[Hpn] HOMELESSNESS IS A HOUSING ISSUE!

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 30 Oct 2001 09:49:39 -0800


HOMELESSNESS IS A HOUSING ISSUE!
The National Day Of Housing Action ‹ November 14th, 2001

by RIGHT TO A ROOF!

The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Campaign is a nationwide effort
to produce new housing in volumes not seen since the New Deal. Affordable
housing construction means new jobs in these hard times, but many federal
politicians have not committed to this needed legislation. About 30 cities
are expected to participate San Francisco, Denver, Washington DC, and
Raleigh North Carolina to name a few.

On November 14, we have the power to convince them otherwise!

On this day, we ‹ people experiencing homelessness, students, union workers,
religious communities, and housing organizations ‹ will demand that
politicians endorse the Trust Fund.

We will do so by organizing local actions designed to draw attention to both
the current housing crisis and a solution to it.

In San Francisco, the action will start at 5:00 at Civic Center Plaza and
proceed in a reality tour of housing hotspots in the area, concluding with a
creative action designed to illustrate the need for new housing. Although
all of San Francisco¹s federal representatives have signed on, it is
important to remind them not to let the Trust Fund legislation be lost
amidst the growing clamor for war spending.

Nationally, there are about 1,500 endorsers of the campaign whose demands ‹
the production of new low-income housing funded from the interest on
existing Federal Home Administration Bonds ‹ are reflected in House and
Senate Bills HR 2349 and SB 1248.

In San Francisco, the SF Labor Council, representing over 150 local labor
unions has endorsed the campaign. They have been joined by the SF Board of
Supervisors and Mayor Willie Brown, through a resolution authored by
Supervisor Chris Daly.

Over 50 Bay Area organizations have endorsed including La Raza Centro Legal,
the Benicia Community Action Taskforce, as well as many faith and student
groups. The broad base of support reflects the growing understanding that
affordable housing creates living wage jobs ‹ two things that working-class
communities cannot do without.

Momentum has been built through the massive effort of community
organizations nationwide. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the
National Coalition for the Homeless, and Housing America drafted the basics
of the legislation and began the lobbying process. Religious Witness With
Homeless People created a massive national base of support for the
legislation, enlisting over 400 churches and faith organizations as
endorsers.

For the Day of Action, community groups will be joined by students organized
through the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

The Day Of Action was initiated through a conversation between Housing
America and the SF Coalition On Homelessness. Both groups were frustrated
that many politicians were on the fence or opposing the Trust Fund campaign.
After proposing the actions, NCH¹s Board enthusiastically endorsed and began
to mobilize.

So Why Are So Many People Homeless, Anyhow?
Forget what you might have heard about the ³root causes² of homelessness
being drug addiction or the ³de-institutionalization² of the mentally ill.
Recent scholarship from a variety of sources implicates a national housing
shortage for the on-going crisis. For the poorest workers, budget cuts in
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have meant a
ticket to homelessness for many.

A report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition ‹ Changing Priorities:
The Federal Budget and Housing Assistance, 1976-2002 ‹ details this trend.
The report documents that through the Ford up to the current Bush
administration, the national spending on housing has diminished steadily.
Democratic and Republican administrations have continued this agenda, often
where the other left off. ³ Despite increases in funding for HUD programs
for the last three years, an overview of budget trends shows that this
nation¹s investment in HUD and low income housing programs has declined
dramatically during the last quarter century.²

On the federal level, the 1990s were a bad decade for poor people. Changes
in policies from welfare reform to housing to immigrant rights all shared a
newly punitive approach to poverty, including time limits and a loss of the
commitment to a ³safety net² that had existed, if inadequately, for over
sixty years.

The federal commitment to providing housing for poor people has ended. In
its place is an emphasis on shelters and transitional housing. It is
important to emphasize that resources allocated to shelter are not housing,
not relevant to discussion of housing for poor people, and are being
inappropriately used as a substitute for the commitment we need to permanent
housing. This article will only discuss permanent housing.

