Monday, June 30, 2008

OBAMA LINKED TO THE ATTACK ON PUBLIC HOUSING

This is an extremely important urban issue that hast received virtually no attention: the disappearance of public housing. If you listen to mayors, urban planners and the media, this housing has been adequately replaced by a plethora of alternatives including Section 8 and Hope VI but in your editor's DC neighborhood, for example, the physical evidence is stunningly to the contrary: acres of rubble of a quantity unseen since the city's notorious 1950s SW urban renewal project, or urban removal as it became to be known. One of the problems with finding out what is happening is the dramatic lack of adequate stats. This is not a problem limited to Chicago, and it is one that definitely needs more attention.

BOSTON GLOBE The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can't afford to live anywhere else. But it's not safe to live here.

About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale - a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.

Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures 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.

As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.

But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies - including several hundred in Obama's former district - deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama's close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama's constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.

Some of the residents of Grove Parc say they are angry that Obama did not notice their plight. The development straddles the boundary of Obama's state Senate district. Many of the tenants have been his constituents for more than a decade. . .

Obama's campaign, in a written response to Globe questions, affirmed the candidate's support of public-private partnerships as an alternative to public housing, saying that Obama has "consistently fought to make livable, affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods available to all.". . .

Campaign finance records show that six prominent developers collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama's campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors. Rezko alone raised at least $200,000, by Obama's own accounting. One of those contributors, Cecil Butler, controlled Lawndale Restoration, the largest subsidized complex in Chicago, which was seized by the government in 2006 after city inspectors found more than 1,800 code violations. . .

In the middle of the 20th century, Chicago built some of the nation's largest public housing developments, culminating in Robert Taylor Homes: 4,415 apartments in 28 high-rise buildings stretching for 2 miles along an interstate highway.

By the late 1980s, however, Robert Taylor Homes and the rest of the Chicago developments had become American bywords for urban misery. The roughly 30 developments operated for poor families by the Chicago Housing Authority were plagued by crime and mired in poverty.

In Stateway Gardens, a large complex just north of Robert Taylor, a study of 1990 census data found the per-capita annual income was $1,650. And the projects were falling apart after decades of epic, sometimes criminal, mismanagement.

Similar problems plagued public housing in other cities, leading the federal government to greatly increase funding to address the problems. Many cities, including Boston, mostly used that money to rehabilitate their projects, maintaining public control.

Chicago chose a more dramatic approach. Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was elected in 1989, the city launched a massive plan to let private companies tear down the projects and build mixed-income communities on the same land.

The city also hired private companies to manage the remaining public housing. And it subsidized private companies to create and manage new affordable housing, some of which was used to accommodate tenants displaced from public housing. . .

1 Comments:

At July 7, 2008 7:49 PM, Blogger Grove Parc said...

GROVE PARC RESPONDS TO ARTICLE ON OBAMA HOUSING POLICY
Tenants call on all candidates to support Human Right to Housing

In recent days, leading news organizations around the country have reported on the housing policies of Senator Barack Obama, following a feature article published in the Boston Globe which highlighted the example of the Grove Parc Plaza Apartments, a subsidized housing complex in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood that we call home.

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 home-owners 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 under-funding 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 National 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% 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.

GROVE PARC TENANTS ASSOCIATION
“Housing is a Human Right – We won’t go without a fight!”


FOR MORE INFORMATION:
www.stopchicago.org
www.saveourhomes.org
www.economichumanrights.org
www.righttothecity.org

 

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