News

Success stories in affordable housing, minimum housing standards

Worth your time today: This column by Susan Ladd of the News & Record in Greensboro that looks at too-seldom celebrated success in the movement for affordable housing and strengthening minimum housing standards.

The story centers on efforts by the Center for Community Progress, Greensboro Housing Coalition and the city’s Minimum Housing Standards Coalition to recognize properties that have gone from condemned to assets to the community. The home highlighted in the column, owned by Scott Garner, went from being blighted and unlivable to an affordable family home in an area that needs more of that type of housing stock.

From Ladd’s column:

The story of this particular home also spotlights how recent changes to Greensboro’s code enforcement can bring properties back into the city’s much-needed affordable housing stock, said Beth McKee-Huger, a longtime advocate for affordable housing. “It wasn’t the worst property ever, but it is right across from a school,” McKee-Huger said. “We thought it could be a danger to schoolchildren.”

Vacant properties attract vandals and squatters who may be using or selling drugs. City inspectors found the house open and ordered that it be boarded-up. The property was condemned and under review by the Minimum Housing Standards Commission, which can order that a property be repaired or demolished. If the owner refuses to act, the city can repair or demolish and put a lien on the property for the cost. This more often motivates property owners to repair the properties or sell them to someone else.

Since the city shortened the timeline for compliance in 2013 and added the option of city-paid repairs in 2015, this demolition list has gone from stagnant to revolving, said Beth Benton, division manager for Code Compliance.

The City of Greensboro and Guilford County have had a lot of success with their respective minimum housing standard ordinances, despite attempts by the General Assembly to limit what municipalities can do in this area.

News

Fix to school funding crunch advances through N.C. House

North Carolina House lawmakers unanimously backed draft legislation intended to allay an imminent K-3 class size dilemma for public schools Thursday, despite criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

House Bill 13 will offer local school districts flexibility over their average and maximum classroom sizes in the early grades, weeks before public school leaders say a GOP-led state budget provision could have forced districts to choose between axing arts and physical education classes or asking for major funding increases from local governments.

State officials say the the implications could be modest in smaller districts, but significant in some of North Carolina’s largest school districts.

Republicans say the bill will resolve the unintended consequences of a legislative mandate last year that schools trim class sizes in the lower grades. But Democrats and public school critics have chided GOP lawmakers for what they describe as an “unfunded mandate” that would have drastic impacts for local school districts.

“If we truly believe that class size can make a difference as I do, then just fund it,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat. “Put the money where our rhetoric is and just fund it.”

Starting with next school year, school districts are set to lose the ability to exceed the state’s funded average classroom sizes in grades K-3. Without easing that directive or providing additional financing, local school officials complained of broad impacts on staffing, infrastructure, teaching assistants and class sizes in grades 4-12.

House lawmakers unanimously approved the bill Thursday and it’s now bound for the state Senate, where its prospects for approval without modification are murky.

Senate leaders have been significantly more critical of public schools in recent years, and a spokeswoman for Senate President Phil Berger has not responded to multiple Policy Watch inquiries about the matter.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, the Henderson County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 13, said Thursday that the controversial budget mandate in question arose at least in part because Senate leadership was “upset” that public schools were using classroom funding for other purposes.

Republicans suggested multiple times in committee and on the House floor in recent days that public school districts are misusing state funding, although they have not offered proof and school district lobbyists have indicated they know of no such circumstances.

McGrady said he hopes his bill, which has the support of local district lobbyists at the N.C. School Boards Association, will offer a “smoother path” for North Carolina schools. Local districts warned of “draconian” cuts without action from the legislature to mediate last year’s mandate, he said.

“They didn’t have a lot of warning,” said McGrady. “This is a bill to give a glide path here.”

Meanwhile, McGrady rebuffed calls from Democrats Thursday to debate overall school funding. Critics of GOP leaders have long maintained that the state legislature is not properly funding North Carolina public schools.

“I’m sure we’re going to have that debate when we debate the budget,” added McGrady. “This bill is not that bill. These positions for lower class sizes have already been paid for by us. This is about flexibility.”

Commentary

Editorials blast Berger for his obstruction of HB2 repeal, Cooper compromise

Two more major newspapers point out the absurdity of Senate leader Phil Berger’s disingenuous stance on HB2 repeal this morning. The Charlotte Observer tells it like it is with this observation:

“Goodbye, NCAA. Goodbye, ACC. Goodbye from Phil Berger, who keeps whispering, ‘Hush.’

Sen. Berger and other Republican leaders on Tuesday made clear that they have zero intention of repealing HB2, ‘clean’ or otherwise. Minutes after Gov. Roy Cooper offered a compromise deal, Berger shot it down and other Republicans followed.

That’s yet another nail in the repeal effort’s coffin, and almost guarantees that the NCAA and the ACC will remove North Carolina from consideration for all events through at least 2022. That will mean the state that is the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference will go six years without a championship event, forgoing millions of dollars in tax revenue and hundreds of millions in economic impact.”

