Term Paper: Chicano Affordable Housing in the United States

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Chicano Affordable Housing

In the United States, there is a current crisis of housing for many different ethnic groups. Racial discrimination, homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, and a lack of affordable housing makes obtaining a place of residence difficult for millions of Americans. Additionally, discrimination in banking procedures, real estate agencies, and housing prices makes home ownership a near impossibility. While both federal and local assistance is available, such programs often are difficult to obtain, and can be difficult to qualify for.

This paper discusses the current crisis of affordable housing as it related to one particular ethnic group, that of the Mexican-American, or Chicano community. We will examine the reasons for the current crisis of affordable housing, and will discuss the role of Mexican-Americans within this crisis. Further, we will discuss available federal and local assistance programs, and how those programs relate to the Chicano population. Additionally, we will examine Racial discrimination in the housing market, and the impact of such discrimination on the Mexican-American renter and homeowner. Finally, we will examine differences in characteristics of renters and home owners, to determine possible relationships between these attributes and the current affordable housing crisis.

This paper hopes to show that discrimination and bias within the housing market, along with a lack of affordable housing, is a severe problem for the Chicano populations, and should be addressed by large urban areas. An overall reduction in slum housing, greater federal and local assistance, and a continuing monitoring of housing trends is needed to allow Chicano populations access to affordable, quality, and safe housing conditions.

Crisis of Affordable Housing in U.S. Cities

In the United States during any given week, an estimated 637,000 adults are homeless, as are nearly 200,000 children. In any given year, and estimated 3.5 million individuals are homeless (Burt, 43). Of these individuals, eleven percent are Mexican-American (Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), 1). Clearly, this indicates a large problem for the Mexican-American community.

The reasons for such large populations of homeless, in general, are numerous, and include both structural and individual factors. Poverty is perhaps the largest structural factor, as the median monthly income for the homeless is $300 per month. In comparison, the average single person in the U.S. pays $800 a month in rent or mortgage (Paulos, 1). In addition, there are nearly 5 million households in which over half of monthly income is spent on housing that is substandard. Since 1991, the number of affordable housing units to the poor has dropped five percent (CMHS, 1). Further complicating the problem for low income Mexican-Americans is the nearly 28-month wait for Section 8 rental assistance (CMHS, 1).

For those Mexican-Americans receiving Social Security or other benefits, affordable housing can be impossible to locate. In 2000, the federal payout for monthly SSI income was $512. According to estimates, this amount would not cover one month of rent for even an efficiency apartment in any major housing market (CMHS, 1). In addition, those with mental illness, substance abuse problems, or a combination of both have additional difficulty in locating already scarce affordable housing. Since one study done in 1998 by Vega (et al.) showed nearly forty-eight percent of Mexican-Americans had either a substance abuse issue, or some form of mental disorder, this is clearly an issue for Chicano communities (Vega, et al., 74).

Major Federal Housing Programs and Policies

In general, most of the housing assistance programs available are under the control of HUD, or the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. This department was created to assist both low-income and general home buyers in obtaining safe, affordable, and decent housing. HUD helps to establish non-discriminatory housing in urban and rural areas, and helps communities to develop affordable housing opportunities (HUD, online).

One way HUD accomplishes this is through the CDBG program, or the Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Community. The CDBG entitlement program allocates funds to large cities to develop decent housing, a suitable environment, and business opportunity for low and moderate income residents. Each year, 1180 grants are distributed to communities to assist in their housing and economic needs (HUD, online).

There are federal housing programs available to assist Mexican-Americans and other individuals in obtaining affordable housing. One such program is the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8 in reference to the section of the U.S. Housing Act which covers the program (Goering, 22). Created in 1974, Section 8 was designed to reduce the percentage of income paid for housing by low-income individuals (Goering, 26). Under the Section 8 program, tenants pay roughly thirty percent of their income for rent, and the remaining rent amount is paid by the federal government (Goering, 33).

There are two programs under Section 8, those of tenant-based vouchers and project-based vouchers. The Public Housing Authority in an area can choose to use 25% of its allotted vouchers for a single apartment, or a project-base. Eligible families then pay thirty percent of their income for rent while living in the residence, but cannot take the voucher with them if they move (Goering, 43). Under tenant-based programs, families with a certificate find and lease a unit in the private sector and pay a portion of rent, approximately thirty percent. HUD determines the fair market rent of the property, and the local housing authority pays the owner of the unit the difference (Goering, 47).

However, as many Mexican-American families have discovered, landlords are not required to participate in Section 8 programs. Further, the waiting list for vouchers may be as long as three to five years, and many lists are closed to new applicants (Weicher, 11). Clearly, this program is not beneficial to new families seeking assistance, and can take several years to assist even those families who have been seeking affordable housing for years.

Another program is that of public housing, through HUD. Public housing seeks to provide safe rental housing for low income families, the elderly, and the disabled.

Nearly 1.3 million families live in public housing, thirteen percent of whom are Mexican-American (Diaz. 86). In public housing, HUD distributes funds to local housing authorities, who then manage housing for low-income families by providing housing at affordable rates. For this purpose, low-income is considered to be those families earning only 80% of local median incomes, and very low income are those earning only 50% of the median (Diaz, 58).

All cities with a local housing authority are required to provide public housing. However, as is the case with Section 8 programs, public housing lists are thousands of families long in some areas and can take years to access. Further, because of the income restrictions of public housing availability, some families just above the poverty line are unable to attain public housing, and in areas with little low-income private housing, such conditions often lead to homelessness or forced relocation (Diaz, 66).

Another program is the First Time Home Buyer program, designed to assist low-income families in purchasing their first home. Granted by the federal government, the program gives families grants based on income to help cover a down payment on a home (Tyson, 18). However, the houses must pass federal housing regulations, and the families must meet income requirements. As with other assistance programs, some families above the income requirements still need assistance, and in some cities, sellers are reluctant to participate in the program, since in doing so, their home price could be reduced based on violations of housing codes (Tyson, 41).

Still another program is that of the home mortgage deduction. The home mortgage deduction program allows homeowners to deduct their home mortgage interest from their federal income taxes. The goal is to allow home owners a federal income tax break in turn for purchasing a home (IRS, 6). While this does serve to benefit those who already own a home, it does not help those unable to purchase a home to find housing.

In addition to the programs for affordable housing, first time home owners, and home owners in general, the federal government also helps maintain homeless shelters for those unable to find housing. Homeless shelters are designed to provide food and shelter for those needing assistance. In many cases, the shelters may also offer substance abuse counseling, clothing, job training, and other functions designed to assist individuals in getting their lives back on track. While some shelters are need-based, many are open to anyone who requires shelter and assistance.

Local Government Affordable Housing Programs

In addition to the above federal assistance programs, designed for all ethnic groups, there are several local area government programs that can assist Mexican-Americans in obtaining affordable housing. One such program is the HOAC program, or the Home Ownership Advisory Council program. A part of the Housing and Community Development Commission, HOAC analyzes the home ownership rates of a given area to discover disparities in the population. By using such a program, an area can determine which populations require additional assistance (Diaz, 164).

Another tool for local assistance is the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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