Sunday, February 05, 2023

August 1, 2021  NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — In a mostly empty conference room at a Virginia cultural arts center, Tara Simmons was looking for someone who might help her stave off eviction.

Simmons, a 44-year-old home health aide who lives with her two children and two grandchildren, was only a month behind on her rent. But that didn’t stop her landlord from ordering her out of the house by Saturday, when the federal eviction moratorium ended.

Already enduring health problems, Simmons said she feared she would be out on the street.

“I’ve been in my house for four years now. And two months before my lease was up, I get an email saying that they weren’t renewing my lease,” said Simmons of Newport News, Virginia. “That’s it. No explanation why or whatever.”

“I’ve been trying to find somewhere to move since I got that. I still haven’t been able to find a way to move because of the economy. ... This pandemic is hard.”

As a state lawmaker made a few remarks and others grabbed free lunch, Simmons connected with attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia. They advised her that her landlord needed a court order to get her out. She was safe for now.

The Virginia event in late July is part of a growing national movement — bolstered by tens of billions of dollars in federal rental assistance — to find ways to keep millions of at-risk tenants hurt by the coronavirus pandemic in their homes.

The push has the potential to reshape a system long skewed in favor of landlords that has resulted in about 3.7 million evictions a year — about seven every minute — according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Many are Black and Latino families.

“This is an opportunity not to go back to normal, because, for so many renters around the country, normal is broken,” Matthew Desmond, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on evictions and the principal investigator at the Eviction Lab, told a White House conference on the issue.

“This is a chance to reinvent how we adjudicate and address the eviction crisis in a way ... that works for tenants and property owners better than the status quo, in a way that clearly invests in homes and families and communities, with the recognition that without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

Housing advocates have mostly attacked the problem from two directions.

Some teamed up with lawmakers and court administrators to launch programs to resolve eviction cases before they reach the courts. Others focused on state and local tenant protection legislation, including sealing eviction records and ensuring tenants get lawyers. Having an eviction record can make it impossible to find a new apartment, while the right to counsel evens the playing field, since most landlords, but not tenants, come to court with a lawyer.

Many of the ideas have been around for years. But the scope of the eviction crisis during the pandemic, the historic amount of federal rental assistance available and the eviction moratorium changed the calculus. Politicians from areas that rarely see evictions were hearing from anxious constituents and craved a solution. Landlords were more willing to participate in the programs because evicting tenants became a challenge.

“The pandemic, at least here in Baltimore, has created a sense of urgency around creating some forms of tenant protection,” said Carisa Hatfield, a housing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project, noting Baltimore passed a bill last year guaranteeing tenants the right to counsel and the state adopted a similar measure this year. The city also temporarily barred rent increases during the pandemic and banned late fees.

“The politicians saw the same urgency we did,” she said. “It afforded the opportunity to have a conversation with politicians about the very real problems around evictions, the very real implications for families around being evicted.”

In Colorado, state Sen. Julie Gonzales said the widespread eviction threat encouraged legislators to pass several bills this year, including a grace period for late fees and limits on what fees can be imposed. Tenants also can withhold payment for problems like utilities being shut off or mold, and present that as a defense in court. Another bill that passed gives evicted tenants 10 days, rather than 48 hours, to find new housing.

“We realized that it wasn’t just an urban thing, that rural Coloradans, mountain towns were struggling with people unable to pay their rent,” Gonzales said.

According to the Urban Institute, 47 state and local programs nationwide now offer some mix of legal help, a housing counselor and mediation between landlord and tenant.

Some, like Texas, Michigan and Massachusetts, offer statewide programs, while others, including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Pinellas County, Florida, launched their own initiatives. Even states not usually associated with evictions, like New Hampshire and Montana, offer programs.

In Philadelphia, the City Council passed a series of bills last year that include requiring landlords to participate in a city eviction diversion program if the tenant was affected by the pandemic. Then in April, the courts mandated that landlords attend the program before filing an eviction.

“This is a fundamentally important change to the way Philadelphia approaches evictions,” said Rachel Garland, managing attorney at the housing unit of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

“Rental assistance and diversion prioritizes the economic health of landlords and complete health and well-being of tenants in a way that resolves situations so landlords get paid, issues get resolved and tenants are able to stay in their homes,” she said.

“Even though it was created in response to the pandemic, its importance will long outlive the pandemic and will hopefully become a permanent fixture in Philadelphia.”

A pilot mediation program in two New Hampshire cities this year was driven in part by concerns that courts would be inundated by eviction cases. The program’s success has the court requesting $750,000 from the state to expand mediation efforts statewide.

“If we can get parties together and either get the case resolved or get them to this emergency funding, I’m saying it’s a win-win-win,” said David King, the administrative judge of New Hampshire Circuit Court, which handles landlord-tenant matters.

“It’s a win for the landlord, who gets paid. It’s a win for the tenant, who gets to stay, and, selfishly, it’s a win for the courts because that is one less case we have to process.”

The right to counsel, too, has spread.

John Pollock, a coordinator for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel in Baltimore, said Washington state, Connecticut and Maryland have passed right-to-counsel laws. Ten cities have approved measures, including Seattle, Cleveland and Louisville. Milwaukee County set aside money to provide low-income tenants with lawyers.

