Tenants Win Victories on Capitol Hill, Demand that Washington Does More to Prevent Mass Displacement


Tenants Win Victories on Capitol Hill, Demand that Washington Does More to Prevent Mass Displacement
For release: Monday, October 6, 2008, 10 a.m.
Contact: Michael Kane, NAHT, 617-233-1885

Although low income tenants won two victories this week on Capitol Hill, narrowly averting mass displacement, the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) has called on Congress and the McCain and Obama campaigns to do more to protect more than 5 million low income families aided by federal HUD subsidy programs and millions more in foreclosed homes affected by the banking crisis.

“If Congress can find $700 billion to bail out predatory investors, they can pass legislation and find the money to Save Our Homes,” said Jim Brown, President of NAHT and HUD tenant in Washington, D.C. NAHT is the national tenant union representing tenants in privately-owned HUD assisted housing.

Local NAHT coalitions in Chicago, Dallas, Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Miami will deliver a Save Our Homes Platform to elected officials during October to demand full funding of Section 8 and Public Housing and legislation to stop the loss of low income housing, in addition to protections for homeowners and tenants threatened with foreclosure by predatory Wall Street firms. The actions, part of International Housing Rights Day events in the US and around the world, will also call on the US to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Adequate Housing.

NAHT tenants delivered the Platform to the major presidential campaigns in May. Although the Obama campaign met with NAHT tenants in June and agreed to several platform points, the McCain campaign has so far declined to respond. Tenants delivered the Platform to the Republican National Committee in June, which locked its doors rather than meet with the group. (See saveourhomes.org ).

Section 8 “meltdown” averted—for now. Last week, NAHT and its allies won budget language that would allow HUD to “forward fund” 14,000 HUD Section 8 contracts which will run out of cash in mid-October 2008 from next year’s appropriations. The language should prevent an administrative “meltdown” threatening 1.1 million low income families with mass displacement and loss of housing caused by a sudden cut off of subsidy payments to Section 8 housing owners. But the deeper funding crisis remains.

Bailout Bill Includes Tenant Protections. NAHTs New York affiliates also won language in the Wall Street Bailout Bill to honor rent and subsidy protections—including rent controls, local zoning restrictions, and federal and state subsidy contracts–for tenants of low income rental housing in the event the government acquires an interest in the underlying mortgages. Tenants in owner-occupied houses where banks foreclose on mortgage holders would be protected for the duration of their lease.

The bailout protections were sought by the Community Service Society, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, and New York Tenants and Neighbors, NAHT affiliates in New York City. Activists credited Sen. Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Velasquez (D-NY), and Rep. Frank (D-MA) for adding the language.

Rental Housing Crisis Remains. Tenants and owners of Section 8 housing still face a $2.8 billion funding shortfall which could still lead to a sudden cutoff of funds, due to the Bush Administration’s strategy of misleading Congress about funding needs, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The shortfall must be addressed soon both to prevent mass displacement and to encourage owners to stay in HUD programs. More than 500,000 families are threatened with the loss of affordable housing if owners exercise their option to end HUD contracts and convert to market rate housing.

Another $2 billion is needed to meet funding needs of 1.3 million Public Housing families shortchanged by the Bush Administration in recent years.

Tenants also seek passage of a National Right of First Purchase under consideration by the House Financial Services Committee. The proposal would allow cities and nonprofit groups to purchase affordable housing where owners plan market rate conversions. More than 400,000 low cost HUD apartments have been lost since Congress deregulated HUD housing in 1996, according to the National Housing Trust.