Housing issues discussed at Demo Convention

by Harrison J. Chastang III on July 30, 2004

BOSTON-The importance of housing issues and the next election was the key topic discussed at a Democratic caucus meetings in Boston Wednesday afternoon. Participants on the panel sponsored by the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco included San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary Andrew Cuemo and drew a comparison between Clinton administration housing programs that Cuemo said provided more opportunities for average Americans to buy homes and to move low income Americans from homeless and public subsidized housing into mainstream rental housing, and Bush administration polices Cuemo said would cause more people to lose affordable housing and force them into homelessness.

The panel noted two programs that are being targeted for elimination under the Bush administration; the Section 8 housing voucher program that pays a portion of rents in market rate apartments; and the Hope VI program that provides local governments the money to demolish old, poorly designed or unsafe public housing with decentralized public housing units incorporated in communities with market rate housing developments. The panel noted that no new public housing is being built in the United States and that the Bush administration had made no accommodations for people being displaced by the elimination of crime ridden high rise and military barrack style housing projects constructed in the 40s and 50s. Many proposals to replace traditional public housing results in developments that are much smaller than the previous housing projects, leaving public housing residents who are not selected to move into replacement units literally out in the cold.

Cuemo said that former President Clinton’s concern for housing made it much easier to pursue housing issues that would help average people afford housing, and that John Kerry also believes that issues of homeless and housing should be a high priority in his administration. Cuemo said that while the Bush administration is taking credit for an increase in home ownership, Cuemo attributed it to policies that he set up during his time with the Clinton HUD department. Cuemo said that the Bush administration considers programs like Section 8 and Hope VI entitlements and that the Bush White House does not think that providing affordable housing for the homeless and low income people is very important. Cuemo predicted that that existing housing programs for the homeless and low income people will face further cuts under a new Bush administration seeking new ways to subsidize future tax cuts.

The panel recommended that the next administration establish a national housing policy that would provide lending advice to states and local government, encourage construction of housing in low income and urban areas, involve non white developers and contractors and develop new sources for housing investments. The panel also said that such a policy should include solutions to barriers that keep poor people from obtaining housing. The panelists noted that the most serious homeless and housing issues occur in high rent cities like San Francisco and San Jose, where landlords are can be more selective and where finding housing is a challenge for very low income people or homeless who cannot pass a credit check. Cuemo said that current administration polices that encourage landlords to require background and credit checks for potential renters contributes to the homeless problem rather than solve the problem of finding affordable housing.

San Jose mayor Gonzales said that programs need to be created to make housing affordable to people who work in expensive cities but cannot afford to live where they work. Gonzales said he was proud of the many awards that San Jose has received for meeting the challenges of creating affordable housing in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. The San Jose mayor said he was optimistic that programs that are working in San Jose can be effective in other cities. Gonzales says two programs that has helped workers remain in San Jose are the officer and teacher next door program. The programs provide substantial reductions in housing costs and tax incentives for police officers, firefighters and teachers if they decide to move into a low income community. Gonzales says the additional benefit of having police and firefighters live in the city is that they can be on the scene quickly in an emergency, unlike police in other cities where a large number of officers live
miles outside the city. Gonzales says that crime has dropped dramatically in communities where police live and are allowed to take their squad car or police motorcycle home with them.

Harrison J. Chastang III is news director at KPOO 98.5 FM Radio in San Francisco and can be contacted at oorfenegro@hotmail.com

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