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Solutions to affordable-housing crisis must also address education

Affordable-housing solutions must address education too, experts say.
November 24, 2020

Morrison Institute conference experts weigh solutions to complex issue in Arizona

The lack of affordable housing in Arizona is inextricably tied to education and employment, and effective solutions must address the whole picture, according to several experts who spoke Monday at the annual State of Our State conference.

“Housing at a Crossroads: Solving Our Housing Challenges” was the topic of the livestreamed event held by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. Andrea Whitsett, director of the Morrison Institute, said that last year’s conference on rural issues revealed that affordable housing is a major problem, leading to this year’s topic.

Several experts described the causes, effects and potential solutions:

Michael Crow, president of ASU, described how Arizona has a “fragile” economy, which conserves public resources and is dependent on relocations and low-wage jobs such as the tourism and service industries. This hampers the ability to create high-wage jobs, allowing residents to afford housing.

The No. 1 predictor of housing access and many other economic indicators is educational attainment, because it enhances the productivity, creativity and flexibility of the workforce, he said.

“People always say that I’m just pushing bachelor’s degrees,” he said. “No, I’m pushing housing equity. I’m pushing economic resilience. I’m pushing antifragile economies. Within those economies, not everyone has a bachelor’s degree.”

Crow said that only 20% of high school freshmen in Arizona end up with a bachelor’s degree – one of the lowest rates in the country.

“We’re importing college degrees and we’re not producing college degrees at the level we need to be competitive,” he said.

Arizona must address both education and housing, he said.

“We should be advancing low-income housing projects that have one objective — the educational attainment of the adults and children that live in the supported housing,” he said.

Dennis Hoffman, an economist and director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School of Business, said that the housing supply started to decline several years ago for two main reasons.

“The first was the bursting of the state’s biggest real estate bubble in history,” he said, leading developers to dramatically slow building.

“About that same time, we passed one of the toughest employer sanction bills in the country that essentially told tens of thousands of productive undocumented construction workers that they were no longer welcome in this state,” he said.

“This is a recipe for a shortage of housing,” he said, adding that the supply has not kept up with demand over the last several years.

Essential service workers, who make below the median income, have even been shut out of new multifamily housing, which has been targeted to higher-income renters.

The pandemic has exacerbated the wealth gap, as people who can work from home have fared well, investing money into their homes or buying new homes.

“The value of housing has increased some 18% over last year, and the median home is about $330,000 today,” he said.

Michael Neal, senior research associate in the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, described how Black and Hispanic people have fared much worse compared to white people in the housing market.

“We see that incomes were lower, there are fewer financial assets, including parental help, and lower credit scores, which can combine to limit access to home ownership,” he said. Fewer than half of Black and Hispanic households own their own homes compared with 72% of white households.

Black and Hispanic homeowners have less equity, lower home value and higher mortgage debt.

Since the pandemic, Black and Hispanic homeowners have been more likely to be behind on their mortgage payments and less likely to get forbearance.

“Forbearance is a key tool to keep you from losing your home and it keeps you from experiencing a decline in your credit score.”

Several housing experts weighed in on potential solutions during a panel discussion.

David Adame, president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa, said that every level of government and all partners must work together.

“I believe even local government can do more,” he said. “The city of Phoenix for years used only the money it received from HUD. There needs to be more commitment to look at the systemic problems.

“We need to get more stakeholders involved — utility companies, the private sector.”

Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition, pushed for the restoration of the State Housing Trust Fund, a program created in 1988 and funded by the sale of unclaimed property.

“However, that trust fund, which in its heyday was $40 million, was sweptDuring the recession, the state legislation "swept," or moved, money from various sources into the General Fund. during the Great Recession and capped at $2.5 million,” she said.

“We really hope this pandemic has shown the importance of having a safe, stable place to quarantine and isolate, and we’re confident that next session, the legislature will take up these policies.”

