Why did famous actor Johnny Depp get $3 million from a program that is supposed to help disadvantaged low income borrowers buy homes? Let’s talk about this and some other low income headlines from this week.
Nationwide Low Income News
This week’s headlines are dominated by housing updates. We’ve got the scoop on Depp’s assistance scandal, as well as other low income news you need to know.
Affordable Housing Faces Opposition Nationwide
Before we get into the Depp drama, we need to talk about something really important. Every week, when I dig through the headlines to compile these news updates, I find new affordable housing developments that are being proposed and then almost immediately shut down nationwide.
When these developments are discussed at town halls and city councils, usually a handful of angry people show up to protest. They don’t want low income housing in their neighborhood, so they raise concerns about overcrowding, traffic, criminal activity, drug activity and all sorts of other complaints. Often, nobody shows up in support of the housing development except for the developer who has a financial interest in building the property… so the local government often sides with the upset residents.
This results in less affordable housing for everyone and worsens our housing crisis.
Let’s take Pueblo, New Mexico, for an example. This week, 13 angry residents showed up to oppose an affordable housing development. The developer wanted to build 192 low income apartments but the city asked the developer to downsize it because so many people objected. Now, the developer will only build 31 duplexes. That’s a loss of 161 affordable homes because 13 people got in the way.
If you want to see more affordable housing in your area, you need to show up for those meetings and speak in favor of these developments. The people who are opposed always make their voices heard and they often get their way. Someone needs to stand up for affordable housing and I can’t be everywhere at once. Please attend your city council meetings if you can. Speak up for yourself and your neighbors. Make your voice heard.
USDA Lending Discrimination
Many people spoke up against the blatant discrimination in the USDA’s farm lending program, and now the USDA is offering financial assistance to anyone who was impacted by that. If you are a farmer, rancher, or forest landowner who experienced discrimination from this program prior to January 2021, you can apply for help at 22007apply.gov.
The application period will remain open until October 31, 2023. Applications will be reviewed in November and December, with payouts expected sometime thereafter.
VA Housing Failure
Unfortunately, nobody is holding the VA accountable for their housing program failure yet. The VA is often regarded as a bureaucratic mess and one thing that highlights this problem is the new housing for low income vets that were built in LA.
The West LA Veteran Affairs campus opened these two newly restored apartment buildings with great fanfare on May 2 but over two thirds of those apartments still sit empty today. Only about 42 people have moved in even though the VA has identified veterans who are eligible for the other 78 units.
An investigation by LAist uncovered a bunch of blame and finger-pointing that is creating unnecessary barriers for these move-ins. For example:
- The VA claimed that they couldn’t let people move in because a city contractor hadn’t completed the final ADA inspection but the city said that the apartments were given a temporary certificate in April to allow move-ins.
- Another VA official said that the applications hadn’t been processed yet, but the city said that 111 people have been approved.
- The city blames the VA for declaring the apartments move-in ready before they actually were.
- The VA blames the homeless veterans for not doing their paperwork on time.
- The homeless veterans blame both agencies for losing the paperwork and constantly making tiny changes that require them to redo the paperwork over and over again. One particular veteran named Josh said he had done the paperwork three different times already because of this.
If you’re connected with a program, like those veterans in LA, make sure you connect with an agency that can advocate on your behalf as well. Sometimes the Area Agency on Aging, Community Action Council, legal aid and other social services agencies have advocates that can help you fight for those benefits. Be persistent. Call, show up, don’t wait for someone to contact you. You will always be your own best advocate, so it’s important to make sure that you are heard and noticed and not lost in a pile of paperwork on someone’s desk. I know it’s not fair, but you usually have to fight for the benefits that you qualify for.
Johnny Depp Gets Low Income Funding
Speaking of unfairness, let’s talk about how Johnny Depp is getting help from a company that is supposed to help low income Americans buy homes.
