Powell joined Living Cities in June 2018 as an intern on the Equipt to Innovate team. He currently attends the University of Oxford in England where he is reading for a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Before the University of Oxford, Austin obtained his Bachelors from the University of Mississippi with degrees in Public Policy Leadership and Philosophy. While at the University of Mississippi, Powell served as the 2016-2017 Associated Student Body President as well as facilitating a leadership and entrepreneurial development class at Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs, Mississippi on behalf of the McLean Institute of Public Service and Community Engagement.
What do you think is most needed today to close racial income and wealth gaps?
When specifically considering racial income inequality, I think, a helpful approach would be the government’s recognition of the historical context of institutional exclusion through various public policy avenues. By reviewing tax, criminal justice, urban housing, and banking policies through a racial disparity audit, I believe that governing bodies and people will have a full understanding of the impact of policies that had racially exclusive effects, along with a continued commitment from various government and corporate partners to prioritize the issue of racial income inequality.
Carina Gormley is a rising junior at Yale University, majoring in architecture and concentrating in urban studies. While at school, she does qualitative public health research on diabetic adults eligible for rent assistance in New Haven; is a board member of the university’s hunger and homelessness action project; and gets involved in local policy and placemaking projects. She has worked as a leading member of a Yale-based education start-up, and has served on the community engagement team for the university’s undergraduate prison project. Carina is interested in behavioral science, positive psychology, urbanism, social equity, design and storytelling.
What attracted you to Living Cities?
Growing up with opportunities to travel and connect with individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences, I believe it is critical that communities find ways to empower themselves and celebrate their potential. Living Cities’ mission to support low-income people and its thoughtful, rigorous approach to internal and external growth presents an exciting opportunity to participate in a highly-productive socially-conscious organization. The focus on community and impact is important and its successful execution exciting.
Cooper is a current Design Management Graduate student at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and also holds a BFA in Photography from SCAD. His experience includes 10+ years as a Lighting Technician and Photographer/Videographer, five years as a Photo Assistant to world renowned Photographers in NYC, two years as Principal Photographer and Art Director for LUVU Brands, and two years as the Brand Manager and Communications Director for Senator Janelle K. Sarauw of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Throughout his career he has also grown a better understanding of self and how he can utilize his experiences to help others. This was a rocky road of identity checking, cultural understanding, and creating the space to empathize and not simply sympathize. Much of this he attributes to his wife, a strong, black, veteran, who grew up in poverty. This growth has evolved his personal work, garnering him recognition through various art exhibitions, namely Atlanta Photography Groups Airport Show of his work Idols of the Tribe, and his work Culture Goals which traveled to Cuba for the Casa De Las Americas Caribbean show.
What’s something people might not know about you?
After buying a motorcycle to commute in Atlanta I joined a motorcycle club. The president took me out to a track day at Road Atlanta Raceway, and I was immediately hooked on motorcycle racing. This turned into me starting the group Not Made for the Street in which I created content to encourage sport bike riders to take their machines to a closed course track in order to learn how to ride and hopefully keep them from doing dangerous actions on the street. (Check it out!)
Jasmine is a rising senior at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, pursuing a BA degree in Urban and Regional Planning with a concentration in Policy Planning and minor in Political Science. She has worked on projects to provide Myanmar refugees quality education and to connect new immigrants in Champaign with local resources through an online platform.
What attracted you to Living Cities?
I joined Living Cities to learn more about policies for affordable housing and strategies for reducing income gaps in the urban environment. A bottom-up approach is essential to close racial income and wealth gaps. In the process of creating accessible opportunities, we should consider and address the structural flaws that have resulted to the disparity in the first place.
Julienne Kaleta is a rising senior studying Professional Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Her background is in community organizing through roles as a resident assistant, senator on Student Government Association, and executive board member of the UNCW NAACP. She networks with campus administration and local organization leaders with goals of building upon initiatives for diversity growth at her university and improving resources for survivors of sexual violence.
What do you think is most needed today to close racial income and wealth gaps?
I believe that closing the racial wealth and income gap requires public consciousness to be accompanied by progressive policy in government and business. I have found that advancement is most impactful when it is developed by people with many perspectives and backgrounds. Living Cities is exciting to me because it is a successful model of what can be produced when collaboration and racial equity are prioritized. Learning from Living Cities, I aspire to build a career that uplifts and empowers communities, and in my spare time, to hike every national park in the United States.
Tarek Deida joined Living Cities in the summer of 2018 as a fellow through the Frank Karel Fellowship. Living Cities focus on racial equity as well as its self-awareness throughout the implementation of its social impact work attracted Tarek to the organization. Tarek Deida is a rising senior at Columbia University, majoring in history with a concentration specifically in 20th century American History. At Columbia, Tarek continues to find new ways to engage with and uplift both his regional and school communities, whether it’s interning for the NAACP, the New York City Office of the Mayor or participating in Columbia College’s Student Council. One fun fact about Tarek is that he’s lived in 6 different countries Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Gambia, France and of course the U.S.A.
