Friday, July 13, 2018

From Atlanta to DC

 Earlier this month we had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC with tenant leaders from the Housing Justice League for the National Alliance of HUD Tenants(NAHT) national convention. This has been our fourth year attending the conference which is a gathering of HUD tenant leaders from around the country along with tenant/community organizers and representatives from ally organizations. The conference is an excellent opportunity for tenants to share and develop strategies to preserve, improve, and expand affordable housing in their complexes and communities. Here in Atlanta we've learned so much over the years from the amazing HUD tenants that helped form NAHT, several of them have organized such strong tenant associations that they have actually collectively negotiated negotiated with complex owners to purchase the building they live in.

This years was year was a highlight for us as both Housing Justice League and American Friends Service Committee received awards in recognition of our victories over the last year.

This years was also special because we had the opportunity to join the Poor Peoples Campaign for their day of action. Many of us marched to HUD and witnessed over a dozen committed faith and community leaders block the doors of HUD's office demanding better living conditions and more peopled centered policies. It was truly inspiring to be surrounded by so many people with such deep commitment to real economic justice.

The following day NAHT held a rally against Trump's proposed HUD cuts on the steps of the MLK memorial statue. If passed Trump's HUD budget would include deep cuts and much stricter work requirements. The cut's impact would put over 5k Georgia families at risk or homelessness and rent hikes that would be difficult to survive for those on fixed income. From there we went to visit congressional members and lobbied against the proposed cuts before saying our goodbyes and heading back to Atlanta.

Conferences like NAHT are important. They give us the opportunity to compare notes, inspire and be inspired by each other, to celebrate our work, explore how to more effectively, and leave with our imaginations on fire!

Big thanks to all who contributed to Housing Justice Leagues tenant training crowd source fundraiser as it helped cover the cost of three tenant leaders attending the conference!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Our truth, Our Power – The South Atlanta Listening Project

The growing number of luxury high-rises and trendy restaurants may give the impression of increasing prosperity, however Atlanta continues to be one of the worst cities in the country for income equality and economic mobility.

As the city enjoys a period of growth in several different industries, it is apparent that it is catering to the wants of newcomers and business interests- the voices of groups without the resources and influence to make themselves noticed are strikingly absent.

Young people who were born and raised in Atlanta’s poor communities make up one of the groups that is talked over and spoken for the most. Younger generations are almost always left out of discussions about the city’s future, even though they will play a major role in shaping its future. Those of us who come from the ‘hood are often viewed as part of Atlanta’s problem, instead of potential contributors to the solution.

We’re tired of being written off as “thugs” and ignored by the leadership of this city. We’re tired of being told that our problems will miraculously disappear once we “pull our pants up”. We’re tired of everyone trying to tell us what we should do, but rarely asking us what we want for ourselves.

We believe that we can make our voices heard, and work to build an Atlanta that prioritizes our interests and needs.

Our first step will be to conduct a listening project, so that we can give young people in Atlanta a chance to share their opinions about their city. A listening project is a series of interviews done with the goal of solving problems and helping communities realize the power they have. We will be interviewing people ages 17 to 25 who live in South and Southwest Atlanta (the east side of Zone 4, the north side of Zone 3, and the very south side of Zone 1). We want them to share as much as they can about their experiences living in their communities, so that we can paint a picture of the most major issues from many different perspectives.

Our ultimate goal is to bring the young people of Atlanta together, to build the confidence and skills that we need to stand up for our communities. We will use what we learn from the interviews to guide the next steps that we take to address some of the most pressing problems.

Most importantly, we need people who live in Atlanta’s disinvested communities to be at the forefront of this effort.

There are several organizations that are already providing crucial services for young people in Atlanta’s low income neighborhoods. Their presence and the work that they do are much needed and valued. The specific purpose of this project is to spark a movement to create a more just and equitable Atlanta— led by young people, for young people. We want it to be a chance for us to contribute directly to meaningful social change that we define on our own terms.

It’s easy to look at the shootings, the poverty, and the police violence and think that that’s just how life goes in the ‘hood. But we refuse to accept that things can’t be different. Every one of us has the ability to fight for a better world. First we must speak our truth, then we can claim our power.

If you would like to volunteer with us, please click here
To sign up for an interview, please click here

By the AFSC Youth Organizing Project: Foluke Nunn, Brenquavious Johnson

Thursday, May 3, 2018

ATL Tenants Fight Back Against Trump's Proposed HUD Cuts

On International Worker’s Day (Tuesday May 1) Housing Justice League members and supporters rallied  outside Senator David Perdue’s office at a main intersection in Buckhead to protest Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and demand the senator vote against Trump’s 2019 budget proposal that includes the slashing of HUD programs across the board. The rally was part of a National Day of Action organized by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) of which HJL is a member. The full budget proposal represents a brutal attack on the poor that will only contribute to inequality, racism, and the war economy. According to NAHT, the $6.8 billion in proposed cuts would be the deepest cuts in HUD’s history. Deborah Arnold, a community activist with Housing Justice League and NAHT Vice President commented, “Trump wants to cut taxes for the richest of the rich, paid for by raising rents on the poorest of the poor. 80% of HUD tenant households are led by women. We, too, demand that Congress reject Trump’s vicious assault on the women, children, elderly and disabled people who live in HUD housing.” 

