Social and Economic Rights

A Place to Hang a Hat: Property Rights and the Law

Commentary by T.J. Johnston

The Oprah Winfrey Show threw a spotlight on Sacramento’s tent cities in March 2009. Now, more than 100 homeless people will move from encampments to apartments and other temporary housing as part of a compromise between the city, its homeless residents, and area nonprofits.

The homeless folk will be allowed to bring their stuff along this time—and given safe storage for it.
A year and a half prior to this settlement,  a class action suit was filed against Sacramento for civil rights violations incurred when police and sheriff’s deputies confiscated homeless people’s belongings during sweeps. Usually, homeless people are issued citations for “abandoning property” and sometimes their belongings are destroyed.  Often, this is standard procedure in most cities nationwide.

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Rights Roundtable

Interview by B. Jesse Clarke

Participants

  •    Juliet Ellis, Executive Director, Urban Habitat
  •    Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Director, Green for All, Former Director,  Working Partnerships USA
  •    Dorothy Kidd, Co-Chair of Media Alliance and Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco.
  •    Adam Kruggel, Director, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization
  •    Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs, Global Fund for Women
  •    Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator, La Raza Centro Legal

Clarke: One of the themes that we’re trying to investigate is whether you make a rights framework (tenants’ rights, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights) part of your organizing work. The United States has a long tradition of civil rights with a certain level of successful organizing, particularly to gain equal rights for African Americans and overcome the legacy of slavery. But people organizing around the right to a job or the right to housing have a much more challenging environment. It’s not a given that people believe that you actually have a right to housing or a right to a job or a right to freedom to control your own social and economic participation.

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Removing the Poor through Land Use and Planning

In Texas, when they talked about “smart growth,” they said it would limit suburban sprawl but it was just gentrification. Sprawl hasn’t stopped. As they began to develop downtown, they pretended that there were no people of color downtown. Those people who were supposed to be our allies are running us out of our communities.

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Tax Credits for Developers, Bulldozers for the Poor

Protestors blocked by police outside the New Orleans city council meeting. © 2007 indybay.org

Despite Katrina causing the worst affordable housing crisis since the Civil War, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) is spending $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 4600 public housing apartments and replace them with 744 similarly subsidized units—an 82 percent reduction. HUD took over the local housing authority years ago and all decisions are made in Washington D.C. HUD plans to build an additional 1000 market rate and tax credit units, which will still result in a net loss of 2700 apartments to New Orleans. The new apartments will cost an average of over $400,000 each.

Affordable housing is at a critical point along the Gulf Coast. Over 50,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers are being systematically forced out. Over 90,000 homeowners in Louisiana are still waiting to receive federal recovery funds from the so-called “Road Home” reconstruction fund. In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10.

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