What do you think is most needed today to close racial income and wealth gaps?
I believe that the incorporation of marginalized voices within social impact conversations is most important when dealing with issues concerning racial income and wealth gaps. I also believe that organizations and institutions working to address systemic issues must follow in the footsteps of Living Cities and adopt a culture of self-awareness, so that lack of accountability does not shorthand their pursuit of social good.
Thanks to the persistence of local organizations, Washington D.C. is expected to undertake a pilot study of Save As You Throw (SYT), sometimes called Pay As You Throw (PAYT) or Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART).
The Department of Public Works (DPW) is required to undertake this task under the 2014 Solid Waste Management Reform Act. Citizen and Environmental groups under the leadership of Global Green’s DC Environmental Network helped secure $100,000 in funding for this project. The DPW is expected to issue an RFP for the SAYT Pilot by September.… Read More
Clean stream recycling is the name of the game in this era of Chinese restrictions on imported recyclable materials from the US. The town of 13,000 people reinstated dual stream after five-years of single stream recycling based on economics. “It was continually costing us more per ton to recycle single-stream throughout 2017,” Eugene MacMahon, Oakland, N.J.’s recycling coordinator, as a result of China’s policies.… Read More
Within weeks of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo coming out against waste incineration in the Finger Lakes region, New Hampshire’s Governor Sununu vetoed a bill that would have provided more subsidies to the state’s six biomass incinerators, saving rate payers over $100 million over the next three years.… Read More
The First Star Recycling Company in Nebraska has halted single stream from commercial participants as of June 1st, 2018. The pressure causing them to end this practice stemmed from new international recycling specifications.
The company has reported contamination rates of 40 percent and their resulting labor costs have become too great. … Read More
Adonia Lugo grew up in a Latino barrio of Orange County, California, as a biracial child of a Mexican father and a white American mother. Growing up, she felt a constant sense of being at a border—code switching between two identities. She felt privileged in some ways, and marginalized in others, and developed a keen sense of where she fit within America’s racial hierarchy.
That experience informs her work as a bike advocate. “Being on a bicycle, that experience of marginality you get of, one, not being treated so great by your fellow road users, and two, seeing those cracks in the city—these opportunities that other people aren’t necessarily seeing—that just really mirrored the marginality I’ve had in terms of my racial background,” she says. “For me, the bicycle became a part of this overall injustice I carry around.”
Her research as an urban anthropologist and her 10 years as a bike advocate in L.A., Portland, and Washington, D.C., have prompted Lugo to needle the bike advocacy community with tough prods: its lack of diversity, its one-size-fits-all strategy, and the side effects of the some of the infrastructure measures it pushes for. Because of these blind spots, people—particularly those for whom biking may be the only affordable way to get around—are routinely overlooked, she argues in her new book Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance.
CityLab caught up with Lugo for a conversation, the highlights of which are below:
How did you end up becoming a bike advocate?
In 2007, I came back to Southern California from Portland, which is considered a very bike-friendly city; I’d become a bike commuter up there. In Portland, riding a bike was treated like no big deal—a no brainer. Like, “This is better for the environment, you’re not relying on putting gas in your car, so, OK, cool—if you can make it work, great!” Whereas in Southern California, a place where we have excellent weather and relatively few hilly neighborhoods, people reacted to me and others on a bicycle in just a really hostile way.
At the same time, in Southern California and Portland, the people who were on bikes looked different. In Portland, which is majority white, most of the people on bikes were white. Whereas here in Southern California, with the exception of hipster young people—and that’s how I would have identified myself at the time—most of the people I saw riding were black and Latino men. You could tell that biking, for them, was an attractive transportation option because it was cheap.
It made me think: How does the way we react to transportation fit in with these other hierarchies around race and class? When I starting mapping how we have tied race to space here in the U.S. with segregation, and how that fed into car culture—people wanted to be able to drive to their neighborhood, where they wouldn’t have to be around diversity—I started to wonder: What is going on here? Is there some way that we can make more people feel like sustainable transportation is for them, if we’re also addressing some of these legacies of racial inequality?
Talk about how bike advocacy started.
Back in the 1880s, when bicycles first started to become available, they were expensive. It was probably akin to what electric vehicles are today—how Tesla is a status symbol. The people who first created clubs for bicycling and the national bicycling advocacy organization, which was called the League of American Wheelmen. These weren’t working-class urban dwellers. These were people who had the means to take excursions into the countryside on their new bicycles. Popular opinions at the time reflected that: They were seen as these entitled people who had the gall to force pedestrians to get out of the way. What they did when they formed advocacy groups was that they lobbied to expand roads because paved roads made it easier for them to do their excursions. Within bicycling culture, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia for that era—the imagery of people on those Penny Farthing bicycles, and there’s “tweed rides,” in which people dress up in old-fashioned clothes and go riding. But when I started doing research on that era, I very quickly found really racist images [ridiculing] African Americans [on bikes].