If approved, program cuts would leave even more people in Georgia and across the US at high risk of death, without basic necessities such as housing, food, and health care in order to give tax cuts to corporations and the extremely wealthy. Trump’s cuts would pay for a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the 1% and corporations, huge hikes in the Pentagon budget, including first strike nuclear weapons, and the border Wall. Nationally, the cuts would raise rents on nearly 1.8 million families and 3 million children receiving rental assistance, squeezing even more rent from poor communities caught in discriminatory and exploitative systems including the housing market, education, and criminal justice system. In Georgia, the cuts would affect nearly 60,000 households. Rents would be raised by increasing the share of income that households must pay in rent from 30 to 35 percent, eliminating income deductions for households that have high out-of-pocket expenses (such as childcare), and raising minimum rents for households with little or no income, most with incomes below half of the poverty line. 

Trump’s budget proposes to cut 200,000 people from Section 8 Vouchers next year – 10% of the total – and an astounding 37% from Public Housing operating budgets, which are already severely underfunded.  The budget also repeals Section 8 Enhanced Vouchers, which would immediately displace more than 30,000 families and seniors across the nation. 

Additionally the plan would give HUD unlimited power to impose additional rent increases, letting it drastically cut rent subsidies for low-income Americans without seeking Congress’ approval. HUD says it aims to encourage work among rental assistance recipients, but key aspects of the plan would, if anything, discourage work, by raising households’ rent to 35 percent of their income, which would increase rents more drastically as earnings rise. The plan includes a proposal to let agencies and certain subsidized housing owners condition rental assistance on work requirements, while the budget proposal simultaneously includes deep cuts to job training programs. 

Throughout the rally,  HUD tenants and supporters explained to the crowd why they oppose any cuts to HUD. Mary Porter, an activist and resident at Veranda at Auburn Point, a senior HUD-insured public housing complex in Sweet Auburn commented, “We live on fixed incomes. We cannot afford for our rents to be raised. We cannot continue to be mistreated by the government of the United States of America. We deserve affordable housing. This is not just about people who live in affordable housing. Those of you who don’t live in affordable housing, and who don’t have to live in affordable housing should care about those of us who do.” 

Protesters emphasized that the budget changes will not only affect the most vulnerable people in Georgia, but their entire communities as well. “You can’t address poverty if you don’t address affordable housing. We are in a housing crisis in Atlanta. All we’re doing is increasing homelessness,” commented Karimah Dillard, a student of social work and community advocate. When I think about the social cost of raising rent, it goes so far beyond whether or not I’m able to make my rent payment. We’re talking about can I eat? Can I afford my medicine? Transportation? If I can’t drive to work, I will lose my job.” 

Following the rally, protesters entered the Terminus 100 Building to request a meeting with Senator Perdue. Due to Perdue’s office being located 26 stories up on a “closed floor,” only a small group managed to get into the elevator leading to the correct floor. They were able to hold a brief meeting with Perdue’s State Director, Ben Fry, to explain their concerns and request a meeting at a later date with the Senator. “The government will subsidize corporate America, but it won’t subsidize poor people, or low-income people, or the working class community. Everything that’s being proposed seems to be going against the working lower-class people,” explained Columbus Ward, long-term Peoplestown resident and HJL member.We want our representatives to understand the negative impact these cuts will have on the people who elected them. Alison Johnson, another Peoplestown resident and member of HJL added, all of our public housing has been taken away. Not only are we asking for no HUD cuts, we’re asking for money to be put back into the HUD budget. We can’t afford to live the way we are living today. There is nowhere for us to go. We are here today to ask respectfully that David Perdue listen to the constituents that put him in office. We cannot tolerate or take another HUD cut.” 

An attack like this, added to an already severe housing crisis in which over half of renters are paying more than 30% of their income in rent (the definition of affordability), and people of color are being hit the hardest, makes an urgent situation even more dire. Housing Justice League is supporting tenant organizing through regular monthly tenant trainings and ongoing support, in working to build political force among a large renter class that is already shifting political consciousness and power across the United States and internationallyHul’yah Yasah, a tenant organizer at the HUD-subsidized Briarcliff Apartments commented, we rise that we may be a voice for the voiceless. We no longer have to look to you to make it right. Our presence is what makes it right.” 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

#BeltLine4All Campaign Holds First in a Series of Popular Education Workshops

On February 8, Housing Justice League’s BeltLine for All campaign held the first of four workshops in our BeltLine for All popular education workshop series. The workshop took place at Heritage Station Apartments in the Pittsburgh neighborhood just south of downtown.

