US Reps Issue New Call to Stop Demolitions


US Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently issued a new call to stop demolition of public housing.

Waters and Frank initially sent a letter to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development calling for the moratorium on demolition in fall 2008.

They sent a new letter to President Barack Obama’s HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan on June 15 last year.

The two congressional leaders urged Donovan to consider imposing a 1-year moratorium on demolition of public housing units because of the national housing crisis.

Waters and Frank wrote that Housing Choice Vouchers are not a good replacement for hard public housing units and asked Donovan to re-install the rule for one-for-one replacement of demolished apartments.

“A further decline in the number of public housing units will only exacerbate the affordable housing needs of our most vulnerable populations and may force them into substandard or unsafe housing situations or homelessness,” they wrote.

“Vouchers are not a substitute for the permanent replacement of hard public housing units, which represent a permanent commitment to providing affordable housing and services within a community.

“Until such time as housing authorities are required to replace demolished or disposed units on a one-for-one basis, we risk losing the crucial investment and significant asset these units represent.”

Waters and Frank called for the moratorium to allow them to work with HUD as well as housing industry and tenant advocacy organizations “to develop the necessary tools and resources to preserve public housing and ensure that families in need continue to have access to decent, safe and affordable housing in their communities.”

In the last 10 years, over 120,000 units of public housing have been demolished, with only a portion being replaced by hard units, Waters and Frank wrote. Public housing serves low- to extremely low-income families nationwide, 43 percent of whom are elderly and disabled.

Donovan’s Response

As reported in earlier issues of RJ, Frank and Waters wrote former HUD Secretary Steven Preston in August 2008 calling for the moratorium to halt public housing demolitions nationwide. At the time, they stated that the loss of public housing units had reached “epic proportions.”

“The further loss of units must be averted immediately for the sake of the nation’s low-income families.”

RJ got the chance to interview new HUD Secretary Donovan on June 5, 2009, just 10 days before Waters and Frank sent him a new letter.

Asked whether he supported the congressional leaders’ call for a moratorium to stop the demolition of public housing, Donovan didn’t give a straight yes or no answer.

Instead, Donovan said demolition of public housing is necessary in some places and mentioned the CHA’s Plan for Transformation as one example.

“I believe that it is our responsibility at the federal level to support innovative approaches like Chicago’s,” Donovan said. “And in some cases, that may mean preserving existing public housing. But in other cases, it could mean that demolition and rebuilding is the right approach. We want to make sure that we’re protecting residents as much as we can, giving them opportunities for the right places to live.”

Frank and Waters’ Update

RJ called Waters’ and Frank’s Washington DC offices to find out if Donovan ever responded to their letter.

Michael Levin, the communications director for Waters, told RJ during a phone interview on July 8 that the congresswoman was still waiting to hear from Donovan regarding the letter.

“We’re waiting officially for a response to the letter,” Levin said.

In a July 2 e-mail, Frank stated that the present Congress would ensure the federal government will have housing plans and programs for the needy.

“It’s bad enough that the federal government has not built enough affordable rental housing, but it should not be destroying existing units before there is something to replace them,” Frank wrote.

“It is important to improve the stock of affordable rental housing, but not by diminishing the overall number of units. In past years, people could argue that there were no plans to make better housing available. The present Congress will remedy that.”

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