The editorial goes on to laud Cooper’s compromise and deride both Berger and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (“the state’s most inflammatory public official on this issue”) for their blatantly false statements on the matter.

The Greensboro News & Record puts it this way in an editorial in which they compare Berger and company to the sadistic prison guards in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke” whom the title prisoner could never satisfy:

“Republicans challenged Cooper to propose a fair and workable way to repeal the state’s mean-spirited “bathroom law,” HB 2. So Cooper did, floating a bill this week that rolls back the anti-LGBT rights measure while ramping up penalties for sexual predators in restrooms. The bill also requires local governments to give the legislature 30 days notice before passing new anti-discrimination laws.

Republicans say it’s not enough.

‘The threshold question is, what is the governor’s position on whether men should be allowed to share restrooms, locker rooms and showers with women and girls?’ state Senate leader Phil Berger said. ‘… And until we find out what his position is on this, the idea of trotting out something like this and calling it a compromise seems to be just a perpetuation of the current status.’

Translation: ‘We’ll continue to blame you for the lack of an HB 2 repeal. But we’ll also reject any repeal you suggest.’”

The bottom line: HB2 is here to stay because, ultimately, Phil Berger, Dan Forest and the other conservative members of the state sex police wouldn’t have it any other way.

Commentary

Under fire, Trump pick for Secretary of Labor withdraws

President Trump suffered his first defeat on confirming his cabinet this afternoon when his pick for the US Department Labor, fast food magnate Andy Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration following weeks of rising controversy over his background.  Puzder has come under increasing fire for his questionable labor practices, his failure to properly withhold taxes for his nannie, and disturbing revelations of assault on his ex-wife.

Puzder’s withdrawal represents a real win for workers, who have been heavily contesting his nomination since it was announced last month. As CEO of Hardees and Carl’s Junior, Puzder repeatedly refused to pay his frontline managers and workers enough to make ends meet—in fact, he even refused to pay his workers what he promised. His companies have faced dozens of fines from the California Department of Labor and a growing list of class action lawsuits around the country focused on his company’s unwillingness to pay his employers overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week. In 2014, for example, a court found that Puzder had short-changed his employees by almost $20 million in unpaid overtime wages.

An astonishing 60 percent of the official investigations into Puzder’s labor practices have found that his company violated workplace safety and wage and hour laws—the laws that provide the basic, historically accepted legal requirements that employers pay their employees for the hours they’ve worked and ensure that their workplaces do not present a threat to their health and well-being.

Not only has Puzder made his fortune by cutting corners on his employees’ health, safety, and wages, he’s publicly and repeatedly talked in glowing terms about replacing his human workforce with robots. Try this on for size—he told Business Insider last year that he was considering firing his human employees and replacing them with automated systems, because

“[Machines are] always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Given that the USDoL is the federal agency designed to protect workers, Puzder’s nomination represented a clear case of the fox guarding the henhouse. It is undeniably good news for workers that he will not be Secretary of Labor.

Commentary

Middle-aged, stuck in the coverage gap and still years away from Medicare

Seventeen percent of adults stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap are between the ages of 55 and 64 years and many have worked most or all of their adult lives. What’s more, 56 percent of adults in the gap are currently working. Unfortunately, when there are economic downturns, some hard working individuals lose their jobs.

Sonya’s story reflects the stories of many older adults that have worked and paid their taxes most of their lives. Unfortunately, Sonya lost her employer-sponsored health coverage when she lost her job. Now that Sonya no longer has employer-sponsored health coverage and no longer qualifies for Medicaid because her youngest child has aged out, she has limited to access the health care she needs.

While the Affordable Care Act has helped many people gain Marketplace coverage, Sonya was unable to enroll given her financial situation. She tried to gain coverage through Social Security disability insurance as she has chronic back issues that impact the type of work she can do. Unfortunately, she was denied disability coverage. This leaves Sonya in the coverage gap. Like 500,000 other North Carolinians, Sonya does not meet the eligibility for Medicaid and cannot afford to purchase coverage on the Marketplace. She is, at once, too well-off and too poor.

Thanks to the Medicaid Blockade led by Speaker Moore and Senate President Berger, Sonya is in the coverage gap. She has over five years until she can obtain Medicare coverage. Thus, Sonya is delaying the preventive and urgent care she needs to help improve her chronic back conditions and behavioral health concerns. Like many fellow Tar Heels, Sonya is working hard to pave her own path to coverage. She saves money to see a health provider for her ongoing health concerns. She is even going back to school to become a counselor. Sonya is hoping that with higher education she will be able to get a job that will offer insurance. For now, however, likes hundreds of thousands of her fellow North Carolinians, financial ruin is just one accident or one unforeseen illness away.