Tania Simms, executive director of Verde Valley Habitat for Humanity, said that in her rural area, the focus is on repairing existing housing to keep people sheltered. This can be a problem because people who live in “nonstandard” housing, such as RVs or mobile homes, which many retired people do, are not eligible for funding assistance.

“We primarily look at repairs needed for health and safety,” she said. “We don’t have funds to remodel a home and bring it up to code.”

Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the anti-poverty agency Wildfire, warned of an impending wave of evictions and said that one barrier is complicated rental assistance programs.

“We have a number of families on the verge of being evicted and once those folks are evicted, it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to find housing,” she said.

“Quite a bit of money is being put into programs to help renters and landlords but one challenge we’re seeing is that there is no alignment for best practices. “They’re not consistent. Many are designed from a position of mistrust and we’re looking at a system that makes it difficult to get access.”

Sally Schwenn, Arizona market president for Gorman & Co., said that even with tax credits, there are funding gaps in building affordable housing, which is very expensive. She said a bill to adopt a state housing tax credit was sidelined earlier this year by the pandemic.

“There are waiting lists of more than 2,000 people waiting to qualify,” she said. “Developers need incentives.”

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said that it's important to consider the unique needs of homeless people and tribal communities.

“The methods for providing housing in tribal communities do not look like outside tribal communities,” he said.

“Instruments like mortgages and low-income housing tax credits do not apply in the same way. We must make tribal housing a priority.”

For homeless people, “a roof and a door is only the beginning,” Koppell said. That population needs supportive services in addition to housing.

“There is a plethora of solutions open to use. We just have to maintain our commitment to housing affordability and housing justice.”

Top image by iStock/Getty Images.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU team analyzes data as part of state effort on missing, murdered Indigenous women

ASU team finds data lacking in effort on missing, murdered Indigenous women.
November 24, 2020

Statewide report recommends better data collection, collaboration to address crisis

The website shows rows of faces, many smiling, of Native American women and girls in Arizona who are gone — missing or murdered. No one has seen Jamie for over a year. Priscilla was kidnapped from her home and murdered in 1984. Mary worked at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon when she went missing in 1957.

Research shows that Indigenous women and girls are more likely to experience violence compared to women of other ethnicities, but it’s a crisis that’s difficult to grasp because no one knows exactly how many have been taken or killed. With no comprehensive method for tracking cases, the website Justice for Native Women is a grassroots initiative to record these victims across the United States and Canada.

The work of Justice for Native Women, along with federal data sources, helped a team from Arizona State University to analyze this issue for 18 months as part of a statewide effort. The work was done thanks to a law that was passed by the state legislature in 2019, setting up a 23-member legislative study committee, which included many Native American members. The goal was to identify barriers to tracking the violence, analyze the existing data and produce recommendations to solve the crisis. The final report was released earlier this month.

Kate Fox, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and the ASU team worked with the legislative study committee on examining the data — which is severely lacking.

Kate Fox, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, is director of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab.

“Our first finding is something that is well known within the Indigenous community, which is that the data on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is incomplete. It really is something that is very difficult to measure quantitatively because of so many different problems, systemic problems, that interfere with the accurate and methodically sound categorization of this crisis,” said Fox, director of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab at ASU.

One reason is racial misclassification by law enforcement agencies.

“They may find a body and not go through the proper channels to identify properly that this person was indeed Indigenous,” she said. “This happens especially where someone might have a Hispanic last name, and that person might accidentally but incorrectly be categorized as Hispanic when in fact they may be Indigenous.”

Another reason is that when adults go missing, it's not necessarily a crime, Fox said.

“This muddies the waters in terms of family members who know that their loved ones are missing, but it’s sometimes very difficult to get a missing persons report initiated,” she said. That can hamper access to services for victims.

The team contacted 92 nontribal police departments and of the 36 agencies that responded, only one, the Prescott Valley Police Department, allowed for officers to manually input tribal affiliation in a report. The others combined American Indian/Alaska Native into one category.

Other barriers to tracking violence include jurisdictional issues, distrust of law enforcement and infrastructure challenges that prevent the use of Amber or Silver Alerts in Indian Country, according to the report.

