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Redwood Gardens Residents Report on National Association of HUD Tenants Conference

Lydia Gans
Tuesday July 07, 2015 - 09:11:00 AM

The residents of Redwood Gardens continue to get increasingly frustrated in their efforts to get help from government and community agencies in the struggles with their management. Now they are learning that their situation is far from unique. There are issues of concern to tenants in HUD housing projects countrywide.  

This June, two of the residents, Eleanor Walden co-chair of the residents' council, and Avram Gur Arye, participated in the annual conference of the National Association of HUD Tenants (NAHT) in Washington D.C. It was a three day event. There were two days of tenant run workshops covering a broad spectrum of topics, meetings and informal discussions. The third day was lobby day when they met with HUD staffers and politicians in Washington. 

Both delegates were hugely impressed. It was precisely what was needed. They made connections with people all over the country, setting up lines of communication to share information and and to have access to the support of an extended community. They gained information that gave them a fuller picture of the economics and politics of the housing situation. 

Avram Arye was enthusiastic about the experience. In his first workshop he heard a discussion of proposed federal budget cuts that threaten to displace millions of people from their homes. Another, specifically relevant to Redwood Gardens issues, he describes as “ how to get better and higher HUD officials to come out and meet about the problems happening on your property.” 

He was pleased with the opportunity to make contacts and share information with people. “Someone in a small town in Texas” he says, was interested in how I had gotten the building officials to do what HUD didn't do, and faster!” He was impressed with a process called “Eyes and Ears” where people from all over the country gather together and tell their stories, to share with each other and to be heard by staff people in HUD. 

Eleanor Walden echoed his enthusiasm. She talked about Eyes and Ears. “I was in a room with more talent, intelligence, experience, and knowledge than I have seen since 1964 in the civil rights movement. These mostly Black, largely women, all tenant organizers of the great skill and ability and they knew what they were talking about they were able to recount it in story telling fashion – people use the word 'complaints' when they talk about tenants. There is no 'complaining' this was the facts and the experience and this is what has happened to me and to the people in the larger region which I'm from.” 

Another word she seized on was 'respect'. “I heard the word respect used so many times at this conference I still get goosebumps because that has been one of the things that hurt me most that happened in this building, that we we're treated with disdain, a lack of respect. I thought it was just me. The fact that we are old or disabled or marginalized does not mean that we don't have experience, education dedication, ability, all of the things that they didn't give us credit for. That came up over and over and over.” (She told of an incident when a HUD official was disrespectful to the participants there at the conference and was soundly chastised.) 

An important aspect of the conference for her was a perspective on what is going on throughout the country with regard to affordable housing. “For example buildings like ours are being renovated … in this case for 3 1/2 million dollars and then they're being sold off. And there are many ways in which they're being sold off – being upgraded to university dorms, upgraded to gentrification or they're being in some cases sold to the tenants. People here have asked 'what are their intentions?' and that's what I've been trying to find out. Now I see that we were not off the mark. There is a pattern of selling off these buildings.” She says “when I went to this conference and these people from all over were saying what their experience has been I realized how broad the issues are and how people have been dealing with them for a very long time.” 

The conference has stimulated her interest in organizing around housing issues. After she and Arye report back to the Residents' Council she says she will be working with the Grey Panthers on a housing forum planned for September 23 at the North Berkeley senior center. “Then to move out into making contacts with other multifamily section 8 housing in the Berkeley- Oakland area to try to stimulate them to either form a tenants association or if they have one to join in some sort of consortium and to join NAHT so that we can present next year at the conference a more unified face of northern California.”