Senate Takes Aim at Income Targeting
Eager to get started on summer recess, the Senate tabled discussion on the Public Housing Reform and Responsibility Act of 1997 (S.462) until September. Awaiting Senators is a series of disputes, which threaten the bill’s passage altogether.
The most prominent issue of debate concerns “income targeting,” reserving spaces in public housing for residents with the greatest need. The current law targets households whose income does not exceed 50 percent of the area median income for eligibility for a majority of public housing units and Section 8 vouchers and certificates. The Senate committee has vowed to lower that threshold and reduce the number of units held to that standard.
Housing Authorities have led the fight for relaxed targeting, saying that the admission of higher income residents will make up for lower operating subsidies. A coalition of tenant advocacy groups, led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Center for Community Change, is opposed to legislation which gives federal housing resources to higher income households, especially considering the relatively limited availability of such housing for low income households. At press time, the Senate committee had reportedly reached a compromise on income targeting, which would slightly lower Public Housing targeting in exchange for an increase in Section 8 targeting, but no details were available.
Another notable sticking point raises privacy issues for all residents of federally subsidized housing. Democrats and Republicans alike have vowed to block a floor vote on the bill unless they reach agreement on Senator Rod Grams’ (R-MN) insistence that the bill include language allowing public housing authorities to require chemical dependency treatment records of applicants, despite challenges that such a measure violates the Fair Housing Act and a federal law keeping such records confidential.
If the Senate approves the bill in September, it will need to be worked over in committee since it is substantially different from the House bill (HR 2) passed earlier this year.
Workfare Recipients Struggle for Rights
Under pressure from Workfare recipients and their advocates, the White House and the Department of Labor announced on May 15th that Workfare workers should be compensated at the federal minimum wage and protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other worker protections. Workfare jobs are the unpaid public service jobs that welfare recipients are required to take in order to keep their benefits. Immediately following the announcement, the House of Representatives began formulating legislation to undo the provision by making Workfare workers not employees in any legal sense.
Many groups, including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Center for Community Change (CCC), National Employment Law Project (NELP), and the Coalition for Human Needs have been leading a fight to win fair treatment for Workfare workers. Unions too, especially the AFL-CIO and AFSCME, have joined in lobbying the Administration and Congress. Actions have included two national call-in days organized by CCC and NELP. In March, ACORN organized a public meeting with Clinton’s National Economic Council Director, Gene Spurling. Over 500 people, including over 200 Workfare workers, attended the meeting, and many participated in a subsequent march on the Department of Health and Human Services. Protesters wore orange vests – the uniform of Workfare workers – and carried brooms and signs with such slogans as “Work with No Rights” and “No Pay Equals Slavery.”
ACORN, along with some AFSCME locals, is also organizing Workfare workers union-style, especially in New York City, focusing on basic health and safety protections, grievance procedures, and the displacement of recipients from school or job training programs into unskilled Workfare jobs.
Chicago Public Housing Residents Demand “Contract”
Chicago public housing residents recently marched downtown and rallied in Grant Park to pose a question that marcher Lolita Wright put succinctly: “I want to know where they’re going to put everybody.”
Marchers from many Chicago developments marked the formation of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing on June 19, Juneteenth Day, which commemorates the day slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Allies of public housing tenants such as Section 8 tenants, unions, and community organizations joined marchers, bringing the event’s turn out to 1,500 people.
Marchers visited the Chicago Housing Authority, the regional office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and City Hall to call for a “contract” between public housing residents and government that included three points: choices of different types of housing, such as scattered site, Section 8, and others, for residents displaced due to building demolition; guarantees of decent treatment for public housing residents; and accountability of decision makers to tenants.
Dozens of people – from public housing advocate Bertha Gilkey of St. Louis to a local representative of the Campaign for Human Development to a rap group, Tha’ proj, made up of former residents of the Rockwell Gardens complex – spoke at the rally. The CHD representative announced a two-year, $90,000 grant to the coalition.
“We are being told ‘you go here’ and ‘you go there,'” Carol Steele of the coalition said. “That’s not the way we should or will be treated. We’ve mobilized people to…fight for what they want, which is a seat at the table and the right to stay in our homes.”