That aspect of privilege in bicycling history tends to get erased. People tend to forget that when bicycle advocacy was getting off the ground, it was really elites, advocating on their own behalf—they were not trying to bring bicycling to the masses or start some sort of transportation revolution.
How did today’s version of bike advocacy develop?
Even though we can point to the formation of groups back in the 1880s-90s, the current wave really got started in probably the late 1970s. As cars gained popularity, bicycles became more for children, students, and working people. It wasn’t till the 1970s, till the first dawning of awareness about the need for environmental protections, and issues surrounding the scarcity of oil in the U.S., that bicycling was seen as a very good idea—particularly to people who were in a class in which they previously had access to cars. They started choosing to ride bikes instead. They were borrowing anti-Vietnam War protest language, and using bikes as this like public demonstration tool.
But I don’t think people at that time were thinking,”Well, who’s in our movement? Hm, there’s only white people here. Something is missing here.” I don’t think people had that kind of self-awareness. So, as our current bicycle advocacy network developed over the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s, that lack of racial diversity continued and wasn’t really questioned.
I got involved in bike advocacy because I was like, “Why can’t more people access this great sustainable thing?” But what I realized over the years as I was writing my dissertation was that the field of bicycle advocacy was homogenous. That in and of itself is something that needs changing. By 2012, I was starting to talk to other people who also had this sense that we weren’t going to be able to make bicycling into something that more people could see themselves trying out, or see as a normal part of transportation, if we didn’t consider: Who are we as a movement? And how do we reflect this country’s diversity? By 2013, we had a name for that whole project: bike equity. [We were] saying there needs to be equity in terms of who is planning as well as who has access to bicycling. It was a big shift to have more people recognize that it doesn’t really make sense to have a movement that says it wants to make changes for everyone, but that doesn’t really have everyone at the table.
Apart from the lack of diversity, you’ve also criticized the biking community’s overwhelming focus on getting cities to put in place bike infrastructure. Can you explain why?
In fields like urban planning and engineering that help plan and design our cities, and determine what kind of maintenance we do, there’s a really strong focus on built environment and built interventions. What I have been able to study through the lens of bicycling is that this approach really tends to reinforce and overlook the social problems that we have as a result of race and class segregation.Time and again, I have encountered this mentality from people, saying, ‘I’m from an economically secure white family, I went to college, I wanted to make cities better, I’m concerned about the environment—and this is the way to do it. It’s to look around the world for models for where they have made things more energy efficient or where they’ve decreased the cases of people being killed on bikes, and then bring those models to whatever city you’re talking about.’That mentality unfortunately treats cities as though they are homogenous, as if the populations in them are going to relate to street design changes in the same predictable way.
These people tend to really idolize modern European cities for their street design, like Copenhagen, for example. What I think is fascinating in that case is the tendency to overlook the socialism in that city—why Copenhagen might feel more equitable. They think that the way people are interacting with each other emerges from that street design, but when you’re talking about things like social safety net, access to employment, education, all these different things—you can’t really compare Copenhagen to Los Angeles or Pittsburg. That’s a whole line of inquiry in and of itself.
So what is your approach?
If we want to make our streets better, we need to consider who is using those streets—who has been using the streets for a long time. You come into a neighborhood that has been thriving in the sense that lots of people live there, [even if they don’t have] big incomes and get much attention from the city, and all of a sudden, all these design changes start going in because some starry eyed urban planner is like,“Yes, we’re finally going to get those nice things that they have in other cities.” There’s just a real clash that happens [between longtime residents and those people advocating for bike tracks]. We have not created alignment between the everyday lives of the people who have been locked out of suburban success and the advocacy visions of people who’ve benefited from suburban segregation and success.
So just to be clear: You’re not saying that street redesign shouldn’t be considered at all. You’re saying it’s not the only thing that advocates should focus on, correct?
What I can see from studying bicycle advocacy is that the dominant focus that has developed in the last 15 years is on infrastructure. I think this is a pretty common trajectory: Person meets bicycle, person falls in love with bicycle, person is like, “Other people should have this cool thing that I like.” But the strategies for creating that change in bicycle advocacy really took the shape of infrastructure—that we need to change the way streets are designed so bicycles are also included in that. By the time I got involved in 2008, if you went to a bicycle advocacy meeting, you were told what’s most important was to go to city hall and tell them to spend money on bike infrastructure. Or, the most important was that we go lobby our members of Congress so that they support adding this little entailment for non-highway projects in the national highway spending bill.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., to work on bike equity issues on the national level, I started to realize that this focus on infrastructure had become so dominant that there wasn’t really a lot of room for other strategies. We weren’t asking for funding for the community-run bike shop at the local high school where young people could be learning to repair bikes. In adding a cycle track to some neighborhood, the idea is that the people who live in that neighborhood will benefit because they’ll have that cycle track. But if you look at the economics of it: Who is getting paid to design that project? Who is getting paid to build that project? It’s not the people who live in that neighborhood most likely, and even then, because of the gentrification era that we’re in, who knows who’s actually going to be able to stick around and enjoy it at the end.
