preservation and use of California native flora.  The Foundation provides a full-service native plant nursery, seed room, book store, art gallery, demonstration gardens and hiking trails open to the public year round.  The Foundation offers classes for adults and families, as well as field trips and classroom programs for children.  More than 250 active volunteers are the backbone of the Foundation and its success in Southern California.


Image courtesy of the Theodore Payne Foundation

So no surprise that HACLA staff, with more than 160 acres of landscaping to manage, recognized that their goal could not be reached without some expertise and commitment.  Their practical approach resulted in partnering with the Theodore Payne Foundation to train HACLA’s landscape crews in native plant horticulture and maintenance with three pilot projects.   Now the Foundation is training more than 50 people and guiding the development of 1.6 acres of pilot gardens at Imperial Courts in Watts, Estrada Courts in Boyle Heights, and San Fernando gardens in Pacoima.

Working with the entire public housing landscaping staff and some residents from the three pilot sites, everyone joined tours of the nursery and demonstration gardens and included basic native plant horticulture and design, along with plant identification and selection.  The final sessions of the six-month program, focuses on developing the skills to establish and maintain the new landscapes.  Participants are excited both about saving water and learning new landscaping skills.  Each pilot site is designing its own gardens, updating their irrigation system, and feeling the satisfaction of meeting new challenges.

Impressed by the success of the pilot program, HACLA invited Theodore Payne Foundation to design the garden at the Boys & Girls club of Mar Vista Gardens, creating a beautiful and enriching environment for the children and all Mar Vista Gardens residents.

For more information, visit:  www.theodorepayne.org

By Mary Brooks, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project