Housing

Public Housing Residents Fight for their Homes

Charlotte Delgado is on a tear. “They have run public housing into the ground until it is so bad they cannot begin to fix it,” she tells her audience at the U.S. Social Forum. Delgado wound up in HUD multifamily subsidized housing after being diagnosed with cancer 25 years ago. She beat the disease seven times and now serves as vice president/west of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT). From her toes to her carefully rolled blonde “do,” Delgado exudes indignation. “What they intend to do is give it to the banks, let the banks fix it up and rent it out—and in a maximum of 30 years, they can get out of the [public housing] program!” she says, stabbing the air with her finger.

“I live in Sacramento, eight blocks from the state capitol and my building was the first in the state taken over by a for-profit in 1998,” Delgado continues. “My rent went from $595 to $825 overnight. And out of the 103 families who lived in my complex, there are only 29 of us left.”
The supply of housing for low and very low income families in the U.S. is melting away, even as people lose jobs to the recession and homes to foreclosure. (Unemployment and foreclosure rates are even higher in communities of color.) The damage from decades of official neglect of the housing stock is piling up and still-solid structures will soon become unlivable if nothing is done to repair them.

Government contracts with landlords are expiring, as in Delgado’s case, which lets owners put tens of thousands of units back on the private market and out of the price range of low-income families. Plus, a new Obama administration proposal threatens to privatize the country’s remaining stock of government-owned housing. Faced with escalating threats, public housing residents are using every tool at their disposal—from lawsuits and lobbying to mobilization and direct action—to keep their homes.

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Sustainable Planning under SB 375

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB375), also known as the California Anti-Sprawl Bill, embodies the simple idea that bringing housing and jobs closer together and improving public transit will cut car commutes—and thus help meet the statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set by AB32.

“Land use-related climate change policies have the potential to be among the most cost-effective and efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” writes Rebecca Carter in her report on climate policies in western states. (See page 59.)

Manufacturing Affordable Housing

Garry “Bear” Salois and his granddaughter April Flores are the proud occupants of a 2004 Cavalier-manufactured home with three bedrooms and a small porch where Bear likes to relax after work with his dogs Rain and Storm. “I always thought I wasn’t rich enough to afford my own home,” says Bear, a bona fide member of the Salish-Kootenai tribe who grew up on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. “But now I’m voluntarily paying over three times the required monthly payment of $120 in order to be in good shape to retire at age 65.”

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Hobos to Street People

Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present

Available in book form at www.freedomvoices.org/new/hobos

In the Great Depression of the 1930s many artists began to address issues of human rights. The large number of poor, displaced, and homeless people was one important focus. Artists were not only observers, but they actively found ways to influence society through exhibition and distribution of their work. In the late 1970s, with the rise of the modern era of mass homelessness, many artists again began to focus on what was happening to poor people in our society. Structural changes in the American economy and a return to fiscally conservative ideology began a period of increased poverty and economic inequality. By 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans lived without housing and homeless children in school exceeded 900,000, according to the US Department of Education.

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Right of Return

Public Housing in San Francisco's Hunters Point

Many call Hunters View the most distressed public housing project in San Francisco, and even in the United States. But 149 families call it home and they want to stay there once it is redeveloped. They are demanding their right to affordable housing, due process, and inclusion in decisions that affect their lives. They are determined to defy the history of public housing “improvements” that have shoved tenants aside like so much dirt dug out for new construction.

Hunters View will be the first project redeveloped under HOPE San Francisco (HOPE SF), the city’s alternative to the federal HOPE VI program. Before it shuts down in 2006, HOPE VI had displaced tens of thousands of public housing residents across the United States.[1]

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Richmond Residents are REDI for Housing Rights

Even a determined family effort was not enough to keep Jessica Peregrina’s home out of default. “We bought a six-bedroom home in San Pablo for $540,000 to house our large tight-knit family and keep us close together,” says Peregrina. Shortly after they bought the house, their mortgage lender went bankrupt. Another bank bought the mortgage and switched it to an adjustable rate. The house lost 30 percent of its value, while the family’s payment ballooned by $1,200 per month, sending them into foreclosure. “My family has sought help from multiple sources,” says Peregrina.  “I looked everywhere for an organization or program to help and I can’t find any.”

Peregrina and many others told their stories at a Housing Crisis Town Hall meeting at St. Mark’s Church in Richmond, California. More than 500 community members and elected officials packed the church for the March 12, 2009 event sponsored by the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI).

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Mortgage Meltdown

Solutions stop the Foreclosure Crisis

The foreclosure crisis continues to build momentum, two plus years into the mortgage meltdown. More than two million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number could top eight million over the next five years, according to many estimates. This crisis has decimated personal wealth, particularly wiping out assets in communities of color disproportionately impacted by subprime lending. And the ripple effects of the crisis keep spreading, as it drags down neighborhoods, public infrastructure and services, and local economies.
Dynamic collaborations between grassroots organizations, community groups, and policy advocates have helped drive the housing debate in a more progressive direction. More such efforts are needed. Several recent examples spotlight the possibilities that open up when local organizing efforts link with state and national strategies to move community solutions to the foreclosure crisis and push for the right to housing.

Local Initiatives to Fight Foreclosure
San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Phil Ting, has helped to convene several gatherings of city officials and community groups in the Bay Area interested in figuring out what can be done at the local level to stem foreclosures. City assessors and recorders are responsible for determining the value of real estate for property tax collection, as well as keeping public records of notices of default. Ting and other Californians in this position have raised the problem of declining property tax revenues due to foreclosures, and underscored its impact on cities.

“Municipalities and counties have inherited this problem. Some blame property owners, others lenders, but everyone can agree cities had nothing to do with it and we are stuck with this situation,” Ting says. “Property tax revenues are starting to be negative in places like Contra Costa County. There are public safety issues, blight issues, school district issues, public works, and public health. There are huge costs to cities.”

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