The US Treasury Department has a special arrangement with The Change Company. This company is the largest partner for the CDFI program that is supposed to help Black, Hispanic and low income mortgage applicants buy homes. Because of their CDFI certification, Change doesn’t have to follow strict mortgage underwriting rules and they can make loans to people who can’t qualify for traditional mortgages.
The entire point of that waiver is to help low income people buy homes but the company has been using this waiver to provide loans to wealthy celebrities. For example, the company used that waiver to issue $3 million in loans to famous actor Johnny Depp with the justification that he is an actor with a “volatile income.” It’s the sort of volatile income that most low income Americans can only dream about.
The company has also made questionable loans to billionaires, NFL stars, and other wealthy recipients. The report by Barrons does not indicate that the wealthy people who received these loans knew they were benefiting from a low income program.
However, The Change Company certainly did.
How to Get Housing Help
Obviously, these housing programs don’t always run the way they are supposed to. It is incredibly frustrating to see the ultra-wealthy benefit from low income housing programs when there are so many homeless people on the streets.
If you need help with housing, please contact 211 to see what is available in your area. Reach out to your local community agencies, like the Community Action Agency, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and other nonprofits in your area to see if they know of help. Advocate for yourself. It can be hard to find help but you are worth fighting for.
Homeowner Assistance Fund Success
Now, let’s talk about some good news. There is at least one low income housing program that is working for people, and that’s the Homeowners Assistance Fund.
This fund helped more than 300,000 homeowners stay in their homes during the pandemic, according to data released by the US Treasury this week. This program provided billions of dollars in payments to homeowners so that they could pay their mortgages when they experienced financial hardships.
Most States Stopped Tax on Social Security Benefits
Here’s some more happy news: Missouri has passed a new law that will make Social Security benefits tax exempt starting in 2024, and that means that only 11 states still tax those benefits.
The only states that still tax Social Security are Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont or West Virginia, and all of those states have some sort of complicated exemption based on income or age.
If you live in a state that still taxes Social Security benefits, make sure that you are looking into those exemptions and consider encouraging your state lawmakers to fully remove the state Social Security tax.
Local Low Income News
In local news, we’ve found updates for Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington.
The former Best Western hotel in Midtown Anchorage will be opening as low income housing within the next two weeks! Tenants will pay around $800 per month in rent. There are 80 available rooms and only 17 people are set to move in so far.
You need to use the city’s coordinated entry process if you want to apply. To start, you need to reach out to one of their Access Points like RurAL Cap, Catholic Social Services, or the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
In Arizona, the Sun City Community Assistance Network is working with Habitat for Humanity to paint houses of low income Sun City residents. CAN screens applications for eligibility while Habitat does the actual painting. This program is called Paint the Town.
In order to be eligible, you must live in the city, own a home that needs painting, and meet income limits. Contact the Sun City CAN for details.
In Arkansas, FEMA has distributed more than $8.8 million in federal aid following the severe storms in late March.
Also, LIHEAP applications are open for low income residents throughout the state. Every eligible household can get up to $600 toward their utility bills. Contact your local Community Action Council to apply.
In California, the state’s water assistance program is offering up to $15,000 in assistance as long as you apply by September 30! If you participate in another program like CalFresh, you’re automatically eligible for this. Make sure that you reach out to your Community Action Agency to apply.
The city of Anaheim is offering up to $100,000 in down payment assistance to help low or moderate income residents purchase one of 29 new affordable homes located near Disneyland. Preference will be given to those who already live or work in Anaheim. The homes are priced in the mid-$400,000. If you’re interested, you need to contact the developer, Toll Brothers, and get a mortgage through one of their approved lenders.
The city of Alameda is taking steps toward implementing their guaranteed income program that will give cash benefits to 150 people every month for up to two years. The city partnered with Usio Inc. for their financial partner. The next step is to get waivers so that the money doesn’t count against CalWorks, CalFresh and other benefits. Once those waivers are secure, they hope to open applications in the late summer or early fall. The program is called Rise Up Alameda, and you can join their email list on their website so you don’t miss those applications.