There’s just a need to consider more than bike infrastructure as a strategy for giving people access to bicycles. Look at: Well, ok, maybe these strategies are good for these things—maybe they’re good for employing more people in the field of bike planning, but maybe they’re not good for ensuring that this little kid who’s growing up in this neighborhood is going to have a way to bike to high school when he’s older. If that’s really the goal, then we need to be looking more comprehensively at the other things that allow people to remain in place, or that allow people to benefit from public investment around transportation.
I don’t mean to imply that the infrastructure strategy is easy. It’s really really challenging trying to convince elected officials when you have all these constituents in your district who are drivers, who are like: ‘No, if you add 30 seconds to my commute my head will explode.” But the strategy bike advocates often choose to say, ‘Hey Mr. Mayor, if you get bike lanes to this area, it’s going to help in attracting those talented young millennials you want to be attracting to your city.’ That’s pretty much the opposite of increasing access to bike infrastructure—that’s not such a good solution. Public spending on bike infrastructure is not just the means to the end, but it has become the end—and bike advocates have gotten kind of myopic. I think the bike movement has not figured out how to be a part of the broader landscape of social change.
In your book, you say that bike advocacy has to expand to account for housing, economic, and policing justice. You also emphasize the need to pay attention to “human infrastructure.” What does this look like?
It’s a concept that I found when I was doing research as a grad student and really matched what I was seeing. In a city like L.A., there was not a lot of bike infrastructure. However, there were a lot of people who ride bicycles, and who want to get other people to ride bicycles. So, I kind of wanted to understand how social networks of people who are interested in bicycling works as a form of infrastructure itself because it is something that made it possible for us to be using that mode of transportation. We tend to put a lot of emphasis on built systems and circulation systems, but the attitudes we have and the meanings we associate with different types of transportation are a huge part of why we travel the way we do. It should just be one of the elements that we consider when we ask, “How should transportation and mobility happen? How do we make it more sustainable? How do we change the current state of things?”
In terms of specific projects [supporting human infrastructure]? They can come about any time we’re putting more resources towards spaces and programs where people can spend time together and develop their own narratives about what bicycling means. I think linking bicycling with existing projects out there to empower people—through job education, workforce development—also works. We can also have community and neighborhood spaces that wouldn’t typically have bike mechanics on hand, and allow teens from local high schools to get their community service hours by fixing flats and things like that. There are all of these little things that if we considered them part of our landscape of public resources, we might see a different impact.
One of the networks that I think is a really good example of what we should be investing in is the Youth Bike Summit, which is an annual conference put on by a network of community bike shops around the country that do programming with youth. They have an Earn-a-Bike program, through which they learn bike repair throughout the summer, and at the end, they build their own bike, and they get to take that bike home. The bike shops tend to be located in more diverse areas, so a lot of that the youth that they serve, so if you go to one of their conferences, you see, “Oh my god, this is America.”
How are you thinking about this in your current position?
A lot of the work that I’m involved in now in Los Angeles, with a group called People for Mobility Justice, is focused on: How do we find more opportunities within the transportation development process to recognize the knowledge of communities? So, the example I was giving the example of a cycle track being put in the neighborhood. We’d like to see shift in who benefits. A good portion of the dollars that get allocated in that project [should be going to] community residents who can advise on what that should be.
So that sounds kind of like a Community Benefits Agreement, which activists often ask for when a new development comes to a gentrifying area, but for biking infrastructure. Is that right?
That’s the example I’ve heard some of my collaborators talk about. I don’t know from personal experience, because I’ve never worked on creating a community benefits agreement, but I’m pretty sure that is the model that we’re pointing to. From an anthropological standpoint, the way that we live these daily routines that we have, who we are, what our practices are, what culture we belong to—that has so much to do with what our neighborhood looks like and feels like. We’re the ones inhabiting the space, the buildings are just the backdrop. What I’m hoping we will see more of in the future is that when we’re planning transportation and mobility projects, we need to talk to the experts, and that means the people who live there—the people who travel through that space every day.
What about priorities? In the bike advocacy communities—like other advocacy communities—there are scarce resources to draw on. What are your thoughts about where human infrastructure should figure in priorities, which also have Vision Zero and infrastructure goals?
I’m not an expert, but I’m aware that it is a process to get something from “this is a problem” to “here is a solution” to “let’s get it ensconced in public funding.” What I have been advocating for is that we should open things up a bit more. I think one of the things that has been unappealing about my work to the people in the active transportation mainstream is that I’m saying, “Slow it down! Do you have the right answers? Maybe we should be asking these 50,000 other people what they think.” I think that just sounds horrible and exhausting.
Any last thoughts?
