Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Housing is, Indeed, a Human Right by Whitney Gent (NLCHP)

Whitney Gent
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP)

Last week, the United States government officially acknowledged for the first time that reducing homelessness implicates its human rights obligations.

For nearly a decade now, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been using human rights language and strategies to advocate on behalf of people experiencing homelessness. We’re working to build a movement to help realize the human right to housing in the United States.

There’s a strong foundation to build on. The U.S. helped shape the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights – both of which recognize that housing is not a privilege, but a right. President Obama has said it is “simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families and our nation’s veterans to be faced with homelessness in our country.” And last June, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released the first ever comprehensive Federal Plan to End Homelessness.

But despite our declarations and our international treaty ratifications, homelessness is rising dramatically, people are being punished for sleeping or sitting outside even when there’s no alternative, and the current federal budget proposals would cut funding for public housing and, in some cases, homelessness programs.

The federal government’s acknowledgment that homelessness reduction is a human rights obligation does not itself change any of these facts, but it does provide advocates with another powerful tool to use in holding the government accountable to its promises. It will help us fight budget cuts that would send more people to the streets. It will help us turn the Federal Plan into federal action. It will help us build the public will we need to end homelessness in this country.

Of course, the Law Center cannot – and should not – do all of this alone. We need YOU to be a part of this movement. This June 7-8, we invite advocates from across the country to Washington D.C. for the annual National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, where we will offer trainings on how to use the tools we have gained to make progress in the movement to realize the human right to housing here. We’ll also strategize to determine how to best build on the foundation we’re laying.

The forum will feature speakers from government, the media, and the advocacy community, including:

Peter Edelman, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, Public Policy, Georgetown University School of Law, and Give US Your Poor Advisory Board Member
Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Pam Fessler, poverty & philanthropy correspondent, National Public Radio
Bryan Green, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing at HUD
Jonathan Harwitz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy & Programs at HUD
Gail Laster, Deputy Chief Counsel for the House Financial Services Committee
Barbara Poppe, Executive Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

And many more! Click here for more information about the forum, and to register.

Also, watch for the release of the Law Center’s upcoming human rights report – a new tool to help advocates and government officials talk about the right to housing, this report applies the international rights framework to U.S. housing policy in the most comprehensive manner to date. Coming soon!

Whitney Gent is the Development & Communications Director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP).  She also edits the Homelessness Law Blog.

Follow the Give US Your Poor Blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Building Better Bank Ons by Reid Cramer

Reid Cramer, Director, Asset Development
Program, New America Foundation

In 2005 San Francisco city leaders were surprised by new research that estimated that one in five San Francisco adults-and half of the city's Blacks and Latinos-did not have bank accounts. These primarily working poor city residents faced a big disadvantage because they lacked this basic financial tool. In fact, many unbanked San Francisco residents reported paying 2 to 5 percent of their income just to cash their paychecks.
To address this problem, San Francisco public officials challenged financial institution leaders to join with the City and their non-profit partners to create and launch Bank On San Francisco, a first-in-the-nation effort to bring 10,000 of the City's estimated 50,000 unbanked households into the financial mainstream. City leaders wanted to offer low-income residents alternatives to check-cashing outlets by increasing the supply of starter bank accounts with easy, affordable ways to deposit paychecks, pay bills, and save.

Bank On is now being replicated in more than 70 cities and states nationwide. In 2010, the Obama Administration announced the creation of a national effort to bank the unbanked--Bank On USA.

What have been the successes and failures of the Bank On model? Anne Stuhldreher and Leigh Phillips have been with Bank On since the program's founding and together developed "Building Better Bank Ons: Top 10 Lessons from Bank On San Francisco."  This paper furthers the discussion on what products and services need to be in place to best serve this market, and what roles the various partners at the local, state, and national levels can play to create a truly inclusive financial system.

To read the entire paper, please click here.

Reid Cramer is Director of the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation, where he leads the program's policy research activities.