The steady increase in homelessness in the last two decades is not a
³natural² consequence of changes in the economy. The following specific
policy changes have directly contributed to the increase in poverty and the
decrease in affordable or subsidized housing ‹ increased homelessness is the
result. 

Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act
As a companion to the TANF legislation, major changes were made in access to
public housing in 1998. Undocumented immigrants are no longer be eligible
for Section 8 or public housing. Sixty percent of all project-based housing
units are now reserved for households making between 30 and 80% of median
income. This means that there are now 60% less units available for
households making under 30% of median income. This change affects the
neediest families closest to homelessness. Workers making the minimum wage
or those on TANF make around 10% to 13% of the area median income.

HOPE VI
This federal program funds renovation and rebuilding of public housing
projects. In practice, this has translated into the destruction of public
housing units which have not been replaced on a one-to-one basis, resulting
in an overall loss in the total number of units available. Some developments
have been reconstructed with less units, while others plan to replace the
low-income units on a one-for-one basis and construct additional mid-income
homes. 

Privatization
HUD entered into contracts with private landlords that obligated them to
rent their units to Section 8 tenants after the federal government covered
the cost of rehabilitation and/or renovation. Many of these contracts are
expiring, again resulting in a loss in the overall number of low-cost units
available. 

A major strategy in the HOPE VI program is the creation of ³public-private²
partnerships in the reconstructed developments. While partnerships with
private developers bring in much-needed capital in the short-term, the
profit motive often creates even more problems. For example, one private
developer moved to strike tenant protections from operating agreements. This
developer sought to convert low-income units to market rate should a tenant
vacate the apartment.

Vouchers Instead of Construction
In the last decades, U.S. housing policy has shifted from the actual
construction of low-cost housing and subsidies for those units, to the use
of vouchers. HUD has gone out of the housing business. In ³tight² markets
such as San Francisco, vouchers are virtually worthless. Low-income tenants
are forced to compete with the affluent for the same scarce housing stock.
Low reimbursement rates makes tenants with vouchers much less attractive to
landlords. These vouchers are time-limited and do not guarantee housing. The
onus is placed on the holder of the voucher to find adequate, available
housing. In a market like San Francisco, this is a set-up for failure.

Wages: The Downward Spiral
The New Economy¹s fortunes have not reached those most in need. In the last
thirty years, the value of the minimum wage has steadily decreased. While in
1968 the minimum wage was 86% of the ³living wage,² (the amount necessary to
bring a family of four to the federal poverty line), in 1998 it was only 64%
of the living wage (Collins and Yeskel, 2000). A person making minimum wage
($5.75) would need to work for 106 hours per week to afford a two bedroom
apartment unit at Fair Market rate in California (National Low Income
Housing Coalition, 2000).

Even a family with two full-time wage earners can no longer afford decent
housing without assistance. But in 1995, only about one third of poor renter
households received a housing subsidy from the federal, state or local
government (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1998).

The engine behind much of this is the global economy ‹ an era of relaxed
restrictions on trade, elimination of labor and environmental regulation and
a general laissez-faire corporate policy. As a result of this and the
accompanying trade agreements, many producers of living-wage production jobs
have moved to Mexico and other so-called ³Third World² countries to take
advantage of low-wages and a lack of restrictions.

The result for San Francisco is an abundance of jobs which pay poverty
wages, jobs in the service economy. Instead of a booming port, we have a
Sony Metreon entertainment center. In the place of manufacturing jobs, we
have an economy which is dependent on tourism..

Cuts in welfare programs
In 1996, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created, putting
time limits and work requirements on all families receiving federal cash
assistance. Parents with low skills and/or barriers to employment are being
pushed into the workforce, often without the necessary services they need in
order to retain their jobs, such as reliable child care and transportation.
Last year in San Francisco, the average wage in 2000 of parents leaving
welfare was approximately $7 per hour. This leaves an obvious gap with San
Francisco¹s ³housing wage² ‹ $28.06 per hour to be able to afford a two
bedroom apartment (San Francisco Department Human Services, 2000; National
Low Income Housing Coalition, 2000).

