From privatization to reparations

by Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Poor News Network

POOR organized this rally against public housing privatization way back on Sept. 24, 2013, alerting most San Franciscans for the first time to the evil scheme called RAD. The speaker is poverty skola Ayat-Jalal Bryant. – Photo: Poor News Network
POOR organized this rally against public housing privatization way back on Sept. 24, 2013, alerting most San Franciscans for the first time to the evil scheme called RAD. The speaker is poverty skola Ayat-Jalal Bryant. – Photo: Poor News Network

“They have a date next month for the movers to come and take us somewhere, but we don’t even know where that somewhere is.” I was on the phone with a disabled elder resident of 939 Eddy, one of 14 San Francisco buildings recently non-profitized – aka privatized – under the new HUD public housing dismantlement program called RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration). RAD is the newest in a long line of multi-billion-dollar poverty industry ponzi schemes aimed at gentrifying public housing and leaving the poorest of the poor with nowhere to live.

As the Poor Magazine-Poor News Network family were desperately trying to shine some light on the crisis of 939 Eddy, where the mostly bedridden, non-English-speaking residents are terrified for their lives, the next non-profit wonder boy, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who wrote RAD, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor London Breed, representing District 5, where 939 Eddy is located, held a back-slapping press conference to congratulate themselves on this recent bonanza made on the backs of us poor folks.

“Mayor Lee celebrates milestone in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development partnership to re-envision, revitalize and rebuild city’s public housing” read the headline of the press release from the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

In San Francisco, like almost every city in the U.S., the pyramid scheme of public to private housing, which began in the 1990s with (No) Hope VI, has culminated in RAD, the “final solution.” The excuse to justify privatization is public housing authorities’ intentional neglect, causing broken elevators, bedbugs, broken toilets, doors and windows, plus severe plumbing and electrical problems.

At the same time, as was revealed by fellow poverty skolaz at Western Regional Advocacy Project, HUD’s budget has stripped public housing and Section 8 programs of millions every year that could have repaired and maintained the housing and opened boarded up units to hundreds of thousands of homeless families.

Yet what has people throwing their hands up in frustration at sessions sponsored by HUD, public housing authorities and even non-profit advocates across the nation are government issued statements like, “We have no money to make repairs.” No one ever questions why these “problems” are all exactly alike, how from city to city, from state to state, us very low-income, no-income, poorest-of-the-poor families are the ones left to struggle with extremely dangerous habitability issues in buildings that were supposedly set up to safely house us.

We who have lived in these buildings for generations, whose lives and bodies have been used, exploited and enslaved to build this stolen indigenous land, who have crossed false borders and endured U.S.-fueled wars across Mama Earth only to arrive here to work for the wealthy – our struggles are caused by centuries of exploitation, yet we end up being used for grant applications so philanthro-pimps can launch more jobs in the poverty industry. And we are NEVER considered the stakeholders who can determine our own fate and our own housing.

We are NEVER considered the stakeholders who can determine our own fate and our own housing.

“There is big money to be made off non-profit housing contracts. That’s why the non-profits and the politicians came together to dream this RAD scheme up together in 2000,” an elder, disabled poverty skola at POOR Magazine, living in poor people, non-profiteered housing said, shaking his head, “Everyone gets paid – and we poor folks get less housing or no housing at all.”

In a story that accompanies this photo, Bay City News writes under the headline, “HUD Project Aims to Fix More Than 4,500 Public Housing Units in San Francisco,” “U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with residents and other local officials, stood in a courtyard at the housing complex on Wednesday (Oct. 14) to highlight the implementation of a $1.69 billion transformation plan for San Francisco’s public housing system.” They’re referring to RAD, though it’s barely mentioned. Focusing on deplorable public housing conditions, they report that “rat infestation, dilapidated plumbing and broken heating systems are among the top concerns (of) residents at the Robert B. Pitts apartments.” “Robert B. Pitts’ Tenant Association council member Angie Coleman said she has been living in the complex since 1990 and that some of the repairs she requested 25 years ago still have not been addressed” and that, since the RAD program was announced last year, “even less has been done to respond to tenants’ requests for repairs.” “San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed, who represents the Western Addition, said many of the deplorable conditions she saw growing up in public housing in the neighborhood still exist. She said there are more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs in San Francisco’s public housing units.” – Photo: Josh Keppel, NBC Bay Area
In a story that accompanies this photo, Bay City News writes under the headline, “HUD Project Aims to Fix More Than 4,500 Public Housing Units in San Francisco,” that “U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with residents and other local officials, stood in a courtyard at the housing complex on Wednesday (Oct. 14) to highlight the implementation of a $1.69 billion transformation plan for San Francisco’s public housing system.” They’re referring to RAD, though it’s barely mentioned. Focusing on deplorable public housing conditions, they report that “rat infestation, dilapidated plumbing and broken heating systems are among the top concerns (of) residents at the Robert B. Pitts apartments.” “Robert B. Pitts’ Tenant Association council member Angie Coleman said she has been living in the complex since 1990 and that some of the repairs she requested 25 years ago still have not been addressed” and that, since the RAD program was announced last year, “even less has been done to respond to tenants’ requests for repairs.” “San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed, who represents the Western Addition, said many of the deplorable conditions she saw growing up in public housing in the neighborhood still exist. She said there are more than $200 million in deferred maintenance costs in San Francisco’s public housing units.” – Photo: Josh Keppel, NBC Bay Area

