John Atlas

John Atlas is president of the National Housing Institute (NHI), a nonprofit research and policy center that sponsors Shelterforce magazine.

Recent Articles

'Homeland' Meets ACORN in the Land of Fake News

A new documentary tells the real story of the right’s attack on ACORN and what it portended.

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Fake news has come to Showtime’s cable drama series Homeland . A new character, Brett O’Keefe (played by Jake Weber), an alt-right, online radio host, generates the stuff. He is the namesake of a real O’Keefe (James) who, in 2009, with Breitbart News and Fox News, brought down the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a populist national anti-poverty group, with a doctored video. Homeland’ s writers are nothing if not topical. The counterfeit news techniques that assaulted ACORN also helped derail Hillary Clinton and now threaten to deflect the inquiry into the allegations of a Russian-Trumpian election plot. Enter ACORN and the Firestorm , a new documentary by Reuben Atlas, my son, and Sam Pollard that’s inspired by my book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN . The film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, tells the real story of how the real O’Keefe sought to take down ACORN, and in doing so, helped catapult...

The Conservative Origins of the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis

Everything you ever wanted to know about the mortgage meltdown but were afraid to ask.

Hardly a day goes by without a news story about the accelerating number of foreclosures, an economic tsunami that is causing chaos in the housing and stock markets, the banking industry, and the global money markets, not to mention upending families and neighborhoods. Business leaders, activist groups, and Democratic presidential candidates are calling for our government to do something before the situation declines even further. The problem is worsening in every part of the country, but two early primary states -- Florida and Nevada -- are among the hardest hit. The crescendo of criticism recently pushed President George W. Bush to announce a plan to freeze interest rates for up to five years for some homeowners who purchased homes with high-risk adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) that are scheduled to be "reset" at higher rates, in many cases, by hundreds of dollars a month. The Republican candidates for president generally supported the Bush plan but were reluctant to call for...

Waging Victory

On November 7, voters in six states -- Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio -- approved measures to raise state minimum wage levels by $1 to $1.70 an hour and index them to inflation. These initiatives not only put more money into the pockets of low-income workers, they also increased voter turnout among urban and working class voters in key states, especially Missouri and Montana, where Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate won narrow victories that put the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress. The key sponsors of the minimum wage initiatives -- labor unions and the community organizing group ACORN -- view these victories as stepping-stones to getting the new Democratic-controlled Congress and the Bush administration to support a significant increase in the federal minimum wage. The minimum wage proponents also consider the coalitions they forged to mobilize voters around the minimum wage initiatives as building blocks for an even stronger grassroots...

Sowing Seeds

Last fall, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national community-organizing group, sent 39-year-old organizer Brian Kettenring to Florida to lead a project to register low-income voters for the November 2 election by mounting a referendum to raise the state's minimum wage to $6.15 an hour and index it yearly to inflation. The grass-roots campaign may affect the outcome of the presidential race in the largest (27 electoral votes) battleground state. If John Kerry beats George W. Bush in Florida on Tuesday, ACORN's minimum-wage campaign will deserve much of the credit. Before embarking on the campaign, ACORN, which has 160,000 dues-paying members in 28 states, commissioned a statewide poll by Celinda Lake that found overwhelming support for increasing the state's minimum wage, especially among low-income and minority residents. According to a study conducted for Floridians For All by a University of Massachusetts economist, the state's low-income...

Housing Policy's Moment of Truth

In Washington these days, HUD is about as popular as mosquitoes. But there's a way to make housing more affordable without the old bureaucracy.

A t least one million Americans, including an increasing number of children and working adults, are homeless at some point each year. About half of young families can't afford the American dream of homeownership. Yet both the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans favor dismantling long-standing housing programs for the poor, and some in Congress want to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) altogether. The moment of truth for federal housing policy has arrived. Hardly anyone can be found to defend the agency. "Politically, HUD is about as popular as smallpox," reports the Washington Post . The department is typically associated with public housing projects, big cities, and the welfare poor, and under Reagan and Bush it became identified with mismanagement and corruption. So conservatives get to look like good-government reformers, even as they throw out the housing baby with the HUD bathwater. The United States devotes more than $100 billion a...