One of the big turning points for me to start moving away from national bicycle advocacy happened in the fall of 2014, when Vision Zero was starting to get organized at a national level. I went to a conference in New York. Everything in the news was about the amazing work that the women from Black Lives Matter were doing to call out problems with policing, and yet, here I was, being told that the way I was going to advance bike equity was to support a platform that has enforcement as one of its major pillars. It just felt so wrong to me. If we want to be in solidarity with the change that’s happening around the country, why are we promoting something that’s counterproductive, in some ways, to the movement we’re working towards? We are in a moment of tremendous change. The bike movement, which was accustomed to being a little movement, hasn’t necessarily figured out how to be a part of the broader landscape of social change. So, I say anyone who wants to promote bicycling needs to be looking for those opportunities. Ensure that the policies that we endorse aren’t going to make life harder for people who are undocumented. Come up with solutions that find community safety in a way that doesn’t push black and brown people into mass incarceration. This is what we should be asking if we want to be part of this moment that we’re in.
Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.
What We’re Following
War is over?: Last week, the White House Council of Economic Advisors declared that the War On Poverty was “largely over and a success.” That declaration might come as a surprise to the millions of American children who benefit from safety-net programs for food, housing, and healthcare, and who are still living in what looks and feels a lot like poverty.
While Congress has yet to pass cuts to aid, we’re already seeing a downward trend in spending for children in the federal budget. As the Trump administration emphasizes “self-sufficiency” and work requirements, economists say we could be squandering our investment in the next generation. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has the story: The ‘War on Poverty’ Isn’t Over, and Kids Are Losing
The algae blooms pose risks to humans and marine animals—and to Florida’s tourism-dependent economy.
It’s been one year since the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, but there’s still a lot that can be done to improve our climate footprint. Bloomberg Philanthropies has some ideas in its annual America’s Pledge report for reducing emissions from electricity, fuel use in buildings, and transportation. The charts above show how much those sectors make up of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced by the United States in 2016.
According to the report, 42 percent of the country’s electricity consumption occurs in the 1,400 cities in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and two-thirds of miles traveled by American drivers are in urban areas. From clean energy to mass transit, there are plenty of ways cities can fight climate change in the near-term, even without the federal government. Related: If the U.S. Won’t Keep the Paris Agreement, Can Cities and States?
What We’re Reading
Under Trump, transit expansion projects are starving for federal funds (Streetsblog)
Let children design their own playgrounds (Curbed)
Airbnb can’t win in New York—but it can’t quit either (Wired)
Dockless bikeshare company Ofo is backpedaling from North America (Quartz)
Chance the Rapper bought Chicagoist and announced it in a new song (Gothamist)
Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to email@example.com.
Is homelessness in America surging or ebbing? It depends not only upon where you are, but who you ask—and what, precisely, you’re looking for.
Should you live in a big, high-cost city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the number of people living in homelessness is exploding: In those metros, tent cities full of those priced out by soaring housing costs have created a major crisis for local leaders. Overall national figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, however, tell a different story. At the end of 2017, HUD announced that with the exception of really expensive areas, homelessness had continued to decline across the United States, a 13.1 percent decrease since 2010. When it comes to families with children experiencing homelessness, HUD reported a drop of 5.4 percent since 2016, continuing a 27 percent decline since 2010.
And yet according to many homeless service providers, these HUD figures belie not only their experience, but also data collected by other federal agencies, which use less narrow definitions for homelessness. For example, the U.S. Department of Education counted 1.2 million students experiencing homelessness in 2015—a 19 percent increase from the 2010-11 school year. The number of children experiencing homelessness reported by Head Start, which is administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly doubled between 2006 and 2016. While popular portrayals of the homeless typically feature individuals living on the streets or in shelters, advocates say there’s a growing crisis of family homelessness in the U.S., one that’s been rendered invisible by HUD’s refusal to count those in need who are living in motels or doubling up with others.
Now a bill is before Congress, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, that would seek to address this problem. Introduced by Senators Diane Feinstein and Rob Portman, and Representatives Steve Stivers and Dave Loebsack, the legislation would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness to align it with other federal agencies, thereby allowing more families to qualify for HUD’s services. Qualifying doesn’t mean necessarily receiving assistance, but it means eligible children and parents could be assessed for HUD services based on a variety of “vulnerability” measures.
Supporters of the legislation say this would provide a more accurate picture of the state of homelessness in the United States, and help better steer limited resources to those who are most in need. As it currently stands, HUD’s rules and regulations effectively exclude those not living in shelters or on the streets from qualifying for homeless assistance. But not all advocates for the homeless agree. The legislation, which was discussed in a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing last month, has a powerful opponent: the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an organization that provides data and research to policymakers and technical assistance to community providers.
The heart of the dispute involves how HUD gets its numbers on homelessness: Every year, on a night in late January, communities all over the U.S. go out and literally count the number of people they can find living on the streets or in shelters. But this “point-in-time” system is far from perfect. Critics note that these annual snapshots tend to over-emphasize urban homelessness, as it’s undeniably harder to survey sprawling suburban and rural regions in a single night. Such a system also misses those huddling up with others in crowded apartments; many parents avoid shelters out of fear that the authorities might take away their children.
