By Alex Grabtree
Cleveland Ward 5 Councilman Frank Jackson and the Cleveland Tenants Organization gathered an overflow crown of approximately 500 people to a Town Hall meeting on August 29 about subsidized housing at Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus.
Four Council Members including Jackson, Merle Gordon (Ward 15), Michael Polensek (Ward 11), and Joe Cimperman (Ward 13) as well as Marty Gelfand from Congressman Kucinich’s office heard testimony from 45 individuals and groups about the state of subsidized housing in Cleveland. Recommendations were made by those in attendance that will be compiled and forwarded to the full City Council as well as state and federal officials.
The town hall meeting was called because of the immediate threat of 1,800 units in Cleveland that are slated for foreclosure. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to take action against property owners in Longwood, Rainbow Terrace, Park Village and Carter Manor Project Based Section 8 properties. The plan calls for all 1,800 tenants to be offered a voucher to find a new place to move, and the subsidies for the properties to be removed. In all likelihood, HUD would take possession of the properties and would be demolished or sold on the open market.
In the past (Grapevine 25, 26), tenants have been given cash assistance for moving and assistance with finding a place. According to sources at HUD, there is not guarantee that this kind of assistance will be available this year. Councilman Jackson said that there is no place available for these tenants to use their voucher. He said the HUD plan would create “ghettos, slums and homelessness.”
Jackson said that while the immediate purpose of the meeting was to call attention and to protect the 1,800 Project Based units, this was just the beginning. Jackson said that if these properties are allowed to be taken out of the inventory no properties are safe including the public housing Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Properties.
Testimony ranged from elderly individuals who did not want to be uprooted to homeless women who could not get into subsidized housing to disabled residents who were confronted with a myriad of barriers. What was common to most was a sense of fear over the future of affordable housing in Cleveland across the country.
Ms. Bell, a tenant at Riverview, faulted HUD for “not being a good watchdog.” She demanded better oversight especially of the construction contracts at CMHA. A resident of Willson Towers wanted a re-examination of the self-sufficiency program. He asked for a “gradual increase in rent when someone finds employment.”
Ms. Panzier at Longwood wanted to save some input in the management of properties. She was especially concerned that the redevelopment downtown is the reason that low-income tenants are being pushed aside. She asked, “Where do we go if we decide that we don’t want to use the vouchers?”
There was much discussion about the lack of security including a call by a tenant lender in Rainbow Terrace to mandate 24 hour a day security at handicapped and senior citizen buildings. She received loud applause from the audience.
There were calls for a one-year notification before a HUD subsidy can be withdrawn. Another tenant called for a return to 20-year contracts for subsidized properties instead of the current one-year renewals.
There was also much discussion about the importance of voting and remaining vigilant. Ms. Brown from Rainbow Terrace urged those gathered to unify and elect leaders who can forward an agenda that will protect affordable housing. A number of tenants wanted to see more young people involved in the struggle.
Mr. McDaniel wondered what had happened to all the money that wondered what happened to all the money that went into some of these projects specifically Cater Manor to do renovations, He emphatically stated, “We will not be put out on the street!”
Ms. Marshall, a homeless woman, spoke about the difficulty in getting into subsidized housing for hose who are single or who have a criminal background. A number of other people brought up the poor waiting list kept by CMHA, and asks for re-examination of the preferences.
A few speakers called for extreme positions of shutting HUD and SMHA or having all tenants place their rent in escrow to shut down the system until the questions about the future viability of some of these projects is settled.
Our speaker asked why tenants were now made to suffer the hardship of having to move just because HUD had not been vigilant in maintaining quality housing. Councilwoman woman Gordon summed the day up by saying that residents of Cleveland are entitled to, “safe, sanitary and decent housing.”
Mike Foley, Assistant Director of Cleveland Tenants Organization, said that the next step was compiling the testimony and putting it in a form that can be used to do some advocacy. “We are putting the platform together and use it to communicate to HUD and federal officials tenant’s desires about current and future housing policies and put pressure on them to implement these recommendations.
In a related matter, a group of government officials from the City, County, and the local Congressional delegation along with social service providers and local developers have studied this program of the increasing numbers of units withdrawn from the inventory because of HUD enforcement’s and foreclosures. This group called the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance are preparing a resolution that demands no further decrease in the inventory of subsidized housing. They are asking that alternatives be found when a project is facing an enforcement action because of sub-standard conditions.
Therefore, be it resolved that the members of the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance strongly urge and recommend that, for Section 8 project based properties in foreclosure or under enforcement action, the HUD Cleveland office and the national HUD office should make every effort to preserve and maintain the properties including where appropriate the transfer of physical assets. If it is absolutely unfeasible to maintain any such property as a Section 8 project based, then the project based units should be replaced by an equal number of project based units. It is imperative that there be no net decrease in the actual number of Section 8 project based units in this community. Also, HUD should use the full force of the government to take local action against landlords who have prematurely allowed their property to fall below housing quality standards. We cannot tolerate any decrease in the stock of local affordable housing.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 29 September – October1998