Don't Just Watch The Government Dispossess Us! Fight!

On Valentine's Day in Washington, D.C more than 60 people came out to the Russell Senate Building to defend affordable housing with the message "Have a heart; save our homes." With Congress and the Obama administration looking to cut the deficit on the backs of poor and working people (in effect dispossessing them), this protest brought a human face to the cuts. Demonstrators formed a picket line outside the building carrying signs that said, "Don't balance the budget on the backs of poor people" and "We the people need housing, No cuts to Section 8." The demonstration was organized by local non-profits Empower D.C. and One D.C., who joined with hundreds of tenants from about two-dozen cities for this coordinated day of action.

Because D.C. doesn't have senators, groups of people who live in Section 8 buildings in the city visited Senate offices, including that of Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. While meeting with Hill staffers, protesters demanded that the Senate commit to fully funding HUD by preventing budget cuts, expanding funding for 1 million new Section 8 housing assistance vouchers and reducing subsidies to wealthy property owners in order to pay for housing for the most vulnerable. Sen. Cardin's housing and budget legislative assistant expressed sympathy to the messages and personal stories from people who would be directly affected by budget cuts, but warned that a government shutdown and deep cuts were still a probable reality that communities across the U.S. might face.

In D.C., 5,000-10,000 low-income families who are dependent on HUD housing or public housing are facing the risk of losing their housing assistance if the 21 percent cut to the non-security discretionary spending budget is adopted by Congress. One woman said, "I'm out here to today because it took me 10 years to get a Section 8 housing voucher and I'm not just going to let them snatch it away." "I live in a senior citizens residential community and these cuts would affect my community," said an elderly protester.

Nationally, we might lose as many as 750,000 HUD units. The proposed continuing resolution would cut $5.7 billion from HUD's affordable housing program, which has a total budget of $43.5 billion. It would cut $551 million from a program that subsidizes rent checks for low-income seniors, $210 million from a similar program for poor Americans with disabilities, and eliminate housing counseling services for families battling foreclosure, making it harder for them to fight the loss of their homes.

The House Republican proposal would go so far as to cut the so-called "preservation" fund for public housing, which pays to keep buildings open while they're being repaired. Without that fund, public housing in need of repair would be shuttered, forcing residents to find somewhere else to stay in the interim. The budget proposal rolled out by the Obama administration on Tuesday would also slash certain key programs at HUD as part of a broad $1 billion in departmental cuts, including $172 million for low-income seniors and Americans with disabilities. If some of the programs targeted in the Republican proposal are eliminated, it could take years to re-implement them.

During the protest, multiple speakers (myself included), referenced the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as an example of what protest can accomplish. As Medea Benjamin of Code Pink put it, "People's uprisings are in the air. We need to use the money for what people need, not on these wars." So, as the Obama administration and Congress begin to institute austerity measures, we need to build a strong movement that challenges politicians to cut corporate welfare and defense spending, rather than attacking low-income communities and families.

I often tell people that, no matter what the outcome is, we win. If the government saves these and other social programs, then those who receive such services won't go without. If these needed programs are cut, people are bound to become more socially conscious and might even fight for their right to survive. My guess is the latter scenario is the one that will eventually be played out. So, prepare to fight!


Anonymous said…
You are a good man Eric, and I agree that the scenario looks bad, but if things get real bad maybe that will wake people up.

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