What works: Apple’s $2.5 billion commitment to affordable housing

“All for the want of a horseshoe nail.” The closing line of that proverb, which dates from the 13th century, is spot on these days as public health officials struggle to get Americans to do one simple thing: wear a mask to help combat Covid-19.

The consequences of going maskless are real and measurable: increased rates of infection, delayed economic recovery, extended job losses and unemployment, higher poverty rates, and–as eviction moratoria expire–increased numbers of homeless Americans.

We can’t allow the kingdom to be lost over a simple thing like wearing a mask.

The coming weeks in the Covid-19 crisis likely will be particularly critical. That’s because the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits that Congress approved as part of the CARES Act expires at the end of July.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times warns that millions of Americans (including this one) will see their incomes fall by as much as 60% when the benefit expires. Unemployment remains at its highest level in decades and the surge in coronavirus cases is making it hard for the economy to recover.

One analyst told a news outlet earlier this month, “As unemployment soars and enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction moratoria expire, we’re primed to see a tidal wave of evictions that will devastate communities.”

As we head into the autumn months, homelessness could rise sharply in cities and towns all across the country.

Many of us are annoyed by homeless encampments. In Denver, there’s a particularly large number of tents in a park adjacent to the state capitol building. I don’t like looking at it and I don’t like thinking about it. But I’ve been trying to do both in recent months as I learn more about the causes of homelessness and feel the pinch of my own unemployment.

I’ve become more aware, for example, of the social factors that can increase housing vulnerability: health, race, education, domestic abuse, mobility. Many homeless people are afflicted by more than one of these vulnerabilities. Add to them the extra strain of a job loss and the expiration of unemployment benefits and it should be clear to people like me why the homeless crisis is poised to deepen very quickly.

Even before the pandemic, California’s homeless crisis was the focus of a lot of media attention. A 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the state’ rate of homelessness rose to 16.4%. Between 2018 and 2019, an additional 20,000 people in California became homeless. That was a larger increase than in every other state combined.

This Abode Services project in Santa Clara, California, is backed by Destination: Home and Apple and will provide homes for seniors who are currently homeless or at risk of falling into homelessness. Image courtesy of Apple.

“Homelessness is not an issue in California, it’s the issue,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said early this year at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. And that was before the pandemic struck.

Last November, Apple said it would commit $2.5 billion to help combat California’s housing crisis using a series of multi-year initiatives, including:

*A $1 billion affordable housing investment fund with the state of California.
*A $1 billion first-time homebuyer mortgage assistance fund, with increased funding opportunities for essential services personnel, school employees and veterans.
*$300 million in Apple-owned land made available for affordable housing.
*A $150 million Bay Area housing fund, in public-private partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley.
*$50 million to support Destination: Home’s efforts to address homelessness in Silicon Valley.

Projects set to launch this year include affordable housing developments funded in partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley. Those plans call for creating more than 250 new units of affordable housing across the Bay Area, as well as a mortgage and down payment assistance fund and an affordable housing investment support program created in conjunction with the California Housing Finance Agency.

That program is designed to increase the availability of funding to develop and build new, very low- to moderate-income housing at a lower cost. The program could become a useful tool for California to produce additional affordable housing units over the next five years.

Apple is also supporting Destination: Home and has helped fund construction of more than 1,000 new units of “deeply-affordable and supportive housing” for the most vulnerable populations across Silicon Valley. This includes a new project in Santa Clara that will create 80 new units, designed for seniors who are currently homeless or at risk of falling into homelessness.

The Apple initiative is substantial and meaningful. It is particularly useful because it supports agencies and organizations that are best equipped to make a big impact right away.

By itself the initiative will not solve California’s homeless problem. It will, however, be helpful at a time when the ripple effect of the pandemic seems certain to force many Americans out of their current homes.

Other wealthy corporations should look to Apple and make similar commitment to assist the growing number of Americans who face a housing crisis. And every American should cowboy up, as we say in Colorado, and put on a mask.

What do you think? Join the conversation! theinfrareport@gmail.com

Apple is supporting this Charities Housing Development Corp. project in San Jose, which is being financed in partnership with Housing Trust Silicon Valley. The image is courtesy of Apple.

Seven steps towards greater equality

I recently raised a handful of questions about racial inequality and injustice, but stopped short of offering my ideas on how to move forward. Here are seven reforms that I think are imperative to pursue.

Above all, stop killing black people. Stop brutalizing black people. Stop persecuting black people. There is no “reform” needed here. Brutalizing and killing black people are conscious acts that white Americans must stop doing. White Americans need to get their shit together and change their behavior.

From there, I also would address the following, mostly in this order.

  1. Voting rights. Vigorously promote the right (the obligation!) to vote and make the very act of voting easy and convenient. As a resident of Colorado, I use mail-in ballots in every election and have every confidence that my ballot is safe and my vote is counted. Voting is both the minimum level of participation in our democracy and also its most fundamental idea. Vote up and down the ballot from local officials and tax questions to president.
  2. Universal health care. We must end the notion that an American must work in order to have decent and affordable health care. Good health has to be recognized as a basic human right that is accessible to every American regardless of work status. The pandemic has cast a harsh light: lose your job and you may lose your good health and maybe even your life.
  3. Criminal justice reform. We lock away too many people and offer too many incentives for private companies to make money through prisons. If mental health and social services were more widely available, then perhaps some of the prison problem would be eased. Decriminalize marijuana and revise sentencing guidelines.
  4. Unions. You and I have little if any bargaining power compared with massive corporations. Collective bargaining and unions bring the power of the “many” to the negotiating table. The gig economy is great, but companies end up with too much power and gig workers end up as easily replaceable parts. As part of the bargain, most unions themselves must be reformed so that they aren’t run by crooks.
  5. Housing. In addition to health care, housing for low-income Americans is a second fault line that is fracturing during the pandemic. We are on the brink of what may be a massive increase in homelessness due to the combined impacts of unemployment and the expiration of moratoria on evictions. Many people may be forced out of their homes and into the streets, exacerbating our already shameful problem of homelessness.
  6. Re-energize social services. We need a return to the notion that not every problem is solved by a police response. Mental health issues and social service agencies need to be adequately funded so that properly trained professionals are able to respond to situations that are not law enforcement in nature. When a fire breaks out, for instance, police play a secondary role and redirect traffic and keep curious onlookers away. It’s the professional fire fighters who put out the fire. Social service professionals need to be given a greater role and then allowed to do their jobs.
  7. Address income inequality. Multiple reforms are needed to address the income inequality that is driving too many people into poverty even though they work multiple jobs. Unions, tax reform and universal health care all are tools that can and should be used.

These steps won’t solve all of the problems that have accumulated through decades and centuries of systemic racism. They do, however, seek to remove some of the anxiety and stress that people all across our society are feeling.

As health care is extended, as housing opportunities are improved and as corporate power and greed are addressed and reversed, then we can rebuild a foundation for a society that is more equal and more just.

And, above all, white America needs to stop brutalizing and killing black people.

What do you think? Join the conversation! theinfrareport@gmail.com

I took this photo of the moon and clouds as seen from my house.