Jaisal Noor speaks to public housing residents and employees about their concerns with plans to privatize around 40% of Baltimore’s public housing stock
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re standing in front of Baltimore’s Housing Authority just a few blocks from our town hall studio in downtown Baltimore.
Earlier today, public housing residents and workers were speaking out against plans to privatize about 40 percent of Baltimore’s public housing stock. It’s happening through a federal program called RAD, or Rental Assistance Demonstration. It’ll sell the buildings to private developers to raise badly needed money for repairs and capital programs.
PAUL T. GRAZIANO, BALTIMORE HOUSING COMMISSIONER: The Rental Assistance Demonstration, otherwise known as RAD, will be a real shot in the arm and, as I’ve said, in some places a lifeline for our public housing communities through many, many neighborhoods in Baltimore City.
SHAUN DONOVAN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEP’T HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT: RAD is a tool that can help all public housing access a whole different range of resources to do those repairs, to rebuild, and to provide better quality of life for millions of residents around the country. It’s a huge opportunity. And we’re seeing it right here in Baltimore.
NOOR: But public housing workers and residents are afraid they’re going to lose their housing and their jobs if this goes through. And that’s why they’re speaking out today.
PROTESTERS: Housing is a human right! Fight! Fight! Fight!
GARY STRAUD, PUBLIC HOUSING COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, RIGHT TO HOUSING ALLIANCE: It should not be sold to private investors for profit over people. Like they say, you’re giving away a good commodity. The city has good commodities in these buildings and where they are located. So why give it–just up and give it away? And once you privatize it, that’ll be the end of public housing.
NOOR: Public participation is required in RAD. What’s your experience been so far? Has there been public participation in this process?
STRAUD: No. What Mr. Graziano and his staff does is tell you what’s happening, and you’re supposed to accept it. He was at a meeting at Bernard Mason yesterday when I asked him a question about affordability, and he turned his back on me and told me he answered the question without giving me an answer and refused to talk to me.
PROTESTER: Rethink RAD! We’ve been had!
SHARON JONES, PRESIDENT, TENANT COUNCIL AT BEL PARK TOWER: I’m worried about the residents being sent out, along with myself, us living in the streets. I’m worried about the rent go up. I do know the rent is going up. And I feel that we are being bullied out by going up on the rent knowing we won’t be able to pay it.
NOOR: And so they say the rents not going to go up, no one’s going to get put out. Why do you think that’s not true?
JONES: Because they can’t be honest with us. They’re only telling us what we want to hear, where they won’t get no reaction out of us. For one, by them telling people that we are on board with this is a lie, because they haven’t talked to us. So that’s deceit. Once a little deceit, that means there’s more to say to follow.
PROTESTERS: Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right! Fight! Fight! Fight!
NOOR: Talk about how RAD is going to affect you and the other public housing workers that work on the buildings that are going to get sold to private developers.
PAUL T. WALLACE JR., VICE PRESIDENT, AFSCME LOCAL 647: These buildings have approximately about four to five people that work out of our bargaining union. And it’s going to affect us, because those individuals had to come back. And somebody that just got hired, like the young guy that was just here with me–he just got hired–he could get burnt by one of them and lose his job. He got two kids. He got a family to take care of. What’s going to happen to him?
JONES: Will we even have a life with anything left to fight? This determines our lives, so fight, fight, fight for your right, fight for your life.
WALLACE: We have a lot of women here also. We have a lot of tenants that came through a program that we have had, a tenant initiative program. Well, you took them off of Section 8. Our program made them individuals and made them successful members of society and working and gave them all that confidence [incompr.] Now you’re going to terminate them or let them go, and then they’ve got to get all the way to the back of the line in order to apply for Section 8 and housing again, and they have kids and things. So now we’ve got more people living under the bridge over here on Gay Street than we would like to have.
PROTESTER: All the resident rights that were fought for by residents and community folks before me made rights for me.
VICTORIA BAKER, RESIDENT, BEL PARK TOWER: My income is SSI. And if they charge me anymore, I will go hungry. Probably clothesless. I wouldn’t be able to buy my toiletries. My life would be really unmanageable, like it was before I came into public housing.
NOOR: And what are the conditions right now in your building, in Bel Park Towers? Is everything good?
BAKER: It’s horrible. We–in fact, from Thursday of last week until Monday of this week, we haven’t had hot water.
PROTESTER: Residents, new perspective owners, their management team, City Hall, the union.
JONES: Well, we’ve been, like, going door to door to try to spread the news, petitions.
NOOR: Are people–does everyone know about it yet? Or are people still finding out?
JONES: Not everybody, but they will today. After today they will know.
NOOR: And so what’s going to be the next step for you?
JONES: Hanging in there and fight for what’s right. Fight for what’s right, to do what’s right for the people.
NOOR: Reporting for The Real News, this Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.