Fight to save public housing escalates

By Ray Neirinck, in People's Weekly World,
2 September, 1995

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Although the "Contract on America" targets all programs that serve the people, it threatens death to federal housing programs affecting low-income families.

As things now stand, the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other government agencies that deal with housing and homelessness will be slashed by 25 percent. Funds for programs that help provide emergency shelter, supportive housing and SROs will be cut by 50 percent.

The GOP Congressional leadership is using the same tactic when it comes to public housing that it uses to repeal or modify other provisions of the social safety net established during 60 years of struggle. Instead of attacking them head on, they de-fund them.

Under present law, those living in publically assisted housing developments and those eligible for Section 8 housing are required to pay only 30 percent of their income for rent. The House-passed budget raises that to 32 percent of income and requires that all tenants pay a minimum rent of $50 per month.

Operating subsidies to public housing authorities would be cut by nearly a quarter and modernization funds by one-third.

The House whacked nearly $3 million from the budget that goes to fund new enrollees in the Section 8 program, which means that waiting lists for Section 8 housing will grow even longer.

The National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) and other housing and homeless organizations have launched a "Save Our Homes" call to action against these proposals. NAHT says the "mark to market" proposal that allows owners of Section 8 housing to adjust their rents to "the market" are among the most far-reaching policy changes to come out of HUD in the past three decades.

"Mark to market" would end long-range Section 8 contracts and replace them with one-year vouchers. It would eliminate the FHA-insured mortgages in many housing developments, thus "freeing" them from federal regulation and oversight. These owners of subsidized housing developments could then convert these units to condos or even demolition. Tenants' rights under HUD regulations would be gone.

Nothing shows the need to fight against attempts to set a minimum rent than the experience in Rhode Island. When the legislature eliminated General Public Assistance (GPA), thousands of people lost all their income. But for GPA recipients living in subsidized housing, their rents dropped to zero, too. These folks cannot afford even minimal rent and thus face the probability of homelessness unless the cuts in HUD are stopped, either in the Senate or by a presidential veto.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has announced a "Fall Budget Brawl" to reverse the House cuts in the HUD budget. The "Brawl" is part of their continuing campaign for Housing Justice.

For information on HAHT's "Save Our Homes" campaign, call 1-617-267-9564. On the Fall Budget Brawl, contact NLIHC at 1-202-662-1530.

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