These accounting gaps matter: HUD’s annual count greatly influences how much money Congress allocates to the federal housing agency each year, and shapes how HUD then directs the funding it receives. The Homeless Children and Youth Act would require HUD to include data from other federal sources when it reports the state of homelessness to Congress, and expand the housing agency’s criteria of eligibility for assistance.
“We agree funding should go to the most vulnerable, but we’re saying our kids and families need to be assessed too,” said Barbara Duffield, the executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a national youth homelessness organization that supports the proposed bill. “Maybe a parent took her children to a motel with registered sex offenders, or the parent has a long history of substance abuse and mental illness but they’re staying doubled up in someone’s crowded house. Their vulnerability score could be higher than someone staying in their car who doesn’t have a history of mental illness and addiction.”
But opponents of the bill at the National Alliance to End Homelessness have a very different take on what it might accomplish. “What this bill would do is expand assistance eligibility for people who are living in relatively stable situations, not in emergency crisis points,” said Steve Berg, the organization’s vice president of programs and policy. “We’ve found over the years that the real people in trouble will always go to the back of the line—they’re people who aren’t successful at getting help. You’ve got to target that funding to people in the crisis situation, otherwise all the money will get used for those in more stable situations. They’re easier to find, and serve.”
Claas Ehlers, the CEO of Family Promise, the largest nonprofit service provider to homeless families in the U.S., says Berg’s objection is ultimately misguided. “It’s very understandable why anyone working in this field would want to ensure the resources go where they need to go, and there’s a fear that with a finite amount of services, someone is going to get displaced,” he said. “But we’re not talking about something that’s going to create mass displacement. It’s not radically rewriting anything. I think everyone would agree there are levels of vulnerability, and the argument of the Homeless Children and Youth Act is, ‘Let’s assess an individual’s vulnerability, not just their housing status.’”
This question of who is most vulnerable can be a challenge to assess, however. Take the case of Sharon Wrosch, a 50-year-old mother of two whose recent struggle to keep a roof over her head might have been easier under the proposed legislation. When she became homeless in July 2016, she and her two children, then 12 and 11 years old, lived in her car for nearly a month. “We were living with somebody else and they decided they didn’t want to live there anymore, stopped paying rent, and we were evicted,” she said. “We really had nowhere to go.”
For nearly a year, Wrosch and her kids bounced around between friends and relatives who could host them for short periods of time, cycling back into her car when they couldn’t. But the time spent crashing with loved ones meant not all of Wrosch’s homeless experience “counted” under HUD’s definition, leaving her family ineligible for certain forms of assistance. Eventually, Wrosch hooked up with Family Promise of Genesee County, which worked to help her find stable housing and get back on her feet. A Michigan emergency relief subsidy also helped Wrosch finance a deposit and some of her first month’s rent, and she now lives with her children in a home just outside of Flint.
This isn’t the first time advocates have tried to expand HUD’s criteria for eligibility. In 2009, Congress passed the HEARTH Act, which narrowly expanded HUD’s definition of homelessness. But subsequent rules and regulations, says Duffield of SchoolHouse Connection, effectively rendered those new definitions meaningless, largely maintaining the eligibility status quo.
Much of this debate stems from disagreements over the “Housing First” model—an approach to ending homelessness that prioritizes getting people into permanent housing, irrespective of whatever mental health, substance abuse, or other issues they may be dealing with. It’s gained a lot of momentum over the last fifteen years, as the federal government has focused its energy primarily on reducing chronic homelessness—defined as an individual with a disability who has been living in an emergency shelter or somewhere not meant for habitation for the last 12 months, or on at least four occasions in the last three years where those four instances cumulatively total at least 12 months.
Housing First emerged partly in response to the “Housing Readiness” approach, which aims to provide services to those living in homelessness, gradually moving them toward stable housing and independence over time. HUD’s embrace of the Housing First model has meant a shift in its budget priorities towards more “rapid-rehousing” interventions, and scaling back on many of its supportive services.
This all remains deeply controversial: Some homeless advocates say Housing First is far from the best approach for all homeless populations, including homeless families. “We can’t have an overreliance on any one solution,” said Ehlers, of Family Promise. “It’s almost like a doctor saying, ‘Well, this cured breast cancer so I’m going to give it to you to cure pneumonia.’”
Duffield argues that HUD’s priorities haven’t aligned with actual homelessness trends, and that local communities should have a greater say in how to spend their assistance funds. The Homeless Children and Youth Act would change the rules by which HUD could award its competitive grant funding, giving more authority to local jurisdictions to set their own goals.
Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for HUD, said that while the agency could not comment on pending legislation, HUD does include the Education Department’s statistics in its annual report to Congress. Duffield characterized this as neither “the full truth, nor the most important truth,” noting that while HUD includes the Education Department’s data in one of its reports—Part II of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress—it’s not included in any of the chapters on homelessness in the U.S. and only as an addendum. HUD’s narrower measure, Duffield added, is the only metric used for showing whether homelessness has decreased or increased, and the only metric used for HUD’s “Progress on the Preventing and Ending of Homelessness” report sent to Congress.