Also, California’s electric utility companies are encouraging low income customers to apply for LIHEAP, CARE, FERA, REACH, and other financial assistance programs that can help pay those utility bills. These programs can provide a 20% discount on your bill, make payments toward your balance, and so much more. Be sure to check all that out in our Utility Discount Guide.
Governor DeSantis has announced that the Hometown Heroes down payment assistance program received over $20 million in applications in the first week. This program is intended to provide up to $35,000 in down payment assistance to hometown workers who earn less than 150% of their county’s Area Median Income. To apply, you need to contact a loan officer who works with this program.
In Miami, more than 50 low income seniors will be displaced by the end of October. The Episcopalian Church’s Holy Comforter Senior Housing Facility was notified by their insurance company that the building was nearing the end of its useful life and would not be insured going forward. As a result, the church will have to tear down the 1970 building and build a new facility to house the seniors. In the meantime, the seniors who currently live there are afraid they will become homeless because of high rents in the area.
Idaho has decided to decline P-EBT for Summer 2023. That means that low income families in the state will not be able to get P-EBT benefits for their children this summer.
If you’re a parent in Idaho, please make sure that you are participating in the free summer meals program in your area and connect with your local food banks as well.
CommUnity Crisis Services has a financial support program that can help you pay for rent, utilities, security deposits, birth certificates, IDs, clothing, bus tickets, gas vouchers, prescription medications, and things you need for a new job.
In order to be eligible, you must live in Johnson County and meet income limits. Call (319) 351-0128 on weekdays for help.
An affordable health care clinic called Genesis Family Health that is trying to get the word out. They have offices in Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Ulysses. The health center includes a pharmacy, medical, dental and behavioral health services in English and Spanish.
This is a federally qualified health center, which means that they have to serve everyone and cannot turn anyone away. There is a sliding scale for those who don’t have insurance, and they accept Medicaid as well.
Low income seniors in Montgomery County can get free hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers! If you are over the age of 60 and meet income limits, you may be able to get one.
There are only 400 devices available so you need to act fast. You can get yours from the Aging And Disability Services Division of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
Remember, anyone can call the Hearing Aid Helpline at (888) 258-5305. Our sponsor, CareConnect USA, has a dedicated team of specialists standing by who can help you find affordable hearing aid options, payment plans and all sorts of things that can help. Again, that number is (888) 258-5305.
Michigan has decided to expand the Weatherization Assistance Program by including a service provider that can help multifamily housing. That means that if you live in multifamily housing with five or more units, you may be able to get help now. The expansion is supposed to take effect in October.
Ann Arbor will soon become the first city in Michigan to offer a guaranteed income program. The city plans to provide 100 families with an extra $530 per month for two years. The program is expected to start in December or early 2024. The talks are still in early stages, so the only thing we know so far is that applicants must be at least 18 years old, an entrepreneur in some way, and have an income that is at or below $48,000 per year.
In Detroit, the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic assists with 1,500 legal cases per year in the metro area. If you need help with legal support in that area, please reach out to them.
A fire destroyed a low income apartment building in Minneapolis recently. The fire destroyed six units, leaving families displaced. If you are affected, please call 211 and reach out to your local community organizations for assistance. There should be programs available that can help you.
Entergy is promoting their annual “Beat the Heat” program that is supposed to help low income customers stay cool and also stay current on their bills. According to local news provider Action News 5, the company is distributing fans and energy-efficiency kits, as well as providing bill payment assistance. You will need to contact them for details.
The popular MARSH Grocery and Diner in St. Louis will be closing on July 22. This store had a pay-what-you-can model that allowed low income families to purchase fresh produce, dry goods and meals on a sliding-scale pricing model. However, the government grants that sustained the store have run out so now the store must close. Make sure you stop by for one last visit before those doors shut for the last time.
