Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Aug 4, 2013

PART 3 OF SECTION 8 TROUBLE: WHETHER TO MOVE OUT


PART 3:  THE TOWN THAT TRIED TO RID ITSELF OF SECTION 8  

By Rosemary Reeves

If you missed the first two parts of this series, click on the links below:




This article includes strategies used by Mayor Rex Parris to combat neighborhood decline and increasing crime rates due to bad Section 8 tenants.  Unlike most public officials, who remain silent on the issue despite the overwhelming need to address it, Parris took a proactive stance. Neighborhood groups can weigh the pros and cons of his aggressive plan of action and thereby avoid pitfalls when planning their own strategies.  From this series, citizens can also learn about the government's impact on the quality of life in their neighborhoods then adopt a plan to find out which politicians make bad public policy and cast their votes accordingly at election time.

There are thousands of good families on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, but they can't get them because HUD fails to crackdown on its biggest offenders.   Meanwhile, neighborhood decline happens wherever Section 8 abusers go.  Deserving families are waiting to move into good neighborhoods through this program and frustrated citizens are moving out because their quality of life is being destroyed.   We need to make this a major issue during elections to put pressure on public officials to address it.  However, we must do it fairly. 

If you have called your local civic group as suggested in part two of this series, you may have reached the person whose contact name you were given and asked if they could offer homeowners on your street some guidance as to what to do about the nuisance Section 8 neighbors.  That person may have told you to file a complaint with the local housing authority.  You should certainly do that, but you should not stop there.  Also, don’t be too disappointed if your neighborhood civic group has no program or plan of action concerning Section 8.  Most do not, simply because they aren’t aware of viable options or assume their neighborhood is powerless to defend itself against a government mandated (and poorly run) program like Section 8.  

Call other civic groups from surrounding neighborhoods and ask the same questions.  Some may be more informed than others.  If you find a civic group that has helpful information, share it with your local one.  Give each group the other’s contact information and follow up a week or so later.  In doing so, you will become a liaison of sorts between neighborhood groups and they will remember your name.  Now, you are beginning to be well-connected.  See how easy that was?

Chances are they will ask for your ideas as well.  What suggestions can you offer?  It’s probably best early on to say something like, “Well, maybe it would be helpful to put someone in charge of getting information about Section 8, so the group is well informed concerning this important issue.” A good technique is to tread lightly each time you open a new door.  Don’t demand that people help you immediately.  Instead, simply float ideas and let them slowly come around.  That’s the benefit of having a timeline.  Each step you take will feel like a small victory.  Move onto the next step and that’s evidence you are progressing.  Things don’t seem so hopeless.

There will be days when you falter, especially when the nuisance Section 8 neighbors act up.  Try to detect a pattern in their behavior and work around it for your own sanity.  For instance, if you know they blast music around 7 p.m. try to go out at that exact time and go somewhere fun.   Another tip:  running a fan helps to drown out noise.  I live in an apartment building and use this trick often.  

SECTION 8 PREJUDICE TAKES THE HEAT OFF POLITICIANS

Resentment against Section 8 voucher recipients is widespread because people feel they have no control over the bad behavior of those who abuse the system and force good neighbors to move.  That resentment is not wholly unjustified.  It is an understandable reaction based upon real evidence that harm is being done to average citizens and their families by people using the Section 8 program.

Anger and frustration geared toward a specific group, when left unchecked, can easily turn into prejudice.  Our government knows this and that is why there are laws against discrimination.  Freedom of speech is written into our Constitution, however.  People can refer to Section 8 tenants as “deadbeats,” comedians can make offensive jokes about them and many online discussion boards permit racist rants that characterize Section 8 recipients as practically subhuman.

This widespread prejudice takes the heat off politicians.  As long as tax payers focus their energy against Section 8 tenants, they aren’t paying attention to the policies their elected officials are making which cause neighborhood decline.  The stability of your neighborhood depends in large part on who is voted into public office and how well they oversee the administration of policies designed to control the low-income population.   
For instance, in the 1950s the real estate lobby persuaded legislators to change policy in order to forcibly evict working white families out of public housing as soon as they experienced a raise in income that put them above the poverty line.  The real estate industry wanted to sell more homes to whites and forcing them out of public housing helped to achieve this with government-back mortgage loans.  It also helped to ruin public housing and the good neighborhoods surrounding it by taking away the poor’s incentive to rise out of poverty through work.  This was also a factor in the mortgage crisis America is experiencing today, because banks gave mortgage loans to people who could not really afford them.  

