Shelter Shorts

500 New Homeowners; One Dead Housing Program

Hundreds of western Massachusetts tenants became homeowners this past summer because of their work through the Anti-Displacement Project, which has organized tenant associations and targeted HUD bureaucrats and Massachusetts’ most powerful politicians to leverage buyout money from HUD. The group particularly credits its success to its relationship with US Senator John Kerry, who influenced HUD to pay attention to direct sales to tenants, rather than taking its usual course of dealing only with nonprofits. The group’s organizing convinced the federal and state governments to invest $27 million in helping tenants of Spring Meadows, Pufton Village, and Greenfield Gardens – more than 500 families in all – purchase their buildings.

These complexes were among the best HUD-subsidized housing, developed with low-interest loans in the 1970s. The Low Income Housing Preservation and Resident Homeownership Act (LIHPRHA), a 1990 federal law, provided assistance for the tenant buyouts. Because the Clinton administration killed LIHPRHA this year, only four of seven such sales nationally went through, and no more sales of this kind will happen again.

In what one leader called a desperate last stand to save one of the buildings, children living there drew a poster of what homeownership would mean to them. The poster was sent to Washington while tenants faxed hundreds of postcards to HUD. HUD found $6 million more to help with the purchase.

– By Gordon Mayer, National Training and Information Center, 312-243-3035

Court Says Landlords Must Accept Vouchers

Landlords must accept Section 8 vouchers as rent from existing tenants, a New Jersey state appeals court ruled in October. The court held that a real estate partnership violated state laws prohibiting discrimination in the source of a rent payment when it rejected a tenant’s attempt to use a Section 8 voucher as payment.

The ruling involved a 64-year-old woman resident of a West New York apartment complex, according to the October 23, 1997, Record, a New Jersey newspaper. Unable to work, the woman had a monthly income of $521.80 from Social Security and $100 to $200 in food stamps. Her rent was $425. The West New York Housing Authority approved her for Section 8 housing assistance in April 1996. When she tried to use the voucher to pay rent two days later, the landlord refused.

A lawyer for the landlord said this decision opens the door for tenants to claim the right to rent anywhere using a voucher. The lawyer also commented that the landlord would rather charge less for rent than deal with federal housing inspections and other requirements of the Section 8 program, the Record reported.

But according to Gregory Diebold, housing director for Hudson County Legal Services Corporation, which defended the tenant, the ruling applies only to tenants who begin using vouchers for apartments in which they already live. Further, he said Section 8 imposes no more burdens on landlords than typical local building regulations. Some landlords use their Section 8 opposition as an excuse to discriminate against minority tenants, he also noted, although he did not suggest Franklin Tower was guilty of bias.

Hudson County Legal Services Corporation, 201-792-6363.


Wellstone Winds Up “Poverty Tour”

During a seven-month, cross-country “poverty tour” of America, US Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) found continuing poverty and disproportionate poverty among people of color. But Wellstone said he also found some things he didn’t fully anticipate: “programs that work, people who make a difference, possibilities for change, and productive spending of tax dollars.”

Retracing Robert Kennedy’s journey of 30 years ago, Wellstone launched his tour in the Mississippi Delta in May, the Associated Press reported. Wellstone toured ghettoes, barrios, and rural shacks in Chicago, Los Angeles, Appalachia, and elsewhere.

While Republican critics attributed the tour mainly to Wellstone’s presidential aspirations, Wellstone said it was unrelated to his interest in running for president in 2000. But if he decides to run, he said, he will use his campaign to raise poverty issues.

Wellstone said the most important thing the tour taught him was: “You can have all the social services in the world, but the whole house of cards collapses if you don’t have the jobs.” He said government should ensure jobs that pay living wages – enough to feed, clothe and house a family – for everyone who wants to work. While entrepreneurs and community-based organizations can provide some jobs, he said, many must be publicly financed. He envisions the government subsidizing employment – including jobs in child care and elder care, housing construction, and environmental clean-up – through programs similar to the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

Wellstone promised to introduce job-creation legislation when Congress reconvenes in January, although he acknowledges this will be a tough sell in the current political environment.

Senator Paul Wellstone, 202-224-5641

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Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.

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