Monday, August 12, 2013

Investing in our Residents: Remarks to the CRHA Board of Commissioners, April 2013

On April 22, 2013, in response to a call to action by PHAR, a large number of citizens spoke at a Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) public hearing in opposition to some proposed changes to the Authority's Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP) that would have increased rental income for the CRHA in a pretty regressive fashion. I was one of those who addressed the CRHA Board that night, not on behalf of City Council or any other organization, just as a concerned citizen with many friends and colleagues living in public housing. I tried to squeeze a lot into my 3 allotted minutes.


Every time there is a news story about public housing in Charlottesville, the ugliness in our community comes pouring through in the form of vile and ignorant comments about public housing residents on local news sites, usually made by gutless cowards who post anonymously. Let me give you a sampling from just last month; these are actual comments posted to Channel 29's website following a story about your residents:

"unbelievable! these people are better off than I am getting their housing for free or reduced rates and complaining about it! they should be happy they got what they did." 

"Oh, BOO HOO! Why don't those whiners get off their entitlement padded butts, get as many jobs as it takes to make ends meet, and then deal with a REAL landlord instead of living large off MY money? Babymommas don't need more checks, they need coathangers." 

"Just a hint to people in public housing: Popping out babies while watching t.v. is not a job!" 

"That unworthy and undeserving set gets rewarded for laziness and immorality at the expense of the American People. A disgraceful lot, to say the least. They should be silent and grateful." 

Now, there are many in the community who suspect that the people involved in making decisions for this Housing Authority, whether they're on your Finance Committee, on this Board, in management positions, or in the HUD Field Office, have similarly derogatory views of public housing residents, especially those who dare to speak up for change. "They should be silent and grateful."

I know you better though. And I know that most of you are people of good hearts, who recoil at the ugly stereotypes because you know for a fact that most people in public housing are either elderly, disabled, working hard, and/or doing their best to raise young children on very limited incomes. Are there leeches in public housing? Yes, just as there are leeches at every socio-economic level of every human society that ever existed. You know not to judge the barrel for the few bad apples.

So my challenge to you is simple: in your decisions on the ACOP or other policy matters, play to your best instincts, not to our society's basest instincts. You want to get more rental income out of your residents? Play to your best instincts and see your public housing households as economic assets to be invested in:

*  Work to bring more fathers into their family homes so that you can increase those households' incomes - and thus increase your rental income. Don't perpetuate policies that keep families apart and disincentivize responsible fatherhood.

*  Invest in and advocate for stronger job training, job creation and family self-sufficiency programs that will uplift your families economically through their own hard work - and thus increase your rental income.

*  Support a robust eviction prevention program (which is currently a shadow of its former self) and other resident services initiatives that help your families rebound from hard times and get connected to the services and supports they need to climb the economic ladder - and thus increase your rental income.

*  Work WITH your residents, and your city-wide resident association, to make the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority a place that is known far and wide for promoting opportunity, breaking the bonds of dependence, and helping each and every resident to realize his or her highest potential - thus increasing your rental income.

Don't play to society's basest instincts by throwing in your lot with those who believe that public housing residents are lazy and entitled and need to be cracked down on - i.e., made silent and grateful. Prove the skeptics wrong about the kind of Housing Authority you want this to be. Reject proposals that will make things even more difficult for people who are already struggling. Is that really what you want your legacy to be, making life harder for poor people? I don't think so. You are better than that. Please show us in your votes and in your actions that you agree.

Thank you.


I'm pleased to say that most of the proposed changes were rejected by the Board. Citizen voices do matter.


Fowl Ideas said...

Those who refer to public housing residents as lazy breeders are just citing a stereotype. Unfortunately, every demographic group with a negative stereotype includes a small percentage of people who behave exactly as their worst stereotype says they do, thus providing the Ann Coulters of the world with what they want most.

Anonymous said...

It is the system itself which perpetuates the separation of classes, and fuels the hatred among said groups. Unfortunately, continuing such a system only does harm.