One Of A Kind
Jane Wood, longtime New York City tenant activist, died in March at the age of 96. Wood began fighting to help the poor in the 1930s, and in the 1950s founded the Chelsea Coalition on Housing, an advocacy group for low-income tenants. Her protest of a new middle-income cooperative that would have displaced residents led to the co-op granting the residents priority housing in the new development. Wood helped prevent the evictions of thousands of tenants when her Chelsea neighborhood became gentrified. Most recently, and most notably, Wood staged a protest by sleeping on an air mattress (in a matching nightgown and nightcap) in the lobby of her building to pressure the landlord to replace an elevator that had been out of service for months. (NY Times, 3/19/04)
HUD’s Faulty Logic
Michael Liu, HUD assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing is reported as saying that HUD’s voucher program is too expensive because voucher recipients are too poor. Because of that, the likely logic would be to eliminate HUD’s requirement that 75 percent of new vouchers go to the lowest-income families. Liu says that getting rid of the income requirement is a good thing because in many places there are not enough families within the lowest-income range who ask for vouchers. Trust us, Liu, the poor and needy are out there. And they’re not hiding. (Newsday, 2/12/04)
Liberty, Justice and Water For All
It’s January 2004, and several black residents on the outskirts of Zanesville, OH, are witnessing something they never imagined would happen.
Drinking water pouring from the kitchen faucet! For decades residents have been asking local officials to extend the town’s water lines to their part of town. But year after year, excuse after excuse, most thought it a hopeless cause. Until the Ohio Civil Rights Commission got involved. The commission found that of the 45 homes in the area, 22 of the 25 black families did not have city water service while all 20 of the white families did. And the three black families that did have water service opted to connect independently. Just one month after the commission’s findings were released, the county miraculously found enough money to extend the water line. (NY Times, 2/17/04)
Update: Hope Community Development Corp.
Mark Alexander has stepped down as executive director of Hope Community Development Corporation in East Harlem, NY, to run his own real estate company. He led Hope for 10 years, but had been with the CDC in various capacities since 1977. Alexander drew heat from many tenants and others for what they felt was his eagerness to emphasize mixed-income development at the expense of low-income tenants and their housing needs. (See “East Harlem’s Bottom Line,” SF #125.) In an interview with Shelterforce about his new venture, Alexander says he’s not interested in competing with CDCs but will look at the possibilities for market-rate housing in what he called “emerging neighborhoods” in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. (www.hopeci.org)
Washington experts reported that despite the sluggish economy, welfare rolls have declined over the past three years. Wade F. Horn, assistant U.S. secretary of HHS in charge of welfare policy, said the current welfare program is relatively “recession-proof.” Never mind that unemployment and poverty are on the rise. The number of families now on welfare, nearly 2 million, is less than half the number of families on welfare in 1996. Some “experts” tout several reasons to qualify such a finding – from recipients obtaining job skills and a work ethic to state-sponsored child care programs. But there’s a more obvious reason: term limits, as set by federal and state laws. (Texas set a term limit of one year.) There has also been a decline in the welfare caseload because some have been dropped from the rolls for failing to comply with work requirements, and other eligible families are simply too discouraged to apply because the application process is too difficult or complex. (NY Times, 3/22/04)
Midlife Crisis for the Suburbs?
A recent study of Long Island, NY – one writer has called it “where post-World War II suburbia was born” – may become the road map for what lies ahead for other mature suburbs around the country. According to the study, Long Island’s population is getting older and experiencing a brain drain as younger people move elsewhere in search of affordable housing and lower taxes.
• A third of Long Island residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and rents are among the highest in the region.
• Some 5.5 percent of the suburb’s 2.8 million people live below the poverty line.
• The number of nonwhite residents increased from 16 percent of the population in 1990 to 24 percent in 2000, but Long Island is “one of the most racially segregated suburban regions in the nation.”
The Rauch Foundation of Garden City, LI sponsored the report. (NY Times, 2/12/04)
A Technical Foul
New York developer Bruce Ratner is keeping his eye on the ball with his plan to bring the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise to Brooklyn’s (NY) Prospect Heights neighborhood. The proposed for-profit sports complex should cost somewhere in the ballpark of $2.5 billion, most of it to be paid with public funds. The arena will destroy not only the homes of almost 400 people and a homeless shelter, but also neighborhood businesses. (Tenant/Inquilino, NY, 2/04)
Beware: Merging Ahead
It’s official. The Bank of America and Fleet merger has received the green light. Bank of America has previously announced that it plans to lend and invest $750 billion over the next 10 years to community programs dealing with issues such as affordable housing. However, there are some who charge that “the bank’s plan is too vague and lacks details as to how much money might be invested in specific communities around the country.” Let’s just wait and see if the financial giant will become a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and its affordable housing program. (The Wall Street Journal, 1/8/04)
Postcards From the Edge
American Friends Service Committee launched its “Welfare Voter 2004!” postcard campaign in January to fight Congress’ TANF reauthorization. Postcards and electronic messages were sent to all U.S. senators before they were to address the reauthorization in early March. Over 22,000 postcards were mailed by more than 250 organizations and individuals from 40 states. (NLIHC, Memo To Members, 2/13/04)