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Housing

Hobos to Street People

Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present

Available in book form at www.freedomvoices.org/new/hobos

In the Great Depression of the 1930s many artists began to address issues of human rights. The large number of poor, displaced, and homeless people was one important focus. Artists were not only observers, but they actively found ways to influence society through exhibition and distribution of their work. In the late 1970s, with the rise of the modern era of mass homelessness, many artists again began to focus on what was happening to poor people in our society. Structural changes in the American economy and a return to fiscally conservative ideology began a period of increased poverty and economic inequality. By 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans lived without housing and homeless children in school exceeded 900,000, according to the US Department of Education.

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Right of Return

Public Housing in San Francisco's Hunters Point

Many call Hunters View the most distressed public housing project in San Francisco, and even in the United States. But 149 families call it home and they want to stay there once it is redeveloped. They are demanding their right to affordable housing, due process, and inclusion in decisions that affect their lives. They are determined to defy the history of public housing “improvements” that have shoved tenants aside like so much dirt dug out for new construction.

Hunters View will be the first project redeveloped under HOPE San Francisco (HOPE SF), the city’s alternative to the federal HOPE VI program. Before it shuts down in 2006, HOPE VI had displaced tens of thousands of public housing residents across the United States.[1]

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Richmond Residents are REDI for Housing Rights

Even a determined family effort was not enough to keep Jessica Peregrina’s home out of default. “We bought a six-bedroom home in San Pablo for $540,000 to house our large tight-knit family and keep us close together,” says Peregrina. Shortly after they bought the house, their mortgage lender went bankrupt. Another bank bought the mortgage and switched it to an adjustable rate. The house lost 30 percent of its value, while the family’s payment ballooned by $1,200 per month, sending them into foreclosure. “My family has sought help from multiple sources,” says Peregrina.  “I looked everywhere for an organization or program to help and I can’t find any.”

Peregrina and many others told their stories at a Housing Crisis Town Hall meeting at St. Mark’s Church in Richmond, California. More than 500 community members and elected officials packed the church for the March 12, 2009 event sponsored by the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI).

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Mortgage Meltdown

Solutions stop the Foreclosure Crisis

The foreclosure crisis continues to build momentum, two plus years into the mortgage meltdown. More than two million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number could top eight million over the next five years, according to many estimates. This crisis has decimated personal wealth, particularly wiping out assets in communities of color disproportionately impacted by subprime lending. And the ripple effects of the crisis keep spreading, as it drags down neighborhoods, public infrastructure and services, and local economies.
Dynamic collaborations between grassroots organizations, community groups, and policy advocates have helped drive the housing debate in a more progressive direction. More such efforts are needed. Several recent examples spotlight the possibilities that open up when local organizing efforts link with state and national strategies to move community solutions to the foreclosure crisis and push for the right to housing.

Local Initiatives to Fight Foreclosure
San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Phil Ting, has helped to convene several gatherings of city officials and community groups in the Bay Area interested in figuring out what can be done at the local level to stem foreclosures. City assessors and recorders are responsible for determining the value of real estate for property tax collection, as well as keeping public records of notices of default. Ting and other Californians in this position have raised the problem of declining property tax revenues due to foreclosures, and underscored its impact on cities.

“Municipalities and counties have inherited this problem. Some blame property owners, others lenders, but everyone can agree cities had nothing to do with it and we are stuck with this situation,” Ting says. “Property tax revenues are starting to be negative in places like Contra Costa County. There are public safety issues, blight issues, school district issues, public works, and public health. There are huge costs to cities.”

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Organizing and Winning in Oakland Chinatown

The Right to Affordable Housing
By Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP)*

"Let the sheriffs come and drag me out.” So said Yen Hom, an elderly tenant and resident who stayed to fight evictions at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza (Pac Ren) when she and other residents of the 50 affordable housing units in Tower II of the Plaza received eviction notices. As the struggle to keep the housing intensified, Art Hom described his mother’s strategy: “In the 60s, we conducted sit-ins. Well, for the last six months, my mom has been conducting a live-in.”   

In April 2003, over 150 people started moving years of belongings, memories, and hopes out of the heart of Oakland Chinatown, scattering to senior housing, market rate and other apartments in Oakland, and as far as Fremont and Los Angeles. Like Mrs. Hom, the elderly tenant who had witnessed the spectacular evictions of elderly manongs from the International Hotel nearly 30 years earlier, those who stayed became the soul of a community struggle for the right to affordable housing in an era of rampant gentrification and housing speculation.

This struggle links them, and us, to prior displacements of people of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese descent, low-income communities of color across the nation, and to larger movements for justice, dignity, and human rights. We, Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP) or “Moving Forward for Peace” in Cantonese, are a collective of people of Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese heritage with progressive political worldviews, working together in the Bay Area for peace and social justice.

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From the Director's Desk

While the current recession has trapped countless people under the weight of a foreclosed home, unexpected loss of employment, or the evaporation of a life’s savings, those who were struggling before this economic meltdown to meet their basic needs are more vulnerable than ever. This is certainly the case in Richmond, California where the housing crisis has resulted in more than 2,000 foreclosed properties, most of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Simultaneously, cutbacks in public transit services, fare increases, and the related dependence on automobiles, oil, and freeways are increasing the isolation of poor communities. At Urban Habitat, while continuing our long-term commitment to land use issues, equitable development, and regionalism, we have also been working hard to win basic rights in the two key arenas of housing and transportation.

As a founding member of the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), a diverse coalition committed to ensuring that the city’s low-income people and communities of color benefit from development policies and financial investments, Urban Habitat has been advocating the right to affordable housing for Richmond residents for over four years.

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Everyone Has the Right to... From the Editor

By B. Jesse Clarke

When President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January 1941, he called for “a world founded upon four essential freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Popular conceptions of rights at the time moved beyond the constitution’s narrow framing of civil and political rights to include basic social and economic rights.

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