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Study: Black renters have some of the heaviest burdens in Marion County

A study from the Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy (CRISP) at IUPUI reveals nearly half of renters in Marion County are rent burdened, and it's even worse for Black and Latino renters.

A renter is considered to be burdened, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, when more than 30% of gross household income goes toward housing costs. Spending more than 50% is considered a severe rent burden.

In Marion County, where 46% of households are renter-occupied, it's possible to make accurate predictions about how severe rent burdens are in a particular area if all you know is how many Black or Latino renters there are. That's because the percentage of Black and Latino renters is positively associated with the percentage of income spent on rent, the study found.

The opposite is true for areas with a larger percentage of white renters. In that case, the more white renters there are, the lower the rent burdens tend to be.

Breanca Merritt, founder and director of CRISP, noted 30% is a benchmark, and there is an ongoing debate in housing circles about how effective that number actually is. It comes from the Brooke Amendment, passed in the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Critics say today's renters face more costs — student loans, for example — and that calculating housing cost burdens using only an income ratio oversimplifies the issue.

Flawed or not, the benchmark makes it clear Black renters are at a disadvantage.

Evelynn Watkins pays $650 a month for her one-bedroom apartment on East 46th Street. She's lived there for a little over a year and said her social security benefits "barely" cover her cost of living.

The Recorder is not using Watkins' real name in order to protect her identity because she feared

retribution from the property manager.

"I'm on a fixed income," she said, "and I don't know what they think people on a fixed income can do paying rent and all the other bills that they have."

Watkins said she's also responsible for all bills such as water and gas. A RENTCafe report from August showed the 46205 zip code, where Watkins lives, had a 1.71% increase in average rent — which was $773 — compared to July, the highest increase of Indianapolis zip codes with at least four properties or 500 units.

She wouldn't say how much she collects in social security, but Watkins, who's in her 70s, said she's not able to afford to some of the smaller luxuries such as cable or internet. She also doesn't own a car. Watkins said her parents owned their home, but she doubts she'll ever be a home owner.

"It's a struggle," she said. "You always behind on maybe one or two bills. It's hectic trying to catch up, which you never do."

One of the most common proposals for making it more affordable to rent in cities is rent control laws, which Indianapolis doesn't have. But Merritt warned against thinking rent control is the "best or right option" because one unintended consequence is that landlords simply leave if they can't charge as much as they want in rent.

There aren't many who disagree that rent control can play a role, but an analysis by a Stanford University economist found it could lead developers to build less housing, which makes existing housing even more expensive.

Merritt said it's more important to focus on issues such as wealth and income. The CRISP study found that from 2012 to 2017, only Washington Township experienced an increase in median household income that exceeded the increase in rental costs. At the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana website, fhcci.org, there's a list of state policies that the organization says are barriers to fair housing. A 2017 law, for example, bans cities from requiring developers to build a certain number of affordable units if they build in an area that doesn't have enough affordable housing. Cities now have to lure developers with incentives such as tax breaks.

The center's executive director, Amy Nelson, said collective tenant action, including unions, would be effective, but it's difficult for renters to organize because of a lack of funds and the fact that many renters already have enough in their lives they have to prioritize.

"I think there does need to be someone to help guide them, at least in the beginning," Nelson said, "to make sure they know what legal rights they have, and I just don't think there's been funding for people to do that."

Richard Martin, who lives on North Dearborn Street in the 46218 zip code, would be classified as severe rent burdened. He collects $700 a month in disability but pays $600 a month to rent his two-bedroom house. Martin, who's in his 60s, said he's in a rent-to-own agreement with his landlord.

The Recorder is also not using Martin's real name to protect him from retaliation from his landlord.

Martin explained, standing outside of his home, that he often just has to ask people for help, even though so few of his friends and family are able to do so. The RENTCafe report showed the 46218 zip code saw a decrease of 0.48% in average rent, which was $627 in August.

Martin's gas and water had been shut off because he couldn't pay the bills.

"Man, you know that ain't ever gonna cover no utility bills," he said of the $100 he has after paying rent. "This is a Black, poor neighborhood. It's the ghetto."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Truckers feel threatened, demand action

Truck drivers from around the country stopped in Indianapolis and parked their trucks outside of the state capitol building Oct. 4 to bring attention to their issues with autonomous vehicles, along with safety measures they say are too expensive for small companies and drivers who work as contractors.

