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Project to Aid Oakland Students Facing Foreclosure Fizzles

New America Now, News Report, Annette Fuentes Posted: Dec 23, 2009

With home foreclosures at near epidemic levels in Oakland, Calif., the Urban Strategies Council decided to find a way to get to families at risk of losing their homes before they faced homelessness.

We thought we could intervene if we went upstream and could act preventively, said Junious Williams, CEO of the Council, a nonprofit research and advocacy group in the East Bay city. Williams described the project at a recent convening of advocacy and charitable groups by the Northern California Grantmakers.

The project was simple yet ingenious and likely the first of its kind in the country. Find families living in homeseither as owners or as tenantsthat have adjustable rate mortgages about to increase, or notices of default on their mortgages. Locate the schools the children attend and use them to send the families information and resources. Train faculty on the many legal and housing resources available to families. Keep families in homes and kids in school.

Using a database purchased from the company First American Real Estate, Urban Strategies Council technology director Steve Spiker and his researchers were able to calculate how many students in the Oakland Unified School District come from families at risk of homelessness. The numbers reflect the magnitude of the housing crisis: 9 percent of Oakland public school students, or 3,428 students, are in jeopardy of foreclosure.

Researchers tracked the at-risk students down to the school level and created a ranking of Oakland schools with the highest number of families who were in default on their mortgages or who had subprime loans that would likely reset to sky-high payments. For many schools, the researchers were able to add in information about chronic absenteeism from an earlier study by the Urban Strategies Council, and found high rates at some of the schools most impacted by foreclosures. We know that foreclosures are happening in largely low-income communities of color, said Striker, and we know students in those areas generally have poorer educational outcomes.

Skyline High School, in the Oakland hills, had the most students at risk of foreclosure, with 149 out of 2,011 students enrolled for the 2008-09 academic year. In some smaller schools, the impact of the housing crisis was staggering: Webster Academy had only 72 students enrolled but 29 of them were at risk of foreclosure.

Striker and his team peeled back the data even further to reveal the specific housing situations of students. The vast majority62.1 percentof at-risk students lived in rental housing whose owners were facing foreclosure. Another 37.9 percent of students lived in homes owned by their families that were at risk of foreclosure.

Gathering the numbers and pinpointing the vulnerable families was just the first step in the Councils plan, which was discussed with administrators at the Oakland school district. The research was ready by August, in time for the districts enrollment period, said Spiker, and the Council created an informational brochure for families to help them save their homes or protect their rights as renters. The idea was to have the brochures available to students and families as they enrolled for the 2009-10 school year. But the Oakland school district defaulted on its initial offer to help distribute them, Striker said. Instead of wide distribution, the brochure was given to family liaison staff at each school and there has been no follow up. The Council also offered to train school staff on the problem, but the district was not interested, according to Williams. It was a lot less than what we wanted to do, he told the Grantmakers gathering.

The original hope was that it would go to every kid in the district. That would have been complete saturation from our point of view, Striker said in a phone interview. We have opened up discussions around this with a few people to make sure it is getting used in the district. Striker said he thinks district officials became concerned about using data that could be considered confidential.

Numerous calls for comment to Beverly Hansen, principal of Skyline High School, were not returned.

Troy Flynt, spokesperson for the Oakland school district, said he did not think that confidentiality was a consideration in working with the Urban Strategies Council. Our involvement was to send emails to principals and ask them to distribute them in individual communities, Flynt said. We have 46,000 students. For us to give out a hard copy to every student at enrollment would have been an undertaking.

Flynt noted that the Oakland school district identified 1,500 students as homeless for the 2008-09 school year, which entitled them to certain federally mandated services. The previous year, there were fewer than 1,000 such students.

Given the grim housing outlook, Oakland schools can anticipate even more homeless students in their classrooms. An analysis by the Urban Strategies Council found that one in 16 homes in Oakland has received a notice of default on its mortgage; one in 29 homes is in a trustee sale, the second stage in a foreclosure proceeding; and one in 77 residential properties is now owned by the lending bank.

By December 2010, another 3,711 adjustable rate mortgages on Oakland homes will reset higher, ushering in another wave of foreclosure. And with it will likely come another cohort of Oakland students on the brink of homelessness.

Related Articles:

Foreclosure Crisis Brings Unwelcome Pests

Report: Foreclosure Crisis Worse than Ever

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