Pam Fessler

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty and philanthropy.

In her reporting, Fessler covers homelessness, hunger, and the impact of the recession on the nation's less fortunate. She reports on non-profit groups, how they're trying to address poverty and other social issues, and how they've been affected by the economic downturn. Her poverty reporting was recognized by a 2011 First Place Headliner Award in the human interest category.

Previously, Fessler reported primarily on homeland security, including security at U.S. ports, airlines, and borders. She has also reported on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 Commission investigation, and such issues as Social Security and election reform. Fessler was also one of NPR's White House reporters during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Before becoming a correspondent, Fessler was the acting senior editor on the Washington Desk and oversaw the network's coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton and the 1998 mid-term elections. She was NPR's chief election editor in 1996, and coordinated all network coverage of the presidential, congressional, and state elections. Prior to that role, Fessler was the deputy Washington editor and Midwest National Desk editor.

Before coming to NPR in 1993, she was a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly magazine. Fessler worked at CQ for 13 years as both a reporter and editor, covering tax, budget, and other news. She also worked as a budget specialist at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was a reporter at The Record newspaper in Hackensack, NJ.

Fessler has a Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree from Douglass College in New Jersey.

LaToya Fowlkes is standing outside rent court in Baltimore. A judge has just ruled that Fowlkes has to pay her landlord $4,900 in rent and fees despite her complaints that the house has leaky water pipes, chipped paint, rodents and a huge hole in the living room wall.

But Fowlkes didn't notify her landlord of the problems by certified mail — something the judge said she should have done to avoid eviction.

Terrell Walker lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington, D.C., with her 9-year-old and 2-year-old daughters.

Walker stopped paying her rent last September because, she says, her apartment is in horrible condition — and she is fighting her landlord's eviction threat in court.

But when tenants don't pay, landlords say they have less money to fix things up.

Every morning for weeks, Meagen Limes made the same phone call: to a court in Washington, D.C., to see if that day was the day she'd be evicted from her home.

Limes faced eviction because she couldn't pay rent on her three-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington, where many of the city's poorest residents live.

It can sometimes take weeks before the marshals actually show up at your door, and Limes fully expected to be homeless any day.

Today, more than 11 million families spend over half of their incomes on rent, and for the poor, it can be as much as 80 percent. That means millions of Americans face the threat of eviction, or they live in substandard housing because it's all they can afford. NPR's Pam Fessler has been spending time at the rent court in Washington, D.C., where the struggle between low-income renters and landlords over affordable housing often comes to a head.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former first lady Nancy Reagan died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure, according to the Reagan Foundation. She was 94.

President Obama backed a bill in Illinois last week that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver's license or state ID.

"That will protect the fundamental right of everybody," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military — it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted."

It's a challenge making sure that low-income children who get free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year continue to get fed during the summer.

Government meal programs served 3.8 million children on an average summer day last year — far fewer than the 22 million children who got subsidized meals during the school year.

When people had trouble paying the rent in the early 1900s, they might hold a party in their homes, with music and dancing, and sell tickets at the door. Now, a nonprofit group is holding a modern-day version of the rent party to shine a light on the growing lack of affordable housing.

The new parties aren't exactly like the old ones, which were mostly held in Harlem. There's no dancing, food or tickets. But there is music, as was the case recently in Annapolis, Md., where about 20 people gathered in Tom Wall's small apartment to help him, and others like him, pay the rent.

The Obama administration says it wants to end veterans homelessness by the end of this year — but it's not going to happen. That's partly because, despite government support, many landlords remain reluctant to rent to homeless individuals.

At the end of October, almost 6,200 homeless military veterans had government vouchers to cover their rent, but they had yet to find landlords willing to accept them. Among those vets is Joseph Coles of Washington, D.C., where you're lucky to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,400 a month.

This story is part of an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

Saginaw, Mich., is one of those places where economic recovery has been slow to arrive. The city has been hit hard over the years by factory shutdowns. Unemployment is high. And people have left, by the thousands.

Now, residents John and Katrina Vowell are trying to help turn things around — with music.

More than 560,000 people lived on the streets or in homeless shelters in the U.S. earlier this year. That number marks a 2 percent drop from the year before, according to new figures released Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Still, some question how accurately those numbers depict the problem. There are many ways one can count who is and isn't homeless.

Ending homelessness isn't just about finding a home. Sometimes, it's about finding a nice home — a place that's bright, modern and healthy to live in. That's the idea fueling the development of a number of buildings around the country, as communities try to move chronically homeless people off the streets.

Work crews in Honolulu recently dismantled wooden shacks and tents that lined city streets and housed almost 300 people.

It was the latest example of a city trying to deal with a growing homeless population, and responding to complaints that these encampments are unsafe, unsanitary and, at the very least, unsightly.

Last month, Madison, Wis., banned people from sleeping outside city hall. And in New Port Richey, Fla., the city council voted to restrict the feeding of homeless individuals in a popular park.

Don't expect Congress to shell out any money when it comes to replacing aging voting equipment. That's what Christy McCormick, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), says her agency is telling state and local election officials, even though a bipartisan presidential commission warned last year of an "impending crisis."

"We're telling them that, from what we understand, there won't be any more federal funding coming to help them," McCormick said in an interview with NPR.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Voting machines around the United States are coming to the end of their useful lives. Breakdowns are increasingly common. Spare parts are difficult, if not impossible, to find. That could be a serious problem for next year's presidential elections.

Allen County, Ohio, election director Ken Terry knows how bad things can get. In the last presidential election, he had to replace the Zip disks — a 1990s technology — in the main machine his county uses to count votes. The disks are no longer made. And when he finally got some from the voting machine manufacturer:

It's been four months since more than 400 Baltimore businesses were damaged in riots following the death of Freddie Gray. Most — but not all — of those businesses have reopened, although some are still struggling to get back the customers they lost.

Six weeks after the April riots, the windows of Taylor Alexander's women's clothing store were still boarded up. Her shop, Flawless Damsels, was so empty inside that her voice echoed off the walls when she described what it used to look like before looters cleared her out.

Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and loss of life, and many of those whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged fled New Orleans.

In the months that followed, many of the city's poorest families got even more bad news: The public housing units they called home would be knocked down, even if undamaged by the storm.

Many of the families that were forced out of public housing by Hurricane Katrina now use government vouchers to subsidize their rents elsewhere. That shift was supposed to help de-concentrate poverty in the New Orleans area, but it hasn't worked as planned.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

If you have a disability in the U.S., you're twice as likely to be poor as someone without a disability. You're also far more likely to be unemployed. And that gap has widened in the 25 years since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted.

"Every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom," President George H.W. Bush said when he signed the bill into law on July 26, 1990.

More than 150,000 U.S. families are homeless each year. The number has been going down, in part because of a program known as rapid rehousing, which quickly moves families out of shelters and into homes.

But new research by the Obama administration finds that for many families, rapid rehousing is only a temporary fix.

It took only minutes for stores in Baltimore to be destroyed on the night of April 27. But six weeks later, the repair process is still limping along. And stores not directly affected by the violence say they've also seen a sharp decline in business.

"Look outside, there's nobody," says Pedro Silva, owner of Carolina's Tex-Mex Restaurant in Fells Point, a usually busy tourist spot. "Before, we used to be no parking space. Now it's empty. It's empty — day, night."

Hanging out on the front porch on a warm evening, people tend to open up a little more than usual. Which is what happened when I sat with Ruby Corado and two other trans women outside a house Corado runs for homeless transgender adults. I was there to do a profile of Corado, an activist in Washington, D.C.

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