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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Stanton Oaks Tenants Rally Outside their Complex After Safety Concerns go Unanswered for Months


 Stanton Oaks Tenant Association, a member organization of Housing Justice League, held a rally on January 24 that was successful in getting the owners of their apartment complex to promise to re-install the tenants’ security doors within two weeks, after brushing aside tenants’ concerns for months. The owners of the complex, the Woda Group Inc., removed the metal security doors from every unit’s front door before a HUD REAC inspection back in October without any warning or explanation, causing a threat to residents’ safety.


At the time of their removal, the Woda Group promised to replace the doors in a timely manner. But after taking the time to go through the different chains of command, writing letters, and meeting with local and corporate management, the Woda Group suddenly informed Stanton Oaks Tenant Association that they would not get their doors back. “As tenants we have a right to live in a safe space and after months of waiting for the Woda Group to take our concerns seriously we decided to organize a rally in front of the complex office in hopes to have the issue addressed. Many of us are living in fear every day,” said the tenant association’s president and long term tenant, Sherise Brown.


At the rally, tenants expressed deep concern about their community’s safety without their security doors and tried to bring awareness to their situation. Jacqueline Lawrence talked about how the door of apartment next to hers had been kicked in. "It was just tore up and the door was just standing open," said Lawrence. "It didn't take any time. They were in there in about a minute." When Lawrence made a report of the incident to the apartment management, the management tried to place the blame on her asking why she hadn’t called the police, rather than recognizing the need for the doors’ re-installment.



The Woda was able to get away with ignoring the concerns of the Stanton Oaks tenants for several months because property owners understand that tenants’ rights often go unenforced in a society that privileges the interests of management companies and property owners with wealth over those with lesser means. Uniting with other tenants however builds power to draw attention to problems and get them resolved. There are many more tenants than landlords, and when it comes down to it, it is actually the landlords who are dependent on tenants for paying their rent. And with the rapid gentrification occurring in Atlanta and increasing profitability of luxury developments, it is more important than ever for tenants to protect their right to affordable housing. The Stanton Oaks Tenant Association’s rally was a demonstration of collective power and it got undeniable and immediate results for tenants. Housing Justice League stands with Stanton Oaks as they continue working to address the need for safer lighting around the complex and other issues.
Watch local CBS coverage of the story.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Residents Fight for their Communities and Offer Solutions

This morning Southside residents of Atlanta and Housing Justice League members and supporters delivered a new report to City Hall showing gentrification and displacement from BeltLine development in Atlanta's historically Black Southside. The report, by the Atlanta advocacy group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, shows Southside residents are already being displaced by the Atlanta BeltLine greenway development even in neighborhoods that it has not yet touched. The Atlanta BeltLine, which will ultimately be a 22-mile loop of green parks, trails, and streetcars circling inside city neighborhoods along discontinued rail beds, is a force for gentrification and displacement of long-time, low-income residents, many of them Black.

CAN WE COUNT ON YOU TO COME TO THE COMMUNITY LAUNCH FOR THE BELTLINE FOR ALL CAMPAIGN?

Proceeding the actual delivery of the report to City Council and the Mayor, participants of the research project gathered with their supporters, City candidates and elected officials, the press, and others on the steps in front of City Hall to hear from Southside Residents. All of the speakers emphasized the importance of community involvement and accountability in city planning in order to meet the critical needs of long-time residents and avoid historical and continuing patterns of racism, displacement, and disinvestment.

As Alison Johnson, a Peoplestown resident and Housing Justice League member who helped author this report, says,

“Communities on the Southside deserve to be a part of the process to shape and determine the neighborhoods where we live. We want the kind of responsible, democratic city building that gives us the best quality of life, not that which is done by and for the wealthy.”

Research by the Atlanta community group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative, largely in the three historically Black neighborhoods of Adair Park, Peoplestown, and Pittsburgh, tracks the hopes of residents for the BeltLine, how they are actually affected by it, and the forces of gentrification that, if left unimpeded, will damage the economic and racial diversity that long-term residents and newcomers alike say is a strength of the area.

The report – “BeltLining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta's Southside” – builds upon analysis of census data, a survey, and a year-long participatory action research project. The researchers found that:

·         Residents overwhelmingly want to stay in their neighborhoods,
·         Gentrification has already raised property values and displaced people in historically Black neighborhoods not yet touched by BeltLine development, and
·         Atlanta failed to enact protections against displacement that have been effective in other parts of the country. It still has time to do so as the BeltLine turns its development eye to more of the historically Black Southside.
 
The report’s major recommendation is for Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated, the public-private partnership leading the development, and the City as a whole, is to embrace more democratic planning processes so that the interests of current residents are incorporated into development, and the supportive networks among neighbors are protected and appreciated.

Housing Justice League is itself helping to model what this kind of planning could look like for the city at large. The community-directed research report is part of Housing Justice League’s broader BeltLine For All campaign, seeking to create spaces that center resident voices and promote community engagement in the development process. The Monday following the press release Housing Justice League will officially launch the broader campaign with a community-centered event where people will be able to learn more about the research, connect, and sign up to volunteer and lift up their perspectives through the campaign.

BeltLine for All will seek to curb Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated’s irresponsible record on affordable housing through democratic participation, people pressure, and public policy. Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated was launched in 2005, when the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools, and Fulton County all empowered a new Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District to fund both parks and more than 28,000 units of housing – only 5,600 units of it affordable – in neighboring areas. The hope of the BeltLine lies in its initial promises: to spur equitable development and to include a robust affordable housing strategy to prevent displacement.

But as Atlanta BeltLine Incorporated itself acknowledges, almost midway through the 25-year-long development period, fewer than 1,000 units of affordable housing have been built in the area, far short of the original goal, even as housing prices near the greenways are rising faster than in the city as a whole. This means the area is losing far more existing affordable housing than it is creating. And there are no rent regulations or alternative property tax policies to stop the surge. 


To learn more about the policy BeltLine for All will push for to turn around the unjust development practices displacing residents, you can read the full report on housingjusticeleague.org.