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Grove Parc tenants respond

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The Grove Parc Tenants Association has issued a response to a June 27 Boston Globe article [2] on presidential candidate Barack Obama’s housing policies.

The article casts Grove Parc as a “symbol of the broader failure of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing — an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing”; and as one of a number of affordable housing “failures…developed and managed by Obama’s closest friends and political supporters.”

The 504-unit development was acquired from HUD by the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp. in 1999, and fell into serious disrepair under management by the Habitat Co., headed by close Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.

But, as the Globe article fails to note, in January — following months of organizing culminating in a sit-in by tenants at the local HUD office — foreclosure on the property was halted, and a new tenant-selected nonprofit management company took over the development.

From the GPTA statement:

“The Globe article, while rightly raising concerns about the failure of the private sector to adequately provide for the housing needs of the poor, unfortunately leaves out half of the story.

“Grove Parc is not just an example of the failures of past policies, but a beacon of hope for the way forward. Tenants have not only stopped foreclosure and the displacement of some 500 low income families, but also brought in new management committed to working with the tenants to rebuild affordable and quality housing for all residents.

“In so doing, we have highlighted two fundamental principles that both presidential candidates would do well to heed as they finalize their housing policy platforms — first, the full participation of tenants, who have the biggest stake in housing policy, and second, the guarantee of quality housing for all as a human right and social responsibility.

“In the wake of massive housing cuts, privatization, and foreclosures that have left millions without a stable home — problems for which both major political parties must take responsibility — it is time for both candidates to tell the American people how they will ensure quality housing as a human right and reality for every American family. In short, the new administration must ensure a roof over the head of all American families.

“Never has it been clearer that government has to play an active role in ensuring that America’s families have safe, decent housing. Millions of homeowners are facing foreclosure. Gas, food and utility prices are sky-rocketing. Thousands of units of public housing are being torn down from New Orleans to Miami to Chicago and close to 500,000 families — including many elderly and disabled — may soon be put out on the streets due to Congress underfunding HUD’s subsidized housing program by $2.8 billion this year.

“Homelessness and poverty will continue to rise until we treat housing as a human right rather than a source of profit for speculators and developers. In Chicago, for example, a recent study published in the Chicago Tribune shows that a minimum wage worker would have to work 97 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

“Low-income communities of color, in particular, are being ravaged by this crisis, which extends far beyond housing. Displacement weakens our communities and in so doing makes problems like youth violence and unstable schools even worse. The promise of ‘mixed-income’ communities has been a smoke screen for a set of policies that have involved tearing down lots of housing and replacing very little of it. The people affected by these policies are never at the table when they are created.

“While the Globe article raises important points about the problems in both public and subsidized housing, it fails to highlight the role played by massive budget cuts to HUD, which has created a lack of oversight over all HUD programs. These cuts have been carried forth by both parties, and their effects have been made even worse by rampant corruption in the last HUD administration, whose Bush-appointed secretary, Alphonso Jackson, recently stepped down amidst allegations of contract steering.

“But there is another way forward. Our nation needs to guarantee the Human Right to Housing for all of its citizens, regardless of income and race, and to ensure that the people affected by policies are active participants in creating them. As a start we call on both candidates to commit to:

Fully fund HUD

The 2008 HUD subsidized housing budget was under-funded by $2.8 billion dollars, threatening to triple the rents of 500,000 families overnight (40 percent of whom are the elderly and disabled) unless Congress acts fast.

Support tenant empowerment and oversight 

Grove Parc is turning around because as tenants we are taking control of our housing. We chose a new management company, stopped HUD from foreclosing on our complex, and have won awards around the country for our efforts. Grove Parc is proving that when the people who live in housing finally have a voice in how it is run another future for subsidized housing is possible.

Declare a moratorium on demolition of public housing and foreclosures

Most of the public sees housing subsidies as hand-outs to the poor, not realizing that the vast majority of HUD subsidies go to first time home buyers. Ironically, now both groups are in the same boat, unsure of where to look for housing as banks are bailed out but homeowners are left hanging while the few safety nets that exist continue to be decimated by the current administration. 

Create a comprehensive plan to ensure the human right to housing for all

We hope that the both campaigns will see this as an opportunity to take a strong stand for Housing as a Human Right and to take a critical look at the failure of privatizing housing and the need for strong public oversight and tenant control. Some will undoubtedly use the stories of wasted money and failed housing in the Globe article as justification to further cut these programs. Cutting badly needed subsidies in any housing program, especially in economic times like we are in, is irresponsible, unethical and inefficient, creating many unforeseen costs to society. With better oversight and regulation, an expansion of all housing programs and tenant inclusion in policy-making, the Human Right to decent and safe housing can become a reality for all.”

For more information see Southside Together Organizing for Power [3].