Full Circle Meeting Dec. 16, 2017

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 | bwgc

The December Full Circle meeting provided an opportunity for Circle members to engage with several 2016 grantees — Action in Maturity, American Red Cross, The Ark Preschool, Caroline Center, CASA, Loving Arms, MCE Women’s Business Center, MCVETS, Penn North -Kids Safe Zone and Thread — and to hear from Antonia Fasanelli, the Executive Director of Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc. (HPRP), an expert on the issues of homelessness.

antonia fasanelliMs. Fasanelli’s organization, HPRP, is the only legal services organization in Maryland dedicated to eliminating homelessness.  It is recognized as a leader in the provision of legal services to vulnerable people and as an organization committed to changing the systems that contribute to poverty and homelessness. 

Ms. Fasanelli has been the Executive Director of HPRP since 2007.  She has had a distinguished career working to end homelessness and the policies that have created this crisis, including as Chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty and Co-Chair of the Economic Justice Committee of the ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice.  In 2014, she was appointed a member of the Journey Home Board, which oversees Baltimore City’s 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.  She has been chosen as both a Leading Woman and a recipient of the Leadership in Law Award from The Daily Record.  Recently, she received the Benjamin L. Cardin Distinguished Service Award from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation.

While many equate poverty with homelessness, and there is a connection, Ms. Fasanelli pointed out that after Baltimore City, Montgomery County has the 2nd highest rate of homelessness in Maryland.  How can this be, if Montgomery is the 11th richest county in the nation?  Because in Montgomery County as in Baltimore City the price of housing outpaces the resources of the people who need it.  Maryland is the 5th most expensive state for private housing, with workers needing three full time minimum wage jobs to afford to rent a two-bedroom home. 

Ms. Fasanelli provided some background on the steady – and purposeful – decline in public housing available in the US.  In 1937 Congress adopted the United States Housing Act, creating government subsidized housing programs. The National Housing Act of 1949 expanded public housing and adopted as a goal “a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.”

However, in 1974, there was a shift away from government owned public housing as the solution to unaffordability with the creation of the Section 8 Voucher Program, where tenants pay a set portion of their income for rent and the government pays the difference.  This created a situation where the government is at the mercy of private market housing costs, rather than owning its own housing, and voucher holders are at the mercy of landlords who may or may not accept their vouchers. 

In addition, the federal government has drastically cut funding to this area.  In 1981 the Department of Housing and Urban Development had budget authorizations of $32.2 billion; by 1989 it was $6.9 billion—a reduction of 78 percent.  For the HUD programs that serve people with low and moderate incomes, budget authority was $96 billion in 1978 (in 2013 dollars) as compared to $40 billion in 2013 a 58% decrease.

By the late 1980s, between ½ million to 1 million people were homeless.  And increasingly they were families.  After initially denying the problem, the Reagan Administration passed the McKinney Act in 1987, with its 15 new programs to house and serve homeless persons. It required the federal government to turn over surplus property to the homeless, among others.   Ms. Fasanelli recently learned that the McKinney Act was to be the first of three national responses to homelessness.  However, the other two have not actually happened. 

The need continues. Recently, Housing Authority of Baltimore City opened a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers and 75,000 households applied.   Only 25,000 were accepted and they went into another lottery to get housing over the coming 5-7 years.

So, Ms. Fasanelli noted we are left with a set of programs that are only band-aids for the larger housing crisis.  It is this national housing crisis that must be addressed with national policies. 

She did, however, highlight some bright spots, nationally and locally.  In 2008, Congress funded The VA – VASH, a voucher program to house homeless veterans with disabilities.  Since 2009 Veterans’ homelessness has decreased by 67%.  The National Housing Trust Fund, which was created to respond to the federal disinvestment in affordable housing and was initially funded by taking the surplus from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will provide $3 million for Maryland to build affordable housing.  In addition, the HOME Act provides that housing cannot be denied to someone with lawful income even if they need to use a voucher.

In November Baltimoreans passed Question J on the ballot to “…. create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that will, among other things, promote and support fair and affordable housing throughout Baltimore for extremely low income families by providing financial assistance for production, maintenance, or expansion of affordable housing….” 

Members were very impressed with Antonia’s breadth and depth of knowledge and her ability to present a very complicated issue in clean and concise terms.  She was an excellent speaker who gave the Circle much to consider. 

Below are the 2016 grantees with programs that address homelessness:

Episcopal Community Services of Baltimore
Public Justice Center
Loving Arms
Marian House
My Sister’s Place
Youth Empowered Society

Download Homelessness Resource Guide