So far, the initiatives are proving successful.

Some 75% of the 1,788 tenants participating in a Philadelphia program have remained housed, according to the city. In New York, 86% of tenants who had lawyers were able to remain in their homes. Cleveland, which saw legal representation increase from 2% to 19% after the law went into effect last year, said all tenants who wanted rental help have gotten it and 93% who wanted to avert evictions were successful.

A program in Michigan last year resulted in 97% of tenants remaining housed, according to a study from the University of Michigan, the state and Legal Services of South Michigan.

Among them is Regina Howard, a 53-year-old disabled veteran from Southfield who faced eviction last year from the $1,600-a-month house she shares with her husband and grandson. She turned to the state’s eviction diversion program, where she was connected with free legal services. From there, Lakeshore Legal Aid helped her get $24,550 in federal funds to pay for 15 months of rent.

“I was feeling hopeless that there was no help out there. Now I feel better,” Howard said. “You could tell they really wanted to help.”

SXM Radio Online


September 7, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Michael K. Williams, who as the rogue robber of drug dealers Omar Little on “The Wire” created one of the most beloved and enduring characters in a prime era of television, died Monday. Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by family members in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, New York City police said. He was 54. His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The medical examiner was investigating the cause of death. Little, a “stick-up boy” based on real figures from Baltimore, was probably the most popular character among the devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is re-watched constantly in streaming.

September 8, 2021 LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears’ father filed Tuesday to end the court conservatorship that has controlled the singer’s life and money for 13 years. James Spears filed his petition to terminate the conservatorship in Los Angeles Superior Court. “As Mr. Spears has said, again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” the document says. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.” Judge Brenda Penny, who oversees the case, will need to approve the move. Britney Spears attorney Matthew Rosengart said in an email the filing “represents another legal victory for Britney Spears — a massive one — as well as vindication for Ms. Spears.”

September 8, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — With Katie Holmes and Lil’ Kim on his front row and singer Marina on the mic high above his runway, Christian Siriano helped kicked off New York Fashion Week’s first big pandemic round of in-person shows Tuesday with a flurry of neon and lace-inspired in part by all the Italian women in his life. From ornate Gotham Hall, beneath a stained-glass skylight 70 feet up, Siriano’s commitment to size inclusivity was never stronger as he opened and closed the show with plus-size breakout model Precious Lee. She first walked in a stunning yellow trouser suit with wide loose pants and an asymmetrical jacket, a matching crossover bralette underneath.

September 7, 2021  VENICE, Italy (AP) — Paul Schrader knows he has a limited number of films left, so whatever he does from here on out is going to be for himself. At 75 years old, the writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” and director of “American Gigolo” and “Mishima” was even somewhat prepared to call it a day after his 2018 film “First Reformed,” for which he got his first Oscar nomination. He didn’t want to. He just knew it might be the reality. “I thought I would go back to this character again for about the fifth time,” Schrader said in a recent interview. By “this character” he means “the man in the room.” It’s Travis Bickle. It’s John LeTour. It’s Julian Kay. And it’s a formula he’s been working with for 45 years.

Business News

September 8, 2021  -Stocks were mostly lower in Asia on Wednesday after a lackluster session on Wall Street, where weak jobs data and pandemic concerns weighed on sentiment. Shares rose in Tokyo after economic growth for the April-June quarter was revised upward to an annualized 1.9% from an earlier estimate of 1.3%. “Any feel-good factor was ignored, though, given the climb was less than half of the 4.20% fall in Q1,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. “Japan will be lucky to break even this year as the current Covid-19 wave will almost certainly have weighed on domestic consumption,” he said.

September 8, 2021 NEW YORK (AP) — There will be something missing at two Whole Foods stores opening next year: the rows of cashiers. Amazon, which owns the grocery chain, said Wednesday that it will bring its cashier-less technology to two Whole Foods stores for the first time, letting shoppers grab what they need and leave without having to open their wallets. Cameras and sensors track what’s taken off shelves. Items are charged to an Amazon account after customers leave the store with them. But there will be an option for those who want to shop the old-fashioned way: Self-checkout lanes will be available that take cash, gift cards and other types of payment. Amazon first unveiled the cashier-less technology in 2018 at an Amazon Go convenience store and has expanded it to larger Amazon supermarkets. But it will be the first time it has appeared at Whole Foods, a chain of more than 500 grocery stores Amazon bought four years ago.

September 8, 2021  BEIJING (AP) — An avalanche of changes launched by China’s ruling Communist Party has jolted everyone from tech billionaires to school kids. Behind them: President Xi Jinping’s vision of making a more powerful, prosperous country by reviving revolutionary ideals, with more economic equality and tighter party control over society and entrepreneurs. Since taking power in 2012, Xi has called for the party to return to its “original mission” as China’s economic, social and cultural leader and carry out the “ rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.” The party has spent the decade since then silencing dissent and tightening political control. Now, after 40 years of growth that transformed China into the world’s factory but left a gulf between a wealthy elite and the poor majority, the party is promising to spread prosperity more evenly and is pressing private companies to pay for social welfare and back Beijing’s ambition to become a global technology competitor.

Fashion News

“Representation Is the Bare Minimum”: Modeling’s Biggest Stars Speak Out