HUD did not respond to a request for further comment.
Ultimately, advocates for the homeless disagree about whether the proposed legislation will bring in more funds or contribute to a loss of federal support. Supporters of the bill say that the problem with HUD’s narrow metrics is that it diminishes the true scale of the crisis—and obscures the need for greater action. “If we don’t fully elucidate the problem, we’re never going to get towards solutions,” argues Ehlers. “If we can really fully understand what homelessness looks like, we can draw in a lot more private-sector resources, we can create more awareness, more public will, and highlight the real economic costs of family homelessness.” He adds that if homelessness appears to affect a small number of people who feel far removed from you and your circumstances, it can be harder to grasp and care about the issue.
Berg, of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, takes the opposite view, insisting that there could be serious risks to funding if the dimensions of the issue and the very definition of the term change dramatically. Congress, he notes, has increased its funding for homelessness over the last few years faster than HUD’s funding overall; Berg says this is because Congress can see HUD is “focusing on best practices, doing things that work, and holding communities accountable for good results.” If HUD expands its eligibility for assistance, and progress starts to stagnate or reverses, Congress may get frustrated and ultimately reduce its homelessness allocations. “What we hear mostly from communities is that there are too many eligible people already, and they don’t have enough money as it is. What exists now is designed to solve a problem. What this bill would do is make it into a program that’s designed to throw a little money at a much larger problem.”
But if Congress is effectively rewarding HUD for dealing with homelessness based on distorted or misleading metrics, bill supporters argue, then it’s not much of a reward. “I think HUD’s data is extremely flawed, not only because of their definition, but the way they count homelessness annually is absurd—it’s about the worst method you could use,” said Duffield. “We have other federal agencies that offer a broader and more accurate perspective.”
Duffield thinks the worsening of the problem since the HEARTH Act’s passage has strengthened her colleagues’ position to get this bill through. Some lawmakers—like co-sponsor Stivers, a Republican from Ohio—have raised concerns about trafficking and the unique dangers faced by children in homelessness. Others have voiced frustration over HUD’s current priorities and definitions disincentivizing housing models that have worked well in their communities.
“The [political] climate is better now because the fact is there are members on both side of the aisles who are not seeing things go well in their district,” Duffield said. “We have bad policy that’s coming home to roost, and it’s affecting a lot of people.”
In case you haven’t heard, we are officially in the summer of scams. There’s the fake German socialite racketeer who stole thousands before ending up in Rikers. There’s the mattress-ordering, private-plane-chartering, nepotism-wielding cabinet member who resigned, eventually, in disgrace. And of course there’s the still-unraveling “epic grift” that may lurk behind the current presidency.
Then there are the more run-of-the-mill ripoffs that have become part of the background noise of modern life, like apartment rental fraud. Think fake Craigslist deals and Zillow listings for apartments that don’t exist. In many cases, phantom landlords ask for application fees and deposits from aspiring renters before agreeing to show the place, then vanish with the cash. These kinds of advance-fee scams are all too common in the digital age, and the apartment market is no different:A new survey from ApartmentList indicates that 6.4 percent of renters have lost money in scams like this.
Unlike time-share or vacation rental schemes, which tend to target susceptible older buyers, Millennials are more likely to find themselves bilked while trying to rent an apartment: According to the report, “renters aged 19 to 29 are 42 percent more likely to have lost money due to rental fraud.” A little more than 10 percent of this age cohort has been victimized, and a third of them have lost $1,000 or more.
While rates of fraud were higher than researchers had initially anticipated, responses were drawn from a sample of fewer than 2,000 renters, and there isn’t much historical data to measure trend growth against. But since these scams are targeting younger, more vulnerable renters, the stakes of identifying them are high. “We think that younger renters and those who are more desperate for a deal are both more likely to be scammed and to be hit harder by the scam,” said Sydney Bennet, an author of the report. “If you’re really struggling to find an apartment you can afford and you lose on a fake deposit, you might not have enough money for the next apartment.”
Common tricks include the “Bait and Switch,” where tenants show up to a rental address and it looks nothing like the apartment they saw—and paid for—online, or the “Phantom Rental,” where landlords make up places entirely to secure a deposit or a social security number, then ghost. Some landlords just copy legit ads from building websites and copy them verbatim into new Craigslist postings, changing only the contact info. Others try to rent out apartments that are already filled, cashing in on application fees with no intention of actually leasing rooms out. A few renters said they’d actually moved into a building only to be kicked out a few months later, after realizing their landlord had sold them an apartment with the knowledge that it would soon be foreclosed upon. Landlords lie to tenants about amenities like heat, A/C, rooftop patios, or laundry (which ApartmentList recently deemed the “hardest amenity to find” on the current rental market). Apartment fraud victims are also in danger of having credit card numbers, bank data, and other personal information compromised.
