by Lynda Carson
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ens of thousands of protesters from the Occupy movement are hitting the streets in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and cities all across the nation, demonstrating against brutal budget cuts and the social inequality that pushes families into poverty and hunger. Yet even as these protests against economic inequality sweep the nation, massive budget cuts continue to devastate public housing and social programs that serve the poor.
The attacks on poor people, workers and students are being carried out on two levels at once, in the form of economic injustice that shreds the social safety net and police repression that brutalizes the demonstrators.
Protesters from Occupy Oakland have been clubbed, tear-gassed, arrested, and shot by police. Peaceful students have been pepper-sprayed at U.C. Davis, and students at U.C. Berkeley have been viciously beaten in violent and unjustified police attacks. In the midst of this highly visible repression, public housing programs are undergoing a less visible, yet equally serious assault that will result in enormous suffering for poor families.
Our nation’s 1.2 million public housing units are already in need of more than $25 billion in repairs, and waiting lists for public housing are so long that millions of low-income families who qualify for public housing are forced to wait for years just to get on the waiting list.
Despite this crisis, on November 17, Congress passed legislation that imposed massive budget cuts amounting to $3.7 billion to our nation’s housing programs, cuts that were signed into law by President Obama a day later. Public housing is being drastically underfunded, and is now 22 percent less than Obama’s original request for FY 2012.
Tens of thousands of public housing units may be lost as a result. And while thousands of families in public housing are placed at risk of living in substandard conditions or becoming homeless, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) has recently entered into an exclusive negotiating rights agreement to sell Berkeley’s 75 occupied public housing units to billionaire Stephen M. Ross, and The Related Companies of California.
Public housing residents will be placed at risk of displacement and homelessness if the billionaire owner of The Related Companies and Miami Dolphins gets his hands on Berkeley’s 75 townhouse public housing units. Billionaire Ross is already involved in a housing project in Oakland that displaced 178 poor families from their pubic housing at the former Coliseum Gardens Public Housing Project, now called Lion Creek Crossings.
Anne Marie Dent is disabled and resides in Berkeley’s public housing. “I do not like what I am hearing about the takeover of our public housing,” she said.
“I am afraid of being displaced. I believe that it should remain as public housing. I do not think that billionaires should be allowed to grab our public housing. It is not fair. There are too many poor people in need currently, and public housing was never meant to be for billionaires.”
Public housing resident Anna Smith said, “All I know is that the rumors are going around that the building I reside in is being sold to a billionaire that owns a football team. I heard that I would learn more details from the BHA sometime in March.”
Smith said the plan to sell public housing would jeopardize her family’s very survival, adding that the prospect of being displaced from her longtime home has already created great insecurity and fear for her children and grandchildren.
“I have lived here in public housing since 1992,” Smith said, “and I was told that this was my home to raise a family in. Now I am being told that I will have to move. I have grandchildren living with me that are teenagers in school, and I do not know where I am going to go. I keep hearing about affordable housing projects. But what does that mean? Many people, including myself, cannot afford to reside in affordable housing projects, and there is no place left to go for poor people once all of our public housing is gone.”
When asked what is planned next if the negotiations fail, BHA Project Manager Kathleen Sims said, “The BHA is in negotiation with The Related Companies of California, and until those negotiations are over, I cannot say more about the next step the BHA will pursue with its public housing units.”
According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, the nation’s Section 8 voucher program has a shortfall in funding of $130 million, and that may result in a loss of 12,000 to 24,000 vouchers. Also, among other programs facing budget cuts, the Home Program was cut by $600,000, and housing for the elderly was cut by 51 percent more than Obama requested.
As federal and state budget cuts continue to decimate communities all across the nation, Republicans and Democrats in Congress continue to allow the rich and the super rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. This may well result in the loss of irreplaceable public housing units at the very moment that the nation is in the midst of a foreclosure crisis and an explosive increase in homelessness, hunger and desperation.
Lynda Carson may be reached at email@example.com