MAYOR REX PARRIS AND HIS WAR ON SECTION 8

LANCASTER MAYOR REX PARRIS
Lancaster, California was once a predominantly white desert town.  Located 70 miles from Los Angeles, today whites make up only a third of the population.  Many of them foreclosed on their homes during the recession and investors bought the foreclosed properties, renting them out to Section 8 voucher recipients.  According to a New York Times article, In Lancaster, Calif., Section 8 Renters Encounter Resistance dated August 10, 2011 by reporter Jennifer Medina, there has been a rise in crime since the change in demographics and the mayor of Lancaster blames Section 8.  Instead of simply allowing Section 8 prejudice to take the heat off politicians responsible for bad public policy while maintaining virtual silence on the issue, he became vehemently proactive.  Parris claimed that Lancaster has been treated for years as a “dumping ground” for the poor of Los Angeles.  The article states that Parris “repeatedly said that Lancaster should be waging a war on the Section 8 program.”  Mayor Parris conceived an aggressive plan of action which focused on housing voucher tenants who failed to comply with Section 8 rules, utilized strategies to revoke their vouchers and crime in the area dropped.

STRATEGIES USED IN THE WAR ON SECTION 8

Mayor Parris carried out the following strategies in his war on Section 8: 

1.   He hired extra Section 8 compliance investigators, splitting the cost with the county

    2.   He had the housing authority investigators conduct surprise inspections, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies

    3.   On the surprise inspections, the homes of Section 8 tenants were searched for drugs and additional occupants who were not supposed to be living in the Section 8 property

   4.   When the Section 8 compliance investigators discovered violations, they terminated housing vouchers on-the-spot

Mayor Parris also proposed having an ad campaign to discourage Section 8 recipients from coming to Lancaster by emphasizing the lack of jobs and high cost of living.  However, county officials declined funding for the ads, deeming them unfair because Section 8 voucher recipients were allowed to live anywhere they liked.

ANTI-SECTION 8 SENTIMENT GOES WILD

The mayor’s vocal opposition to the Section 8 program quickly gained support from the rest of the community, resulting in a firestorm of anti-Section 8 sentiment.  The local newspaper, The Antelope Valley Press, printed stories about Section 8 tenants with compliance violations.  An “I Hate Section 8” page on Facebook showed pictures of some of the rental homes (Although there is a I Hate Section 8 category on this website, PublicHousingStories.com has no affiliation whatsoever with the “I Hate Section 8” Facebook page!)

The anti-Section 8 sentiment spurred harassment in some cases.  One Section 8 renter found her garage door spray-painted with the words “I Hate Section 8 N─ers.”  A group of boys threw urine on one child and called him racist slurs after neighbors learned the family was on Section 8. 

Low-income people in the program became terrified every time there was a knock on the door and were scared to leave their homes.  The majority of Lancaster residents on Section 8 were black or Hispanic, making it difficult to separate Section 8 prejudice from racial prejudice and the NAACP became involved.
BACKLASH 

1. As a result of the aggressive “war on Section 8” the cities of Lancaster and neighboring Palmdale were named in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and attorneys for the Section 8 residents of Lancaster.  The lawsuit alleges that Latino and Black residents on Section 8 were unfairly targeted in an effort to revoke their housing vouchers. *

2.   To avoid being named in the lawsuit as well, the County Board of Supervisors voted to stop funding the additional compliance investigators.

3.   HUD began investigating the violation of civil rights allegations.

4.   The Justice Department began investigating the violation of civil rights allegations.

5.   The city was in danger of losing thousands of dollars in   federal grants.

    Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris had some good strategies, but they went terribly awry due to lack of forethought and a failure to be fully informed or respectful of the rights of Section 8 recipients.   

Next:  Why Lancaster’s Section 8 strategy failed and suggestions for improved strategies. 

*CORRECTION:  Mayor Parris was not named in the lawsuit, as erroneously stated in the original version of the above article, but rather, the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale.  I apologize for the error and it has been corrected. 

SOURCES:

In Lancaster, Calif., Section 8 Renters Encounter Resistance, New York Times, August 10, 2011 by Jennifer Medina

RELATED STORIES:

Part 4:  Improved Strategies

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2 comments:

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  2. Four months ago, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment with the understanding that only 1 tenant would be living in the apartment above me. It isn't cheap. I pay $900/month plus $300/month for electric, gas, water, and sewage. At first, it was fine. Two months ago, the man's adult daughter and her son moved in. Now his other adult daughter, her son, AND her boyfriend have moved in, too. That's 6 people banging around on top of me! Oh and did I mention that the man's second daughter had an argument with her father a week ago and, standing outside my front door, hollered that she was going to kill him and kill his "neighbor," too??? I don't even know her!!! I complained to the landlord today, who said the man is on Section 8 and isn't supposed to have ANYONE else living in the apartment. The landlord said I have to wait "a couple of days" and see what happens. I think I should get a discount from my rent for all this aggravation.

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