Before a sneaky proposal entitled “housing bonds” appeared before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in April of 2015 to approve the “renovation” of 14 buildings enabled by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Housing Authority ponzi scheme of allocating millions of dollars to non-profit organizations to “manage and fix up” these buildings while more money went to other non-profits to advocate for the tenants who would be “relocated” by RAD, youth and adult poverty skolaz at Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine made a direct plea to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote no on the approval of this RAD lie.

We, the evicted, the privatized, the gentrified and the poverty pimped families and adults, would be the first ones “relocated” (read “evicted”) if RAD went through. We were able to slow it down a little and for that we felt proud, but in the end the poltrickster die was cast: Everyone except Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos approved the bonds and the displacement train was on the tracks, and the non-profit and for profit tab started adding up.

As early as September of 2013, when the first lie of RAD began to filter out of the backroom deals and handshakes by Ed Lee (or Lie), his handlers and enablers, Poor News Network received a tip to go to a so-called open meeting at the Housing Authority where they were talking about it as though it was a done deal. At this point, POOR Magazine launched an extensive investigation into what RAD really was, and we fought for a single mama and her sons struggling with an evil cocktail of racial profiling, HUD’s One Strike rule, shady police and RAD-ified buildings. Her family was eventually scattered to houselessness.

Not only is the poverty industry making money, but the lie of “affordability” comes into play. After it is RAD-ified, each building becomes “mixed-income,” code for opening it to the middle class, the owning class, the tech-gentrifiers, which is, just like (No) Hope VI, the real point of moving us out to nowhere. That’s what the elders in 939 Eddy are facing – eviction of the poor and transformation of their homes into market rate housing available to the endless stream of well-paid gentry flooding into cities from Baltimore to Oakland to Los Angeles, while us poor folks get pushed to the poor people suburbs, where we lose our communities, our neighbors, our support systems, our families, our jobs, our lives.

RAD means eviction of the poor and transformation of their homes into market rate housing available to the endless stream of well-paid gentry flooding into the cities, while us poor folks get pushed to the poor people suburbs, where we lose our communities, our neighbors, our support systems, our families, our jobs, our lives.

One of the few conscious legislators who has stood up to this lie is Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who called RAD for the eradication scheme it is.

Baltimore public housing tenants who resent their role as guinea pigs for a new national privatization plan staged a Speak-Out to Rethink RAD on June 11, 2014. – Photo courtesy of Right to Housing Alliance
Baltimore public housing tenants who resent their role as guinea pigs for a new national privatization plan staged a Speak-Out to Rethink RAD on June 11, 2014. – Photo courtesy of Right to Housing Alliance

The most recent designer of this final solution of public housing destruction is HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who dreamt up the RAD program. Launched in 2013, RAD will hand over 60,000 units of public housing to private management by 2015. RAD began in five cities across the US as a “demonstration” and has now been quietly moving across the U.S. to un-house us all.

To unpack the pyramid scheme of this theft, one only needs to look at the billions being made by everyone involved – from the stock market traders who trade the mortgages for the public housing buildings on the stock exchange to the banksters who financed their contracts to the so-called non-profit housing developers who are getting million dollar contracts to repair and manage the units to non-profit advocates getting contracts to “protect us” from the non-profit housing developers’ malfeasance and and to the thousands of builders, contractors, social workers and poltricksters in the middle.

Everyone is getting paid. Everyone, except us poor people. From Baltimore to LA, literally thousands of people have faced eviction – 500 evictions at a time – from newly privatized, sold, pimped and played public housing buildings. Or they hear the more user-friendly, post-(No) Hope VI lie of “relocation with the guaranteed right to return.” Right? There are so many lies and so many people who will be permanently un-housed behind this scheme, I am literally terrified for all of us.

So why aren’t the tenants, the residents, the poor people, the African people, all the people of color ever offered these stolen millions for self-determination – to determine our own destiny?

