The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

HUD Proposes Devastating Changes to Section 8

by Lynda Carson

In mid-April, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson submitted a new HUD bill known as S. 771, a highly destructive attack on the Section 8 housing assistance program for the poor. This bill also would make life miserable for those in public housing that would fail to meet the new rules and requirements pertaining to their residency.

Titled "The State and Local Housing Flexibility Act of 2005," S. 771 is designed to deny protections to the poor, elderly and disabled, while offering the nation's public housing authorities enough flexibility to dump low-income households out of the program in favor of higher-income renters.

Federal law presently requires that 75 percent of all Section 8 vouchers must go to those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income - the poorest of the poor. The new HUD bill submitted by Secretary Jackson requires that 90 percent of Section 8 vouchers go to those earning up to 60 percent of area median income.

As an example, Oakland has 10,875 households in the Section 8 program, and the average family earns less than 19 percent of the area median income. Jackson's proposed rule change would redirect many of these vouchers to higher-income people who do not need assistance to avoid homelessness.

The Section 8 program serves nearly two million low-income families, and HUD's proposal could place 75 percent of those families at risk of homelessness.

HUD proposes to take the Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers from the poorest renters, and shift the vouchers to wealthier tenants who would then receive less funding from the federal government.

As HUD and the Bush administration attempt to dismantle the Section 8 program with budget cuts, their scheme is to make it look as though the same number of households or even more are being served by the new program - even as the draconian cuts occur.

On behalf of HUD Secretary Jackson, Sen. Wayne Allard, Chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation, introduced bill S. 771 to the Senate on April 13. Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), a right-wing Republican from Orange County, submitted a companion bill, HR 1999, in the House of Representatives on April 28.

More than 39 major organizations signed onto an April 20 letter from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition opposing the proposed HUD bill. The letter was sent to Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Paul Sarbanes of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

The letter was signed by the National AIDS Housing Coalition, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, National Alliance of HUD Tenants, Catholic Charities, the Children's Defense Fund and many other major organizations.

The letter from the organizations urged senators to oppose S. 771, The State and Local Housing Flexibility Act of 2005. The letter declared: "The program changes proposed by the bill would be devastating to those currently participating in HUD affordable housing programs as well as to the millions in need of such assistance."

The housing organizations warned of an increase in homelessness if HUD Secretary Jackson's bill is adopted. Their letter to the senators concluded: "This legislation would set the stage for a shift of housing assistance away from families most in need of affordable housing and increase the number of homeless people in our country. We urge you to oppose S. 771."

An April 14 statement by Sen. Kit Bond accused HUD Secretary Jackson of submitting funding cut proposals that are far worse than what HUD had wanted the committee members to believe.

"These program cuts are even more disturbing because of proposed reductions and shortfalls in other programs within the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee," Sen. Bond said. "Mr. Secretary, I know you have an obligation to defend the Administration's budget and policy decisions no matter how problematic. I also understand and support the need for the Administration to make difficult funding decisions in order to contain and reduce the Federal budget deficit.

Unfortunately, I believe that the President has been getting some very bad advice about the housing and community development needs of the nation."

In further testimony in regards to concerns about the latest HUD cuts, Sen. Bond stated that the proposal will create more homelessness at the very time that the Bush administration claims it wants to end chronic homelessness.

"More disturbing, the Section 8 proposal would eliminate the requirement that 75 percent of all vouchers go to extremely low-income families - those at or below 30 percent of median income," Sen. Bond said. "This is a critical requirement that ensures those with the worst case housing needs receive priority in the award of scarce Section 8 housing assistance. Without this requirement, the number of homeless will continue to grow without real housing alternatives. This runs counter to the Administration's promise to end chronic homelessness within 10 years."

The Bush administration wanted to make this proposal appear as though nearly 12 percent of funding losses would occur in housing assistance programs during FY 2006, when in fact it is more like 20 percent being cut from the existing budget.

Sen. Bond said that the proposed budget is distorted, and Sen. Patty Murray agreed.

"The situation is actually worse than some of the figures we'll hear today," Sen. Murray said. "In looking at the budget before us, some might see a 12 percent cut from last year. But when you take a closer look at the numbers, you see that the cuts are actually closer to 20 percent."

She said the further losses result from the $2.6 billion in rescission requested in the budget. "The language around this request, however, is vague enough to allow for the funds to be taken from any of the HUD programs," Sen. Murray said.

According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, "Asked where, exactly, the cuts would come from, Mr. Jackson said that he is not prepared to answer that question. When pressured, the Secretary could not guarantee that the money would not be taken from programs such as Housing for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) or the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program."

HUD Secretary Jackson claimed that "homelessness and Section 8 are extreme priorities. I will do everything within my power to ensure that the money will not be rescinded from these programs."

As proposed, the new HUD bill places the low-income Section 8 program in great jeopardy; and with further funding losses being proposed, all of the nation's housing assistance programs are at risk if S. 771 is passed into legislation by the House and Senate.

Housing activists around the nation are urging people to contact their Congressional representatives as soon as possible and urge them to save the Section 8 program from HUD bill S. 771.

Lynda Carson may be reached at (510) 763-1085 or


Who Lives in U.S. Public Housing?

The following figures are from the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities.

1. Public housing is home to almost three million seniors, disabled people and low-income families with children.

2. Approximately one million children live in public housing.

3. More than half of all public housing residents are elderly or disabled people.

4. More than 315,739 seniors rely on public housing and supportive services.

5. Elderly households represent 31 percent of all public housing households, and 27 percent of seniors in public housing are 80 years of age or older.

5. Among elderly households in public housing, 72 percent rely on Social Security as the primary source of income.

6. Public housing is home to 295,211 households in which one or more members are living with a disability, representing 31 percent of all public housing households.

7. There are 17,963 public housing households with a disabled child.

8. Public housing is severely underfunded. The cumulative shortfall in operating subsidies between 1993-2003 to PHAs adds up to more than $1.9 billion. The cumulative shortfall in capital improvement funding for the same time frame is more than $20.3 billion.

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