Also, St. Louis County is getting closer to passing the property tax freeze for seniors. They were supposed to vote on Tuesday but delayed the vote because some council members are worried about how it will affect the county’s finances. Earlier this month, Governor Parsons signed a bill that allows counties to freeze property taxes for certain eligible seniors but none have done it yet. It’s important to make your voice heard and encourage your local lawmakers to provide this relief!
The organization called HELP of Southern Nevada is helping people fix or replace their air conditioning units. They can also provide weatherization services to help your home stay cooler.
You can reach out to them at HelpSONV.org.
Children can get help with free vision screenings, exams and glasses at an upcoming event at Camp Vacamas on July 26.
The sponsors have doubled last year’s contributions and intend to host events at other summer camps throughout Northern New Jersey.
PNM is offering financial assistance for low income customers. The PNM Good Neighbor Fund can provide up to $370 toward your bill once per year. There are other programs available, too. Call 1-888-DIAL-PNM for details.
New York City’s animal shelters are completely full. Actually, they are overflowing. ACC Admission Councilor Zoe Kenney said that financial insecurity and landlord disputes are driving more people to surrender their pets, and not enough people are adopting to keep up with demand. As a result, the shelter is lowering and even completely waiving fees for people who are interested in adopting.
However, there is some good news. A new 56-unit affordable housing unit for low income seniors just opened in Manhattan. To be eligible, you must have at least one household member who is at least 62 years old, qualifies for section 8, and earns no more than $60,050 per year. Residents will pay only 30% of their income to rent a studio or one-bedroom apartment.
Oklahoma has launched a new website that provides help for expecting mothers, parents and families. The service offers a range of services including financial assistance. The new page is attached to the official state website.
The State Department of Health is also hosting a booster seat giveaway for low income families in the Oklahoma City area. That giveaway is scheduled for July 17 at the Southern Oaks Metropolitan Library between 2pm and 4pm. There are a limited number of booster seats available, so make sure you get there early so you don’t miss out.
Head Start has more funding to help families! This program serves preschool-age children and their families. They also work with families who have special needs or learning disabilities. In order to be eligible, your household must have an income that is equal to the Federal Poverty Level or less or meet other eligibility requirements, such as homelessness. Contact Head Start for details.
In Portland, a group of seniors are celebrating because they have been able to keep their homes! We’ve reported on the saga of the Woodspring Apartments before. Basically, the housing tax credit was expiring and the landlord wanted to increase their rent so far that nobody could afford it. The seniors went to the county and convinced them to buy the apartment complex. The county did, and the seniors have been able to keep their homes!
In Tennessee, the city of Memphis has established a new assistance program that is intended to help low income residents get help with home repairs. The program is called the 901 HELP: Memphis Home Empowerment Loan Program.
In order to be eligible, you must live within Memphis City Limits and meet income guidelines. According to Fox13 Memphis, the program intends to start accepting loans from low income households on Monday but a website hasn’t been announced yet.
A fan drive is underway in Groesbeck. There are six locations gathering fans, which will be distributed to low income seniors who are homebound. For details, call one of the numbers listed in this article.
The city of Tyler has decided to spend about $1 million improving low income areas in town. The money will be spent on housing and assistance for the homeless.
In Houston, protesters are raising alarm because the city is allowing a 400-unit housing project to be built on a contaminated site. The location used to be used for trash incineration and protestors claim that the area is contaminated with arsenic, beryllium and lead.
The Olympia City Council is taking steps toward turning the old Griswold building into 50 affordable housing units. They are starting by vacating the alley behind the building, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
From the shocking million-dollar aid scandal involving The Change Company and Johnny Depp to a booster seat giveaway in Oklahoma, this article reviewed low income news updates from around the United States for the week ending with July 15, 2023. This article includes both nationwide and local news for low income parents, seniors, disabled veterans and others. All of this information was fact-checked prior to publication and you can click the links to view the original sources.