The ASU team used data from Justice for Native Women as well as from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and the FBI Supplemental Homicide Report. They found that 160 Indigenous females and 474 Indigenous males were known to be murdered from 1976 to 2018, with Maricopa County having the highest number of victims. The average age of the female victims is 31.

“From the data we have access to, we are seeing a very clear and consistent trend over the last 40 years, from 1976, that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been steadily increasing,” Fox said. “This is an alarming trend.”

The legislative study committee was led by state Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, of the White Earth Ojibwe.

“We have also seen that missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is not just a rural reservation problem," she said. "Maricopa County and our urban police departments also see a significant number of these cases, which underscores our need for state-level attention to this issue.”

Other authors conducted a field study of families and law enforcement agencies, evaulated the Arizona Victims Compensation Fund and examined criminal jurisdictional issues.

The final report includes more than 60 recommendations.

“Many systemic factors come into play that created missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and those are rooted in racial injustice, racism, oppression and colonization,” Fox said.

“No one-size-fits-all approach will correct this issue.”

The recommendations are in the areas of victim services, resource allocation, training, law enforcement, data collection, collaboration and legislation. Among them:

  • Establish a 24-hour hotline to report missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and address related needs, such as domestic violence services.
  • Create culturally competent sexual-assault response teams within tribal communities and border towns.
  • Require annual training for all professionals, especially police officers, on cultural responsiveness.
  • Implement a consistent missing-persons policy statewide.
  • Develop a multi-jurisdictional “endangered missing advisory” system to promote collaboration.
  • Establish methods for gathering data by tribal affiliation.
  • Require Arizona to participate in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
  • Establish an Arizona State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.

Several of the recommendations called for more money for agencies and initiatives to fight the problem.

“There’s chronic underfunding of Indigenous communities,” Fox said.

Fox said that a permanent state office run by Indigenous people that would partner with all 22 state tribes also is crucial.

“This would enable coordination of training, resource allocation, relationship-building, collaboration, data fidelity — all of those things that could be centralized and run by Indigenous people to ensure cultural competence,” she said.

The Arizona law is part of nationwide reckoning on missing and murdered Indigenous women. Last month, President Donald Trump signed two bills, the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act, to establish a commision on violent crime and set law enforcement guidelines between the federal government and tribes to help track, solve and prevent crimes against Native Americans.

The issue of missing and murdered women and girls is solvable but the effort must be led by Indigenous communities, Fox said. The ASU project, while unfunded, was able to find funding for several Native American student workers.

“Because it impacts a community that is in some ways hidden from mainstream society, and because it is cloaked in all sorts of complex oppression and racial discrimination and cultural insensitivity by non-Native Americans, I think people don’t think of it as solvable,” Fox said.

“But it certainly is possible to solve this crisis. And it will take collaboration and partnerships across party lines, across jurisdictions, across genders and across races to reduce missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Besides Fox, the ASU team included: Chris Sharp (Colorado Indian River Tribes), clinical assistant professor and director of the Office of American Indian Projects in the School of Social Work; Turquoise Devereaux (Salish/Blackfeet Tribes), project coordinator for the Office of American Indian Projects; Kayleigh Stanek, doctoral student and manager of the Research on Violent Victimization Lab; Sara Julian, Post-Master’s Law and Policy Fellow with Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research and Development and ASU Academy for Justice; Michelle Hovel (Navajo Nation), Cheston Dalangyawma (Hopi Tribe) and Hilary Edwards (Swinomish Indian Tribal Community), graduate research assistants in the Research on Violent Victimization Lab; Traci Morris (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma), executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute; Jacob Moore (Tohono O’odham Nation, Akimel O’odham, Lakota, Dakota), associate vice president for tribal relations; Dominque Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research; Morgan Eaton, an undergraduate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and community members Hallie Bongar White, Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya (Hopi Tribe) and Mak Mars (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Fond Du Lac Ojibwe).

Top image of the ASU Charter monument on the Tempe campus by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now