Baltimore Residents & Workers Voice Outrage Over Plans to Privatize Public Housing (1/2)
Public housing residents and workers say they will lose their jobs and homes when the city sells some of its public housing stock to private developers through the new Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Baltimore moves ahead with controversial plans to sell about 40 percent of the city’s public housing to raise money for badly needed repairs. Over one hundred public housing residents, workers, and advocates gathered to speak out against the proposal.
SHARON JONES, TENANT COUNCIL PRESIDENT, BEL-PARK TOWER: Like everyone said, we want to be able to live in the places. We don’t want to [incompr.], we don’t want to be stepped on, we don’t want to be told that everything is going to be alright and the whole time they are running over us over and over again in these large buses, running us out.
While local entities such as the Housing Authority of Baltimore City own public housing, the federal government provides capital and maintenance funds. Cities cross the country are grappling with dropping federal funding for public housing. We’ll explore this important context in the second part of this story.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) puts the shortfall at $27 billion. Baltimore says it alone needs $800 million.
Officials had been tight-lipped about the move until the Baltimore Brew broke the news the city plans to sell around 4,000 housing units to private developers through HUD’s new Rental Assistance Demonstration (or RAD) program. The developers will help finance $300 million in repairs to the buildings. In exchange, they’ll begin collecting rent and low-income housing tax credits.
The city declined an interview request, but did provide The Real News with this video.
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. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT (HUD): 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: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan also notes that Baltimore is a national leader by aggressively adopting RAD.
DONOVAN: I have real faith, with Baltimore pursuing one of the biggest, most ambitious comprehensive neighborhood revitalizations that we see around the country, using RAD as just one of many tools, we have real confidence that Baltimore can get it done.
NOOR: Back at the event at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse that brought public housing advocates together with union workers and residents, many said they were not comforted by city assurances that no one will be displaced and rents won’t be increased by RAD.
UNIDENTIFIED: We’re not against the organization taking over, but we would like to make sure that if they take over, they don’t throw the seniors out, because if you’re on fixed income, you can’t afford to pay no gas [incompr.] no high rent. And [we need people] in our building [incompr.] [the way it is].
NOOR: Also speaking out against the plan was Jessica Lewis, a housing organizer who’s been going building to building speaking with tenants.
JESSICA LEWIS, ORGANIZER, RIGHT TO HOUSING ALLIANCE: Well, we’re finding that outside of the Resident Advisory Board, even in the Resident Advisory Board, residents aren’t getting information about how the program works and what the impact is going to be. Most residents have no idea. They keep hearing about RAD, they keep hearing there’s this RAD program that’s going to happen, but they have no idea what’s in it. They have not been asked to participate in the process of determining whether or not they want their buildings sold to private developers, and there’s been no transparency in this process at all.
Some also took issue with reports confirmed by TRN’s interview with Councilman Bill Henry that the Baltimore City Council has no oversight in the city’s RAD application.
BILL HENRY, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN: I think it’s important to remember in this case that we’re talking about the Housing Authority, which is not actually a city agency. It’s a federal agency. Its catchment area of responsibility is Baltimore City, but they don’t report to us. They are not subject to us in terms of legislative authority.
KAREN WABEKE, ATTORNEY, HOMELESS PERSONS REPRESENTATION PROJECT: Well, I think certainly the city council could weigh in if they had concerns about this program. There might be opportunities through the application process for the low-income housing tax credit for that perspective to come into play and other possibilities that we’re still looking into.
NOOR: Some of the 200 public housing workers who could lose their jobs due to change in management also spoke out against the move.
PUBLIC HOUSING WORKER: –because I ain’t going to lie. I like working for housing. I want to keep my job. Everybody, oh, I’m doing this and I’m doing that. Go ahead. I’m going to stick it out to the end. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But come on.
Whoever or whatever going to take over, make sure y’all look out for us. Come on, don’t do this to us. Let us keep our jobs. Please. I’m begging, ’cause it’s hard out here. It is real hard out here. Be fair to us. Don’t do this to us. And I’m sticking up for the building monitors.
NOOR: All of the objections could be moot, however, because, as Commissioner Graziano says, there may be no other way to raise capital for the badly needed repairs and renovations for public housing.
GARZIANO: There just really is no alternative. We can do the 200-year plan or we can do the two and a half year plan.
NOOR: But at the event, Lewis and others took aim at that assertion.
LEWIS: Well, I know that the people we are working with want to fight for more transformative solutions than just, you know, putting a Band-Aid on this program. The residents that we’re working with in these buildings want something that’s going to result in permanently affordable housing. They don’t want a public good being turned over to private companies, because we know how private companies handle rental housing. So they’re interested in fighting for things like community land trusts that would guarantee permanent affordability and some resident control of what happens to those buildings. And they’re willing to fight for that. And then, at the same time, there have to be demands in there that if this program does go through, that the residents get to negotiate the leases, they get to be present at the negotiations on the contracts with the companies, that they get guarantees, that they get things in writing, that they get them in advance, and that they get to participate in the process of determining what those contracts might be.
Opponents also agree that if they are to have any chance at slowing down or stopping the plans to sell public housing to developers, they will need a unified front and public support. The Real News will keep following this story.
From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.