Much has been written in the past several months about Berkeley’s troubled Housing Authority. Much more devastating news is likely to emerge in the coming months.
On Jan. 10, a hundred or so public housing authorities, primarily on the East Coast, held a Day of Silence to protest the draconian HUD funding cuts that could wreak havoc on the nation’s public housing system, threatening to create a new wave of homelessness across the country.
Housing Authorities from east to west are reeling at HUD’s shameless under-funding of subsidized housing. Ray Maier, of a Pennsylvania Housing Authority, expresses the simple and shocking truth: “People should understand that if this continues, their grandmother or their grandfather might not have a place to live in three years.” Dale Gravett, Maier’s colleague adds: “Some form of protest is certainly called for, because the level of budget reductions is just absolutely unacceptable.”
Across the country, HUD funding for housing in 2006 was at 85 percent of operating costs. In 2007 it is now set to slide to 76 percent, and the downward trend will continue if not vigorously opposed immediately. The Bush administration has created so much chaos and confusion country wide, few seem to notice the determined action of HUD Director, Alphonso Jackson, who is step-by-step gutting the country’s public housing programs. In short, New Orleans is tragically becoming a “model city” for housing our nation’s poor.
Among the organizers of the Day of Silence is Carl Payne, Executive Director of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Housing Authority:
“These funding cuts are devastating our ability to provide adequate public housing for our elderly and low-income clients who have no place else to turn. The [Bush] administration apparently has made a political decision that it’s OK to slash the safety net that public housing offers to those most in need—seniors, the disabled, veterans, and families with children.”
As in New Orleans (and Iraq for that matter), no discernible effort is being put into an exit strategy for this national disaster in progress. Will the aged and disabled soon be seen sleeping on our streets? Will poor families with children vie for a street corner to call their own? Along with thousands of displaced innocents—the elderly, disabled, veterans, children—will come a daunting increase in crime and disease that will strain our already overwhelmed police, health, and fire services.
Thom Hartmann, prolific author and talk-show host, believes we are at a point now where the people must take the initiative. We the People must speak up loudly and clearly, so that our leaders will follow. Even the new Democratic Congress, it seems, does not realize the severity of this situation, as do the people close to it—those of us on the verge of losing our housing and those who know people at risk. There is in the making now a rich/poor gap so great it could undermine the very foundation of our nation, ripping apart the fabric of our treasured Constitutional Democracy.
Civilization itself requires the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. Without that, our once great country will descend more and more into a pit of lawlessness, chaos, and tragedy we never expected could “happen here.”
Congress will be voting on HUD funding in mid-February. We need to make our voices heard now and let our Congressional leaders know how dire this situation has become, and how essential it is to return funding to reasonable levels, if outright catastrophe is to be avoided.
As for our local situation, the Berkeley Housing Authority has just canceled its Jan. 30 meeting, having already postponed it once before. The next public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 27, which falls after the Congressional vote. Several Section 8 renters have reported that our Housing Authority is now weeks and even months behind in processing annual recertification papers, and telephone inquiries yield no explanations. The official fate-in-progress of Berkeley public housing renters seems to be hidden and jealously guarded somewhere in a closed and darkened chamber of City Hall.
The Berkeley Housing Authority, unlike their counterparts who participated in the National Day of Silence, does not appear willing to advocate for its clients, but rather opts to polarize with them. It’s strange that the City of Berkeley, with our progressive reputation and our recent vote for impeachment, does not stand with its clientele in protest against the unrelenting and inhumane neoconservative defunding of our nation’s public housing.
Frances Hailman has been a Berkeley renter since 1962.