The evening’s discussion featured Housing Justice League’s recent community-led research project which focuses on the development process of the BeltLine and the effects it is having on rising costs and displacement in low-income communities, especially in the Southside. The central message emphasized throughout the workshop was made clear: “We have to get organized!” You too can join our campaign by reading and signing our petition to tell policymakers that it is unconscionable for a city with resources as great as Atlanta’s to incentivize the continued extraction of wealth from our communities.  

While issues of disinvestment and political marginalization in Southside neighborhoods are nothing new and are well understood by longtime Southside residents, Housing Justice League understands our research on the BeltLine as a way for residents to consider present-day manifestations of racism in public policy and the imminent threat gentrification is posing in Atlanta. In entering these conversations we understand that we are “preaching to the choir,” as one Pittsburgh resident put it. But we also know that as racism and exploitation are fought, they evolve to evade public awareness and criticism, all the while continuing the same basic function: maintaining the power of an elite minority and destroying practices of democracy that uphold political priorities of equity and justice.

For this reason, our workshop linked the historical patterns of racial segregation and disinvestment to present-day “public-private partnerships” that give power to private investors and break apart low-income communities of color. Historically, the federal and city governments channeled public money into the suburbs and deprived the Black “inner city” of needed public infrastructure and social services through practices like redlining, federally-backed housing mortgages for whites, and highway construction. In the 1990s the Atlanta city government destroyed public housing and began a shift away from public authorities control of urban development towards control by private investors. Alison Johnson, member and longtime resident leader with the Housing Justice League emphasized the loss of not only housing during this period, but also an organized political force of tenants who were able to make strong demands of local government. The destruction of public housing complexes was a direct attack upon the social networks and housing stability that helped make these forms of social and political organization possible.

Corporate elites pushed for policies that gave tax cuts to the wealthy and turned government-controlled public services over to the whims of for-profit private corporations. This was exemplified in the 1990s through the development of the Georgia Dome and the Olympics Stadium which had catastrophic effects for surrounding communities. Because cities lack funding and are controlled by for-profit interests, they rely more on “privatized” models of urban development that depend on attracting private investment. It is easy for investors to buy out black communities and make a profit because land is cheap from decades of disinvestment and the government does not protect the poor against rising prices and displacement.

In our workshop, this information served as context for explaining the effects of the public-private partnership overseeing the BeltLine’s development, which is spurring on patterns of gentrification and displacement on a large scale. The BeltLine is displacing residents at an alarming rate as rents and property taxes along its path path shoot up, and its plan for developing affordable housing is far behind schedule. We are losing affordable housing in Atlanta at a rate far greater than the rate at which it is being built.

The BeltLine for All campaign team’s goal is that this information can serve as an alert to the immediacy of the threat of gentrification in Southside communities and as a starting point for collective action on whatever residents identify as the most pressing issues that they want to take on. Following our presentation we opened up a discussion to talk about different concerns and what action the community might consider taking. We heard residents’ own observations about the rapid changes occurring in Pittsburgh and other issues the community faces. One of the issues that came up the most was the train consistently stopping across McDaniel Street, blocking traffic for hours or even days at a time and disrupting neighborhoods blowing its horn often as late as 2:00 a.m. One senior resident commented, “I’d like to see that train not inhibit my health,” explaining that the train poses a very serious danger to seniors at Heritage Station because it could cause a delay in getting to the emergency room.

Other topics residents raised were related more directly to gentrification. One resident talked about how she had noticed that the recently renovated homes near her are only for sale, with none for rent. “They are all for sale and many Pittsburgh residents are older and living on a fixed income. They are not able to start buying homes,” she explained. Katrina Monroe-Pettway, a Pittsburgh resident and representative for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation, which specializes in unjust housing issues, spoke about an alarming number of contractor signs that went up all down her street just before Thanksgiving. Commenting on all the changes that have been happening, one person said her question is, “but are they going to be good for me? Where am I going to go?”

Towards the end of the workshop, many residents expressed interest in organizing to take on some of the issues residents of Southside Atlanta and Pittsburgh face, and many people asked for suggestions on what to do. To this HJL leaders Alison Johnson and Deborah Arnold’s response was, “you have to get organized.” Alison talked about the historic importance of NPUs and tenant associations holding power in Atlanta and explained that an approach where HJL and other housing justice organizations across the country have found a lot of success is through tenant organizing. Tenant associations bring neighbors together to pool knowledge and strengthen trust and power within the community which makes organizing to address immediate issues within a complex possible, as well as broader issues within the community and the city.  A number of attendees committed to attending Housing Justice League’s next mass meeting to learn more about tenant organizing and our upcoming program that will offer more consistent training and support for tenant associations. The central message of the night, “you have to get organized!” was also emphasized by the audience when Alison asked the attendees what they thought they should do. Their answers were “ all high rises should have an organization team” and “we need an organization!”

To review the Beltline report click here