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Fake housing crisis: From Bayview to Baltimore, public housing kept empty while thousands are un-housed

February 9, 2016

by Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia

Building after building, block after block from the Bayview to Baltimore and from Sunnydale to East Oakland, the last vestige of so-called public – that is, government owned – housing in the richest country in the world lie dormant. Boarded up, locked, gated and shut – each apartment equipped with two, three and four bedrooms, one or two bathrooms and full kitchens.

Residents of Leeville could be living in these very livable but boarded up and vacant apartments built with our tax dollars. – Graphic: Dan Brekke, VanishingSF

Residents of Leeville could be living in these very livable but boarded up and vacant apartments built with our tax dollars. – Graphic: Dan Brekke, VanishingSF

With some exceptions, like roof repairs and plumbing, minor repairs like replacing broken windows and missing doorknobs are needed and, very often, nothing is needed. Perfectly good housing when the poorest of the poor across the United Snakes of Amerikkka no longer have any housing.

Locally in the Bay Area we have literally thousands of people on the streets while poltricksters, bureaucrats, non-profiteers and even the community shake their collective heads. “Why?” they ask, and they wring their hands over “the desperate need to build housing” and yet no one mentions what’s already there.

Hmm, I wonder why. Perhaps we should follow the money. As I wrote a few months ago, the next great Brown hope in the body of HUD Secretary Julian Castro is being groomed for political office. He wrote the newest in a long line of HUD’s gentrification programs – read: public housing eradication programs – a benignly misleading thing called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), written about multiple times by POOR Magazine staff writers Queenandi, Bruce Allison, Vivian Thorp and myself, only to be regularly unheard by mainstream and even many so-called independent media – except the beautiful SF Bay View, that is. But why?

As people witnessed in last week’s plantation corporate games I call Stupid Bowl, there was an abrupt rise in the removal, arrest and theft of unhoused San Franciscans, but this happens all the time. Poor people’s bodies and belongings are regularity criminalized for the sole act of being outside in “public.”

Building after building, block after block, the last vestige of so-called public – that is, government owned – housing in the richest country in the world lie dormant.

Thousands of non-profit organizations and poltrickster mayors make millions of dollars in grant money “serving” us poor people, from legal advocacy to blankets, from counseling to housing referrals and building contracts. In San Francisco alone it’s over $241 million.

Spectacular views from these apartments could make the dreams of poor, un-housed children soar, but they’ve been privatized – and greedy property managers choose to leave them vacant. – Photo: Poor News Network

Spectacular views from these apartments could make the dreams of poor, un-housed children soar, but they’ve been privatized – and greedy property managers choose to leave them vacant. – Photo: Poor News Network

But what’s not so clearly known is the housing already exists. The buildings are already built. All that’s missing is the truth. And the truth is our public housing was stolen by both for-profit and non-profiteers to build “mixed-income” housing a la (NO) Hope IV. And to add to that scandal, too many people are making money off our continued poverty and houselessness.

Tireless research has been done about the dismantling of the public housing and Section 8 programs and the subsequent criminalization and plantation imprisonment of our poor, disabled and communities of color by comrades at Coalition on Homelessness, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) and POOR Magazine WeSearch. The crimes of capitalism just keep on piling up and the innocent parties, those of us displaced, gentrified, evicted and removed, are the victims.

When we first heard about RAD in 2013 and understood it was the last nail in the public housing coffin, all of us evicted, no-longer publicly housed and criminalized houseless folks at POOR Magazine proposed a transfer of equity, a transfer of this stolen indigenous Ohlone land to the peoples who live there.

These so-called public properties should be offered to the tenants, the long-time residents, the African peoples, migrant Asian, Pacific Islander, Raza and poor white folks, who are intentionally kept in poverty to provide the land-stealing class with land to constantly redevelop in order to make more money off of it. One of the untold stories of Freddie Gray, for instance, is that he and many more children were survivors of lead poisoning in “public housing” that was left to rot and kill us before it was gentrified.

Privatizing public and HUD-subsidized housing means property managers can put profit over people by refusing to make the minor repairs that would quickly and easily make them livable. – Photo: Poor News Network

Privatizing public and HUD-subsidized housing means property managers can put profit over people by refusing to make the minor repairs that would quickly and easily make them livable. – Photo: Poor News Network

As POOR Magazine family was desperately trying to get a legal firm to represent a group of public housing tenants seeking their equity reparations, the leases for the public housing buildings across the nation were being sold on the stock market to the highest bidder, including the same foreclosure barristers who caused the foreclosure crisis, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf were cutting multi-billion dollar contracts with Lennar, John Stewart and RCD, to mention a few, for the redeveloping and long-term management of our once-public housing.

That means the intentional keeping out of any new very low-income tenants and the bringing in of middle class tech workers who like the view and the convenience of a Bay Area address.

But the blood-stained “bucks” don’t stop there, conscious readers. Your friendly neighborhood service provider and advocate is on the take too. Multiple contracts for advocacy, outreach and service provision were doled out to “help” us in our transition to the newest pimp on the block.

Self-determination is NEVER mentioned. Reparations for generations of poisoned, environmentally racialized and evicted Black and Brown people is never mentioned. And meanwhile housing sits there and people like many of our WeSearchers from last week remain on the cold, wet streets hoping for a break.

In San Francisco, where every inch of the city, both private and so-called public, has been sold, pimped and played, causing the forced out-migration of African peoples like Pastor Dorn and working class communities of all colors and nations as well as the death of elders like Jose La Crosby, Elaine Turner and Ron Likkers, to name just a few, it is literally homicidal to have these homes standing vacant and lies being told and sold to all of us.

Self-determination is NEVER mentioned. Reparations for generations of poisoned, environmentally racialized and evicted Black and Brown people is never mentioned. And meanwhile housing sits there and people like many of our WeSearchers from last week remain on the cold, wet streets hoping for a break.

In the what used to be the Fillmore – Fill-no-more – and the Bayview after a lengthy list of lies, the few elders and families who remain there are being informed that they will be displaced for up to a year while their homes are renovated. Will they actually be re-housed? Only if we as a community stay vigilant.

Equally important is what will happen to the rest of the “abandoned” homes. I say we take them back.

Stay tuned for the Vacant Housing Equity Tour, planned very soon. Revolutionary reparations and liberation groups and people, please contact POOR Magazine to join us, co-sponsor and sign on. Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit POOR at www.poormagazine.org.

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