Other welfare programs have been cut as well. Nationally, General Assistance
programs, which offer cash assistance to single men, have been eliminated or
limited in the majority of states. Changes in SSI eligibility requirements
have made it much harder to obtain or retain benefits, but even if someone
with a physical or mental disability manages to do so, they will receive
less cash assistance per month here than the amount necessary for rent alone
in a one bedroom apartment in California (NLIHC, 2000).

Poverty Rates and Poor Renters
At least partially due to the programs outlined above, the total number of
low-income renters increased almost 70 percent between 1970 and 1995, while
the number of affordable housing units fell. In 1970, there were 300,000
more low-income tenants than low-income units. Since then, the number of
low-cost rental units has fallen to 6.1 million, while the number of
low-income renters rose to 10.5 million. The result: a shortage of 4.4
million affordable units, the largest on record. In 1995, there were nearly
two low-income renters for every low-cost unit (CBPP, 1988).

Again, this is no accident. Until 1995, Congress had increased rental
assistance for ³worst case² housing needs every year. Since 1995, that has
been reversed. The total number of new housing commitments by HUD from
1982-1997 was smaller than the number of commitments made in five years from
1977-1981 (HUD, 1997).

The stage for homelessness was set in the 1960s and 1970s when Redevelopment
Agency-administered ³Urban Removal² programs decimated working-class
communities of color. The federally-sponsored and locally administered
programs demolished thousands of units of housing in the Fillmore, Western
Addition, South of Market and Manilatown neighborhoods. The decrease in
supply left the city even more vulnerable in times of economic boom.

³To a substantial extent, the homeless problem is a function of
malfunctioning housing markets and not a factor of mental illness or
substance abuse,² remarked University of California at Berkeley economics
professor John Quigley.

How Unemployed Workers Beat Past Housing Crises.
Housing crises such as San Francisco¹s, aren¹t anything new. In fact,
workers during both boom-time and bust, working-class people experience
waves of evictions, homelessness and gentrification. Unemployed workers in
the 1930s organized militant and creative struggles, forcing the government
to build low-cost housing and ending thousands of evictions through direct
action.

At the end of World War II, returning service people, unemployed and trade
unionists faced a severe housing crisis that even the New Deal hadn¹t
addressed completely. The International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union
(ILWU), led actions, including office occupations and work stoppages, to
force federal representatives to build new affordable housing. This resulted
in many of the programs being dismantled by Democrats and Republicans today.

In many states, workers established cooperative housing, providing
collective ownership and affordable housing.

Uneviction!
During the Great Depression, when the police came to evict black people in
Harlem thousands would turn out to defy the police. By rallying around each
other and not giving in even under the idea of police violence.
Neighborhoods councils aided by radical activists would confront marshals
when they came to carry out court-ordered evictions. By preventing the
removal of furniture and personal belongings from their homes, these
unemployed workers were able to deter landlords from evicting. Oftentimes,
utility workers who would cut off neighbor¹s electricity in the morning
returned at night to covertly turn it back on !

Since the Depression many social movements have demanded affordable housing.
As a result of the struggle against ³urban renewal/removal² programs of the
1960¹s and 70¹s, local government was forced to produce new subsidized
housing units. At that time, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency used the
power of eminent domain to demolish thousands of units of working-class
housing in the Western Addition, South Of Market and Manilatown
neighborhoods.

A New Movement
The National Day Of Housing Action is the first step towards building a
nationwide movement for housing and the resources that poor communities need
to survive. We hope to bring together the energies of homeless people,
organized labor faith and student communities, setting housing on the
nationwide progressive agenda. Support the Day Of Action ‹ towards housing
and jobs for all!

RIGHT TO A ROOF!
-- 
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA  94102
415/346.3740-voice € 415/7755639-fax
coh@sf-homeless-coalition.org
http://www.sf-homeless-coalition.org