Sequestration Threatens Sacramento Housing
By Cathleen Williams

At 75, Charlotte Delgado is in fighting trim, a bantam weight contender on behalf of housing rights in Sacramento’s downtown Alkali Flat neighborhood. Delgado became a tenant in multi-family, federally subsidized (Housing and Urban Development [HUD]) housing more than 25 years ago after being diagnosed with cancer. She may be poor, she may be vulnerable, but as a voice for low income HUD tenants locally and nationwide, she is gearing up to fight the impact of sequestration, the $85 billion automatic federal spending cut which became effective on March 1, 2013. (See, Homeward Street Journal, July/August issue.)

While the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) is not releasing its plans or projections, the Bee has reported that SHRA will lose $13.9 million in 2013; the bulk of the money goes to subsidize rents for poor families in the Section 8 program (“Housing Choice Voucher Program” ); this reduction could have an impact on as many as 1,700 families. Section 8 subsidizes rents so families pay no more than 30%-40% of the family income. The Bee projects that more than 4,800 people in Sacramento – all poor, and many of them children, elderly, and disabled – could be put out of their homes. (See, “Sequester Cuts Could Add to Homelessness,” Sacramento Bee, 3/31/13.) Also, $1.2 million has been cut from the maintenance of Sacramento’s public housing units and HUD projects.

Charlotte is keenly aware of the impact of these cuts on local neighborhoods like Alkali Flat, especially because, despite the “revitalization” of downtown, and the new lofts and apartments rising near the Capitol, thousands of residents of Sacramento are struggling to find a place to live. Last spring, 50,000 families signed up for just 3,000 openings in the Section 8 program, which indicates just how urgently affordable housing is needed in the region.

Also, the number of homeless families living in shelters and emergency housing is rising sharply, increasing nationally by one third since 2007. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 2, 2013, “Sequestration…Cuts Come at A Time of Rising Need for Housing Assistance…”.)

“We have Section 8 housing all along E Street, in Alkali, and at H and 13th, for example. And of course, where I live, at E and 8th Streets, is “project based” Section 8 housing,” Charlotte points out. “Think about it. Alkali is 95% renters. Without these hundreds of Section 8 apartments, the rents would go through the roof, and we would be out on the street – including seniors, disabled, and children. And our community would be torn apart. “

Nationwide, Section 8 helps 2.2 million low-income households; half are seniors or disabled; most of the rest are families with children. By early 2014, 140,000 fewer families will likely be covered under Section 8, both through reducing the re-issue of vouchers when families leave the program, and through the withdrawal of recently issued vouchers. Many agencies will increase the percentage of family income that must be used for rent, and/or use their discretion to set minimum rents at rates up to $50 per month for families that have little or no income.

At the same time, sequestration will cut by about a third the grants (called Emergency Solutions Grants) that communities spend to assist homeless people, funds that are used to operate emergency shelters as well as provide temporary rental assistance and other services to help at-risk families avoid homelessness or gain housing; it also will reduce funding for Continuum of Care grants, which are used to renew rental assistance and supporting services for homeless and formerly homeless residents. These grants have been used to reduce chronic homelessness, which affects tens of thousands of homeless people with physical and mental disability.
Last but not least, nationally the millions of tenants of public housing – including tenants living in three thousand low income units in Sacramento – will see cuts in maintenance (which already is backlogged) and potential increases in the cost of living in these units, through raises in utility charges and other fees. (See, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, above, April 2, 2013.)

The current drive to implement sequestration should be seen in the context of a political agenda that forces low income, unemployed, and homeless to endure deepening hardship and insecurity – an agenda that gave rise to mass homelessness in the 1980’s and has led to the destruction or sale of more than 1 million units of public housing nationwide – as well as the defunding of new public housing as a whole. According to Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), “Over the last several decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have dismantled public housing programs, deregulated housing finance, and passed legislation enabling the privatization of public housing.” (Paul Boden, HuffPost: The Blog, 4/12/12.)

Locally, SHRA has announced plans to demolish public housing in Sacramento, both the 750 units in Land Park (once called New Helvetia/Seavey Circle and renamed Marina Vista and Alder Grove) and the 218 units at Twin Rivers on Richards Boulevard. It will be crucial to ensure that no low income housing is lost in this process, by guaranteeing 100% rehousing nearby. In other communities, demolition of public housing has resulted in massive displacement of poor people, and the destruction of community networks, with less than half the low income units being replaced. (See, Hope VI Mixed Income Housing Projects Displace Poor People, Urban Habitat, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2008.) Especially with the looming sequestration, this cannot be allowed to happen here.

As Paul Boden writes, “We can’t put our hope in politicians and organizations that attempt to smooth out the edges of terrible legislation while people lose their homes and programs are gutted. In communities across the country, groups are joining hands to build a movement for the human right to housing…They are also doing the difficult work of organizing across issues by linking housing to education, health care, dignified work, immigrant rights, and economic security. Together we will reclaim our communities from the greed and willful neglect emanating from the nation’s capital and create a society based on social justice.”

Charlotte Delgado couldn’t agree more. More than ten years ago, in 1998, when her building was privatized, Charlotte’s rent went from $595 to $825 overnight. She joined with other organized HUD tenants nationwide to bring about the passage of a “grandfather clause” that protected existing residents from rent hikes. But every year, these tenants must fight to continue the protection of the grandfather clause that keeps their rents relatively low.

“We can and should organize and speak out together,” Charlotte says, “We represent most of the people. I fight for homeless folks too. There, but for the grace of god, go I.”