Members of Truckers United on 10-4 did the same thing in other cities. Drivers are concerned about federal bills that would increase the amount of insurance drivers are required to carry and mandate more technological safety measures, including automatic emergency braking and limiting speed to 65 miles an hour.

In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb has made autonomous vehicles a legislative priority. A 2018 bill would have given an autonomous driving task group authority to approve self-driving cars, but legislators couldn't pass it before the deadline. The bill wasn't introduced in the 2019 session that ended in April.

Byron Alderman, from Mississippi, started driv-

ing trucks out of high school and has been doing it for about 10 years as a contractor. Part of what he's worried about is the safety of other drivers on the road, especially highways.

"What happens if this truck going down the road at 65 miles an hour and blows a tire and doesn't know which way to go?" he said. "Your family's driving beside it, and you don't want that to happen. A professional driver can counter steer."

Drivers brought with them proposals for a bill that acknowledged some automation is inevitable. Those demands include having a human on board who can override the system. They met with some legislators.

Alderman, 28, is also concerned about his job security. A study from the Government Accountability Office found most technology developers said they'll have trucks that can travel without a driver for at least parts of a trip and that those trucks will be available in the next five to 10 years.

There appears to be a consensus from researchers that long-term job loss is inevitable, especially in longhaul trucking, but the extent of job loss isn't clear.

Charles Claburn, national spokesman for the group, said changes to the industry will disproportionately hurt contractors and small businesses but thinks it's the big companies that actually need the oversight.

One example: In the 24-month period prior to Dec. 3, 2017, Swift Transportation, a large trucking company based out of Phoenix, was involved in 2,256 crashes that resulted in 67 deaths, according to Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC, a firm that focuses on truck accidents.

Two recent crashes involving semis on the east side killed two people and two dogs. It isn't clear what companies the drivers were with.

"The government always wants to try to regulate the people that are already doing the job safely instead of punishing the bad actors," said Claburn, who's been driving for 28 years and said he hasn't been in any crashes.

"American people are starting to find their voice, right? Truckers are no different," said Claburn, 49, who is Alderman's future father-in-law. "We're gonna fight to protect this industry and protect our reputations and protect what we do."

Claburn's prediction: If drivers don't feel like legislators are taking them seriously, plenty will go on strike and block the highways with their trucks in the next year.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Organizers hope walk brings awareness to mental health

Even as advocates say conversations about mental health are becoming more productive and less taboo, it remains true that those who deal with mental health issues often face a stigma that discourages honest discussion and sometimes leaves them feeling alone in their fight.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Indianapolis (NAMI) will host its second annual NAMI Walks event as a reminder that mental health isn't something to gloss over with token, surface-level attention. The free walk is 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 19 at Broad Ripple Park, 1500 Broad Ripple Ave. Check-in starts at 9 a.m. Register online at namiwalks.org.

The Indianapolis walk is one of almost 100 happening around the country, and each event has a fundraising goal. Indianapolis participants raised about $22,500 as of Oct. 7. The goal, which organizers raised because of an early surge in money, is $35,000. Samantha Brinkman, chairman of NAMI in Indianapolis, said it was important to start this event last year to show the community how much the movement around mental health has grown. With that, NAMI has also grown.

"We felt this event would be a good way to show that growth to the community and have the community be part of that growth," she said.

It's important for people dealing with mental health issues to see each other, reinforcing that they're not alone, Brinkman said. But it's also an opportunity to recognize advocates and caregivers.

Last year, NAMI honored advocates and caregivers with awards, and Brinkman said the organization will do something similar this year at the closing ceremony.

Mental health has been part of the national narrative recently following two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, but Brinkman said that wasn't a good example of the way people

should talk about mental health.

Many, including President Donald Trump, implied there's a link between violence and mental health. Brinkman said it's easy to say people who commit acts of violence are "crazy," which plays into the negative stereotype of people who have mental health issues.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people living with a serious mental health illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People with a serious mental health illness are 10 times more likely than the general population to be victims of a violent crime.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.