Archive for the 'housing' Category

Bailout FAIL. Working Americans PWNED.

It seems as though Congress and the Bush administration are nearing approval of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package. It was clear from the get go that low- and middle-income people were not going to be the winners here, no matter the specifics of the package; some details that are coming out now about the current state of the deal are only confirming that prediction. From the Washington Post:

Democrats also made a number of concessions, abandoning demands that bankruptcy judges be empowered to modify home mortgages on primary residences for people in foreclosure. They also agreed not to dedicate a portion of any profits from the bailout program to an affordable housing fund that Republicans claimed would primarily assist social service organizations that support the Democratic Party, the official said.

The New York Times does report that the package “requires the government to use its new role as owner of distressed mortgage-backed securities to make more aggressive efforts to prevent home foreclosures,” but reaffirms that “some Democrats had sought to direct 20 percent of any such profits [from the governmental purchase of assets at prices lower than they may one day be worth] to help create affordable housing, but Republicans opposed that and demanded that all profits be returned to the Treasury.”

I don’t claim to be any expert on economics, but it seems to me that the benefit to normal working Americans (i.e. “Main Street”) will be quite limited. The whole rigmarole about taxpayers (hopefully) being repayed for the bailout through the government receiving equity stakes in rescued companies is cold comfort given that we can’t trust or expect the government to spend that recovered money on things that actually help improve the lives of low- and middle-income Americans, like education, health care, affordable housing, or welfare.

Well, I should be clear – corporate welfare is a-ok, as this entire bailout package demonstrates. But welfare for individuals and families who are just trying to survive? Nah, that kind of welfare doesn’t fly, nor does the affordable housing that might help rescue them from this collapsing housing market. So Wall Street screws working-class Americans with the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, which then backfires and contributes to Wall Street getting screwed, and then Wall Street are the only ones who can really count on being bailed out? Sounds like a big ol’ FAIL to me.

Cross-posted at Feministe

New Orleans public housing residents and advocates take over the Housing Authority

Just got word in my inbox a while ago that public housing residents and advocates took over the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HONA) earlier today, in response to the utter dereliction of duty that HONA has shown in restoring public housing in the city. From the press release about the action:

Across the country public housing authorities are selling off land, raising rents, firing workers, and leaving countless residents with no place to live. In New Orleans more than 300,000 residents, mostly poor and black, have been denied the right to return to their homes since Katrina hit two years ago.

The Housing Authority building has been locked down and is being surrounded by the National Guard, the New Orleans Police, and Swat. Residents are determined to save their homes and to show that public housing is still a valuable community asset.

The take over of the Housing Authority of New Orleans is a part of the International Tribunal and 2nd Survivor’s Assembly, which is being organized by Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) and is being held to bring charges of racial discrimination and the denial of the right to return.

The city of New Orleans is in fact actively doing away with public housing:

New Orleans’ five public housing complexes were spared major flood damage, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Authority of New Orleans intend to demolish four of them anyway, with plans for mixed-income housing that would leave less room for the poor. Before Katrina, more than 5,000 families lived in the city’s 5,100 public housing units. At present, only about 1,500 units are occupied.

Of course, this is only part of a greater, nationwide trend of neglect and reduction of public housing, further evidence of which I wrote about in July when NYC advocates demanded attention for the ailing public housing system in this city. But the specific situation in New Orleans puts the neglect and even direct targeting that low-income people and people of color have faced in New Orleans in these two years since Hurricane Katrina.

Yesterday’s episode of Democracy Now! focused on the situation in New Orleans on this second anniversary of the disaster, giving a far more incisive and honest take than most of the mainstream media’s coverage, as one might expect. Listen to the podcast or read the transcripts for a revealing and infuriating picture of what has and has not been done in the city. I haven’t gotten to listen to the last segment of the show yet, but it’s about what happened to the New Orleans public education system after the hurricane – did you know that 7,500 school employees – nearly all of the teachers in the city – were fired almost directly after the storm? I was shocked to hear that. Gotta listen to find out why that went down and what it meant.

NYC public housing: a shambles in need of fixing

the CVH public housing tour

Many low-income people in NYC rely on public housing as one of the few sources of affordable housing available to them in this city of sky-rocketing rents. However, the conditions in public housing are often sub-par, with poor maintenance and major repairs left undone for years. These conditions are threatening to get worse, even while residents are forced to pay higher rents.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which runs public housing, is facing a budget deficit of $225 million, largely due to major funding cuts from the federal and state governments. NYCHA has been scrambling to make up for this deficit, but most of the measures that it’s taking wind up hurting the residents of public housing: rent increases, additional fees charged for basic household appliances, delays in making urgent and essential repairs, and the planned layoff of more than 500 workers from an already understaffed agency.

Last Thursday, Community Voices Heard, a member-led grassroots organization of low-income New Yorkers, led housing advocates and elected officials on a tour of public housing developments to show them just how important it is that NYCHA gets much-needed funding (and utilizes it well, of course – just because the money’s there doesn’t mean it’ll be used right.)

In one apartment on the the tour, a bathroom wall had been left without repairs for two years; a sheet of plastic has been hung over a gaping hole, leaving pipes and hazardous materials exposed. In another building, the walls of a fire-damaged hallway have not been cleaned for over a year. Residents complained of stoves that haven’t worked for ages, one of which was removed two years ago because of a gas leak and not replaced until last week, when the media contacted NYCHA after the CVH tour.

Agnes Rivera, a CVH leader and a resident of one of the housing developments, spoke of the worsening situation in public housing and how important this housing can be:

We are bringing our elected officials on this tour to show them that our housing is deteriorating. The Housing Authority doesn’t have the money to make the repairs that the families living in public housing need…

I was in the shelter system, due to a domestic violence situation, and was lucky to have public housing as my safe haven. Public housing has helped me live in an affordable home and to afford sending my children to college. My children want to be able to afford the same things for their children.

At the press conference after the tour, CVH and their allies called for Governor Spitzer to sign the shelter allowance bill (S.4329/A.7905) which recently passed both houses of the New York State legislature and could add $47 million to NYCHA’s suffering budget. The bill would make the state’s contribution to NYCHA for residents receiving public assistance the same as the state’s current contribution to private landlords who house public assistance recipients. Coucilmember Rosie Mendez was among those calling on Spitzer to sign the bill:

There is no explanation for public housing authorities receiving less than half the payment private landlords receive for the same size apartment. I urge the Governor to sign the bill and avert the unthinkable consequence that NYCHA is financially unable to continue to provide quality, low-cost housing for New Yorkers that are least able to afford shelter in our city’s overheated private housing market.

Now, maybe Governor Spitzer is a little distracted by the whole Bruno debacle, but his attention needs to be drawn back to signing this crucial bill. Despite our capitalistic society that gives to each according to cash instead of need, public housing should not equal sub-standard housing for low-income people. Email, write to, or call Governor Spitzer to demand his prompt signature of the bill so that the much-needed funding can soon reach NYCHA and ultimately public housing residents.