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Housing

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Ana Romero remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs, and notices amassed in her document binders, she somberly recites the circumstances. A single mother of three facing foreclosure, Romero has for the last three years wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David-and-Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension, and lachrymose reflection in its wake. 

When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago, the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two-income household. Divorce changed all that.

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California’s Fight Against Foreclosures Goes National

Rosaura Vazquez has owned her Whittier home with her brother-in-law Jaime for over seven years. In 2008, the economic downturn forced Jaime to close his business and Rosaura had to take a pay cut. Anticipating difficulty in making their monthly mortgage payment, they requested lender JP Morgan Chase to modify their loan. Chase responded by putting them on a three-month reduced monthly payment plan.

Rosaura and Jaime were able to find more work to supplement their income and paid their reduced monthly mortgage on time for well over a year. Then in early 2009, Chase informed them that they were ineligible for a permanent modification and moved to foreclose on the house because of the thousands of dollars in arrears that was owed from the trial modification. The bank stopped accepting the monthly payments and has made numerous attempts to sell Rosaura and Jaime’s home.

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Foreclosed Tenants Shut Down Utility Shut-offs

Shortly after the birth of her youngest child, Kim Isaacs received notice that her West Oakland apartment building was now owned by Countrywide Home Loans, which had foreclosed on her landlord. They wanted her out. Isaacs had become one of the hidden victims of the foreclosure crisis—tenants in foreclosed buildings. According to a study by the statewide organization Tenants Together, 7,000 housing units hit by foreclosure in Alameda County last year were tenant-occupied. That’s 40 percent of all the foreclosed units in the county.

Countrywide offered Isaacs $1,000 and two weeks to find a new place to live, pack up her things, and move out. “I told them, ‘No way!’” she said. She needed more money and more time to find another place for herself and her seven children. And as a member of Causa Justa/Just Cause, an Oakland and San Francisco tenants-rights organization, she also knew that city, state, and federal laws prohibit new property owners from simply evicting tenants.

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Floodlines: Preserving Public Housing in New Orleans

Among the roughly 15,000 people gathered in Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) this year were some 250 grassroots activists and organizers from New Orleans. They were seeking insight from activists in Detroit—the other U.S. city with the largest percentage of empty or unlivable housing—albeit the Rust Belt took several decades to achieve what Hurricane Katrina did overnight.

Of all the housing issues that New Orleans faced following Katrina, the battle over public housing developments stands out for its blatant bigotry and unfairness. Not long after Katrina, politicians, developers, and planners began talking about tearing down all the remaining public housing in New Orleans because, as Baton Rouge Congressman Richard Baker gloated, they had “finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans! We couldn’t do it, but God did.”[1] In truth, a lot of the public housing had made it through the storm in solid condition and with a few repairs could have been used for many years to come. But the decision-makers had their own agenda and chose to follow their prejudices and stereotypes with city council president Oliver Thomas (who later went to prison for a corruption scandal involving bribes related to a city contract for a parking lot) stating, “There’s just been a lot of pampering, and at some point you have to say, ‘No, no, no, no, no’!.. We don’t need soap opera watchers right now.”[2]

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Public Housing Residents Fight for their Homes

Charlotte Delgado is on a tear. “They have run public housing into the ground until it is so bad they cannot begin to fix it,” she tells her audience at the U.S. Social Forum. Delgado wound up in HUD multifamily subsidized housing after being diagnosed with cancer 25 years ago. She beat the disease seven times and now serves as vice president/west of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT). From her toes to her carefully rolled blonde “do,” Delgado exudes indignation. “What they intend to do is give it to the banks, let the banks fix it up and rent it out—and in a maximum of 30 years, they can get out of the [public housing] program!” she says, stabbing the air with her finger.

“I live in Sacramento, eight blocks from the state capitol and my building was the first in the state taken over by a for-profit in 1998,” Delgado continues. “My rent went from $595 to $825 overnight. And out of the 103 families who lived in my complex, there are only 29 of us left.”
The supply of housing for low and very low income families in the U.S. is melting away, even as people lose jobs to the recession and homes to foreclosure. (Unemployment and foreclosure rates are even higher in communities of color.) The damage from decades of official neglect of the housing stock is piling up and still-solid structures will soon become unlivable if nothing is done to repair them.

Government contracts with landlords are expiring, as in Delgado’s case, which lets owners put tens of thousands of units back on the private market and out of the price range of low-income families. Plus, a new Obama administration proposal threatens to privatize the country’s remaining stock of government-owned housing. Faced with escalating threats, public housing residents are using every tool at their disposal—from lawsuits and lobbying to mobilization and direct action—to keep their homes.

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Sustainable Planning under SB 375

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB375), also known as the California Anti-Sprawl Bill, embodies the simple idea that bringing housing and jobs closer together and improving public transit will cut car commutes—and thus help meet the statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set by AB32.

“Land use-related climate change policies have the potential to be among the most cost-effective and efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” writes Rebecca Carter in her report on climate policies in western states. (See page 59.)

Manufacturing Affordable Housing

Garry “Bear” Salois and his granddaughter April Flores are the proud occupants of a 2004 Cavalier-manufactured home with three bedrooms and a small porch where Bear likes to relax after work with his dogs Rain and Storm. “I always thought I wasn’t rich enough to afford my own home,” says Bear, a bona fide member of the Salish-Kootenai tribe who grew up on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. “But now I’m voluntarily paying over three times the required monthly payment of $120 in order to be in good shape to retire at age 65.”

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