Spurned By HUD

On Tuesday, May 18th 2010, I was walking through Capitol Hill on my way to the Library of Congress when a woman who recognized me called me over. Being a fellow-activist, she invited me to attend a hearing at the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which was to take place the very next day. I told her that I would be going to a rally with "Save Our Safety Net!" which would take place outside of the Wilson Building (City Hall) at about the same time and therefore couldn't attend the HUD hearing. She insisted and prevailed. However, I would eventually find my very first visit to the offices of HUD to be quite unwelcoming.

I arrived a few minutes before the 9:30 start time. I was directed to the security desk so that the guard could see if my name was on the roster. With it being my first time attending a hearing in a federal agency, I didn't realize that I couldn't even attend, let alone speak, if I hadn't RSVP'ed. (One may attend a DC Council hearing without signing up to attend. They are asked to sign up if they want to testify, but may speak even if they haven't signed up, though they have to wait until the end.)

I was told to have a seat and that someone would be with me. A couple of minutes later, a woman spoke to me about my situation. She said that she couldn't let me in, but would give me a copy of the legislation being discussed. While I was waiting, people continued to enter and register with security. Then, lo and behold, in came an old acquaintance named Michael Kelly. Mr. Kelly is the former director of DCHA (the District of Columbia Housing Authority) and is presently serving as general manager of New York City's Housing Authority. He was able to pull some strings and get me into the hearing.

I was given a name tag and directed toward the auditorium. After finding it, I saw that the hearing hadn't started yet and so I stepped back into the hall so as to have a look around. No sooner had I stepped into the hall when a man in a suit, whom I presumed to be a security guard, asked me where my group was, thus implying that I was supposed to remain with them and didn't have the right to venture off on my own. It began to look as though I was unwelcome and being watched closely. I was slightly baffled, with it being my first time in the building and all of my previous advocacy and activism having involved the local government. I couldn't understand what anyone here could have against me already.

Secretary Shaun Donovan made a speech and then the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience. I waited until almost 30 minutes into the public comment period before I decided to speak. (Having only heard of the hearing the day before and having only viewed the legislation during the hearing, I wasn't prepared to ask questions at the beginning of the comment period. So, I waited and listened so as to get a feel for what was being discussed.)

I got in the line that had formed at the microphone at 11:02 AM. There were a half dozen people in front of me. Unlike the DC Council, HUD doesn't limit the time that a person has to speak. Therefore, some people were speaking for close to 10 minutes. At about 11:30, the moderator said that time was running out and that he could only take 2 more questions. At that time, I was the 3rd person in line. There was a woman standing in front of the mic as the moderator spoke, then another man and then myself. As the woman spoke, the man in front of me asked me, "Do you work with tenants?", to which I said, "Yes". He offered me his spot. Now I was the 2nd person in line and thought that I'd get my turn to speak. However, when the woman finished speaking, the moderator said, "Sorry, we're out of time." So much for 2 more questions. This also made me wonder, once again, what in the world HUD had against me.

When I was the 3rd person in line, they only had time for 2 more questions. When the 2nd person in line gave me his spot, they only had time for one more question. What's really happening????? I think that I've been spurned by HUD. But the question remains as to why. I've narrowed it down to 3 possibilities:

1 -- I was the worst-dressed person in the room with my navy blue uniform work pants and black hoody. (I'd removed my usual backwards cap.) Everyone else in the room was dressed formally.

2 -- My good.....err gangster name precedes me. (I'm known to ask challenging questions and to make tough demands on the powers that be. When it comes to me, they're the "powers that flee".)

3 -- I have a powerful but fierce aura that scares people, even those who don't know me -- especially those who don't know me.

Several people offered me their sympathy after seeing how long I stood in line, only to be denied the opportunity to speak (from 11:02 to 11:35). The moderator told me to go to the stage and speak to Assistant Secretary Sandra Brooks Henriquez (off the record, of course). I spoke to her very briefly, with that short time having been interrupted by a woman who needed a signature from her.

As I made my way to the men's room, a couple more people offered me their sympathy. As soon as i stepped back into the hall, the woman who'd originally told me that she would send me off with a copy of the legislation showed me the way out. While it may seem to be a kind gesture, it added to my perception that I was unwanted there. Once again, what does HUD have against me????? Maybe I should try to find out from Secretary Donovan.

At any rate, here are the concerns that I hurriedly mentioned to Ass't Secretary Henriquez:

1 -- In DC there is a 7-year wait,on average, for HUD housing.
2 -- The waiting list was purged last year and reduced from 60,000 to 26,000.
3 -- Even after the purge, the priority list has 10,000 people on it. So you still end up waiting years for housing after you become a priority.
4 -- Landlords are choosing one-year contracts as opposed to the 20- or 30-year contracts that they used to get with HUD.
5 -- Many landlords opt out of a HUD contract by failing to maintain the building and even by removing the sink or otherwise devaluing the property. They don't get penalized for this.
6 -- DC's AMI (area median income) is $102,000. People who make $60,000 are seeking assistance from the government and that's taking away from some of those with very low incomes.

HER ANSWERS:

To items 1 thru 3 she simply said, "It's like that nationwide, not just in DC."

To item 4 she said that HUD is initiating 20-year mandatory contracts which landlords can't opt out of.

To item 5 she said that people should take such matters to their local tenants' rights groups and local housing authority.

She also said that, if people were to bring detailed, anecdotal evidence of such practices by landlords that HUD would take action so as to rectify the situation.

To item 6 she said that HUD rules mandate that a certain percentage of funds be allocated for those with very low incomes. Therefore, DC Government assisting those who make $60,000 wouldn't decrease the amount that is spent on those with very low incomes.

While I could challenge her responses, I won't do so in this blog post, which is already quite lengthy. However, I might be able to use the mistreatment that I received at HUD to get an appointment with the secretary. That, in turn, might allow for some continued dialogue on the housing situation in DC. Let's hope.

P.S.: I sent a short message to the secretary and ass't secretary explaining my discontent and directing them to this blog. Let's see what comes of it. (I also know Clarence Carter who used to work at HUD.)

Comments

Anonymous said…
You are one dogged activist, Eric. Your reputation as a "burr" in [Housing official]'s shoe must have preceded you. Don't let that discourage you. You learned quite a bit on how to deal with "official" HUD on that one visit. Put it to good use, and may you, Eric, someday, be the Secretary of HUD!
Anonymous said…
Some tips. If you want to publish documents online for folks to review and download, here are some sites you can use:

http://docs.com/
http://issuu.com/
http://www.scribd.com/
http://www.slideshare.net/ (a little slow)
http://www.magcloud.com/ (create your own online magazine (e-zine))

Consider using a USB stick and putting portable software applications-"portable apps"-on the USB stick. Then just plug into most computers anywhere and you are all set to go with all the software you need. Here's the link to one pretty good site for portable apps:

http://portableapps.com/

Imagine if ALL homeless people had inexpensive USB sticks with all portable apps on them and carried the USB stick with them when going to libraries. I don't understand why various helping agencies don't give away portable app loaded USB sticks to homeless people.

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