The Shame of the City: Chronicle and Examiner Cover-Up Bush Housing Cuts

by Randy Shaw on May 5, 2004

The title of the front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times read: “Housing Subsidies for the Poor Threatened by Cuts in U.S. Aid.” Reporter David Chen described how the Bush Administration on April 22 lowered the federal reimbursement rate for Section 8 vouchers, thereby
potentially forcing Housing Authorities “to do what they have never done it their three-decade history: evict tenants from federally subsidized housing because of insufficient funding.” While thousands of San Franciscans fought to stay in their homes, both the Chronicle and Examiner praised the Bush Administration for its efforts to end homelessness

The new Bush action comes on the heels of its earlier proposal to trim next year’s HUD budget by $900 million. During the past four years Bush has failed to increase the number of new families receiving federal housing assistance, reversing the progress made in Clinton’s last
three years.

The April 22 action primarily impacts cities like New York City and San Francisco, where rents go up faster than inflation. HUD now seeks to require tenants to pay these excess costs, which, given low inflation and rising rents, are quite substantial. The policy shift raises the tenants share of the rent by $30 in such relatively low-cost areas as Fargo, North Dakota, so monthly rent increases of over $100.00 for San Francisco families is likely. HUD claims it enacted the new policy to save $191 million.

One would think that San Francisco’s two daily papers would be raising alarm bells both over the nearly billion dollar proposed HUD spending cut and the policy change that particularly hurts local families. After all, both papers extensively covered the start of the Care not Cash program, which affects far fewer low-income tenants than
the Bush housing cuts.

But neither the Chronicle or Examiner has written a single story on the Bush Administration’s war on Section 8 housing. The reason, sad to say, is that both papers have focused their stories to show that Bush is trying to reduce, not increase, homelessness in America.

Last week, and for the past six months, the Chronicle has promoted Bush homeless czar’s Phillip Mangano plan for a “Samaritan Bill” that would make $70 million in grants nationally for supportive housing. The Chronicle did an editorial last week praising Mangano and the bill, and
has previously done a worshiping profile of a man who has quietly observed Bush’s war on affordable housing.

While the Chronicle has mentioned Bush’s proposed Section 8 cuts (but not the April 22 policy shift) in passing, it has never covered the issue. Instead, both local dailies have refused to challenge Mangano on the Bush housing record. When Bush’s czar appeared at a press conference last week with Mayor Newsom to publicize the Samaritan Bill,
an activist interrupted the event to demand his response to the Bush cuts. Mangano replied that there was a sense in Washington D.C. of “dysfunctionality” to the Section 8 program, and suggested that success in addressing chronic homelessness could build support for funding for families.

Did our local media ask Mangano why he was not back in D.C. defending the Section 8 program against charges of “dysfunctionality?” Of course not. Did our media question Mangano’s bizzare claim that enacting the Samaritan bill would somehow build support for the Section 8 programs that his own boss was trying to kill? No, it did not.

Recent history shows the destructiveness of the recent Bush policy change. When rising rents in the late 1990’s made it difficult for low-income families with Section 8 vouchers to find housing former local HUD chief Art Agnos and Congressmember Nancy Pelosi pressed HUD to raise the Section 8 rent rate to real market levels. This greatly
increased voucher use in the city. Had the new Bush policy been in effect, tenants with vouchers would never have been able to keep up with the rising rents, and Section 8 vouchers would be now virtually unusable in our high-rent city..

Fortunately, the Bush plan has already unleashed a bipartisan storm of opposition. Hilary Clinton is leading the battle among Democrats, as New York City leads the country with 118,000 families using Section 8 vouchers. Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota wrote to HUD last week urging them to reverse a policy that “puts the goal of ending longterm homelessness at risk.” 2000 families in Minnesota will lose their housing in June if the new HUD policy is not rescinded.

The San Francisco Chronicle claims to be the “Voice of the West.” But this voice has been quiet when it comes to opposing Bush Administration’s efforts to increase homelessness both locally and throughout America.

Filed under: Bay Area / California

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