Digital natives who have grown up in the age of photoshop, airbrush, and Omegle might think we’re too savvy to fall for such online fraud tactics. Indeed, one might expect younger renters to over-diagnose scams. Bennet, who was apartment hunting while conducting the survey, says she found herself constantly second-guessing the plausibility of listings she encountered before settling on one she decided to trust. (“Though I guess I haven’t moved in yet,” she realized on the phone.)
But just as Millennials are more likely to be renters, period, they’re also more likely to feel the need to snap up apartments in high-stakes housing markets, sometimes sight unseen. They may have less experience with the process of vetting an apartment, and are dealing with a life transition full of distractions. People who fit these profiles—recent college grads hunting for a cheap place in a high-cost city, quick, most of them without the aid of a realtor—can be vulnerable to offers that prove to be too good to be true.
Atlanta, D.C., Denver, and Las Vegas, where Millennials are scrambling to secure high-rent housing, were the worst offending cities, with New York City not far behind. There, almost one in ten respondents reported losing money on rental fraud. San Francisco and L.A. had the highest rates of fraudulent listings reported—but perhaps because renters there are woke to the extra-abundance of risks, fewer people have lost money there (less than one percent in San Fransisco and 2.2 percent in L.A.).
The good news is ApartmentList found that most victims of rental fraud get wise. “We don’t see many people fall for these scams twice,” Bennet said. The biggest fraud-avoidance tip she has to offer? Renters need to check out places in person before sending in a deposit or any sensitive information: 35 percent of once-fooled renters said they “now visit apartments before signing a lease or paying a deposit.” And if you’re really not able to physically see the apartment, try to send a friend.
Other tips: Do more research. You can cross-reference city records on property ownership, reverse-image-search pics of the apartment, and contact current tenants. Change search platforms. Check your lease for the amenities listed online, because if they’re not there, the landlord isn’t technically obligated to provide them. Never respond to demands for security deposits before signing the lease. And once you’re ready to send money, avoid cash and wire transfers, which are harder to track—and avoid landlords who insist on those modes of payment. This advice squares with guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission, which urges scam victims to report the crimes to the FTC directly, as well as with local law enforcement.
Maybe all renters should just keep this in mind: In 2018, everything’s a scam until proven otherwise.
Even in the awe-inspiring canyons of Yellowstone and mountains of Yosemite, the fresh air may not be so fresh:Concentrations of ozone in many U.S. national parks are similar to levels in America’s largest metropolitan areas, according to a new study in Science Advances by researchers at Iowa State University and Cornell University.
Back in 1990, the biggest U.S. metro areas had higher average ozone concentrations and more exceedance days (when the EPA deems ozone levels unhealthy for sensitive groups) than national parks. Butbythe early 2000s, the study notes, ozone concentrations were “nearly identical” in national parks and large metro areas. In cities, average summer ozone levels decreased by more than 13 percentfrom 1990 to 2014. The same metric for national parks increased from 1990 to the early 2000s, but declined to 1990 levels by 2014.
The researchers noted that these trends align with the timing of federal regulatory efforts, namely the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1990 (mostly focused on pollution in urban areas) and the EPA’s Regional Haze Rule (centered on national parks).
The study’s authors looked at 33 national parks across the U.S., including the largest and most visited in the NPS system, such as Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. The 20 largest metro areas, led by New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston, were selected based on 2015 population estimates.
Sequoia National Park had the highest average ozone concentration of the parks studied, and its trend for exceedance days is similar to that of Los Angeles—the city with the highest ozone levels.
Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog. It is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in sunlight. Common sources of nitrogen oxides and VOC include emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, and gasoline vapors. Ground-level ozone is different from stratospheric ozone, or “good” ozone, which appears naturally in the upper atmosphere.
The study found that national parks had fewer visitors on days with poor visibility, presumably because some people followed air-quality warnings. Ozone exposure is associated with respiratory symptoms and increased hospitalization rates, and exposure during exercise worsensthe effects.
Although the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1990 expanded regulation of toxic chemicals to fight acid rain, urban air pollution, and toxic air emissions, the efforts largely centered on places where many people live. Substantive efforts to address air quality in national parks did not materialize until 1999, when the EPA created the Regional Haze Rule, which called for state and federal agencies to work together on the issue. This April, President Trump directed former EPA head Scott Pruitt to review the Regional Haze program. The rule has been controversial with some states and industry groups who cite the cost of regulation.
Ivan Rudik, one of the researchers, told CityLab that about 10 percent of all park visitors since 1990 (or about 80 million people) have been exposed to ozone levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups, including older adults, children, and individuals who have a lung disease or are exercising outside. “So pretty much everyone who goes to national parks,” he said.
One of the most consequential findings, Rudik said, is that “there’s still quite a [number] of people being exposed to potentially unhealthy levels of ozone when they go to national parks.” Something to keep in mind the next time you escape the city for a dose of fresh country air.