“Oh, they can’t manage their own property. They are too caught up in drugs or family struggles,” said one non-profiteer “advocate” to me when I asked him why us poor residents weren’t offered the equity in these buildings or to manage the buildings we have been living in for years? The paternalistic tone of “oh, the poor people can’t do for themselves” is enough to make you wretch, or slap someone.

And the saddest part of all of this is so many of us poor people believe the lies they tell us about what we can’t do. We have heard these stories of our “ineptitude” for so many generations they start to sound like fact. And anyone who speaks of self-determination is considered a crazy radical, a nut or an odd ball.

The saddest part of all of this is so many of us poor people believe the lies they tell us about what we can’t do. We have heard these stories of our “ineptitude” for so many generations they start to sound like fact. And anyone who speaks of self-determination is considered a crazy radical.

And no wonder the paternalistic, they-can’t-do-for-self theme always comes into play; there is way too much money to be made by our scarcity model, white supremacist crafted “failures.” There is a multi-billion dollar hustle on our broken backs – from the poverty industry building jail-like shelters, to the non-profiteers making grants to “help” us, feed us, clothe us, to the private and government police harassing, arresting, incarcerating or killing us, to akkkademia funding endless research studies to “survey” us, study us and write about us without us.

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In Minneapolis on June 8, 2015, residents protest the sale of their building, the last of the city’s public housing, to private developers under RAD. – Photo: Socialist Alternative
In Minneapolis on June 8, 2015, residents protest the sale of their building, the last of the city’s public housing, to private developers under RAD. – Photo: Socialist Alternative

t’s just an ongoing stream of money made on us never getting out from under their boot. From New Orleans to New Hampshire, we are losing our last acre and our one remaining mule.

From Honduras to Brazil, the privatization scheme is the order of the day. As we export this winning business model of privatizing, policing, incarcerating and killing across Mama Earth, everyone gets on the bandwagon. In Honduras, it’s taken up a notch with entire cities being privatized.

As apocalyptic is this all seems and as scared as it makes us poor folks and as many times as the non-profiteers claim it will be OK and we have the right to return and as many useless, dismantled Section 8 certificates as we are handed like 99-cent lottery tickets, don’t be fooled, family. The private prisons and private security forces are being built and readied to handle our huddling, houseless masses. And we truly must rise up.

We have done it at POOR Magazine – and we aren’t special. We are just a bunch of determined, refuse-to-be-infiltrated, landless, evicted, houseless, disabled, criminalized, incarcerated, bordered, angry, take no more ish mamaz, aunties, daddys, uncles, brothers , sons and daughters who refuse the lies told about us and the chains waiting for us.

We listen carefully to our many nationed ancestors and refuse to give up on the dreams and manifestations of Move Africa, the Shackdwellers Union in South Africa, the Landless Peoples Movement in Brazil and the Zapatistas in Chiapas. So this is possible. All that needs to happen is people need to start telling the truth.

Emergency solutions: Organize, legalize and activate to demand our equity

So what will happen to us 1.2 million elders, youth and families across the nation living in soon to be privatized public housing buildings? There are really only two things that we can do: First, like our sisters and brothers from the Charlottesville, Virgina, Public Housing Association of Residents who organized and literally stood up to their local Housing Authority and said, “No, just NO to the lie of RAD!”

They remain un-RAD-ified to this day. We can organize the same way here, but people have to be willing to stop being coaxed, paid off or scared into complacence.

The Charlottesville, Virginia, Public Housing Association of Residents stood up to their local Housing Authority and said, “No, just NO to the lie of RAD!” They remain un-RAD-ified to this day.

We po’ folks in resistance at POOR Magazine are willing to help. We created a 10 point plan for organizing your own buildings and will assist you in this as we have been offering since last year.

Another option for public housing tenants is what we have been demanding since 2013: Give us back our equity – the equity being bought, sold and traded on the open market, which includes everyone but us – so we can practice our own self-determination.

For us generationally-stolen-from, poorest-of-the-poor public housing tenants, this is reparations. Our time and lives and generations in these buildings is equity. This is why returning our equity is never considered. To enact this notion of equity justice, we ask again for a conscious, un-pimped, non-paternalistic law firm to please stand up and represent folks to get our rightful equity.

After exposing the 939 Eddy St. crisis on Poor News Network’s radio show, some of the elders from the building were advised of their relocation addresses. “We are just worried that the many bedridden elders here will agree to what they are pushing on us and end up with nowhere to go,” the elder from the 939 Eddy building managed by Tenderloin Neighborhood Housing Clinic concluded softly to us.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles 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.