2002-06-08 / Front Page

Williams Leads Charge In Public Housing Battle

By Gary G. Toms

Williams Leads Charge In
Public Housing Battle
By Gary G. Toms

Ed Williams, President of Everywhere and Now Public Housing Residents Organizing Nationally Together (ENPHRONT), a national watchdog organization that addresses issues of public housing and its residents, has been traveling across the country during the last several months. Williams is trying to inform the public about recent developments in Washington with regard to public housing, which he feels will have a major impact on those struggling to survive in low-income areas.

"All of us should remember Newt Gingrich and the 104th Congress’ "Contract With America." From that radical agenda, we have Welfare Reform, Immigration Reform, and Public Housing Reform. The 1998 Public Housing Reform Act, which was authored by then Congressman Rick Lazio, became law on October 1, 1998," said Williams.

Williams makes this point to illustrate the fact that the "Contract With America" is in full effect, and he has been waging a battle to save public housing and the rights of those living in them.

"When I made presentations about the pending reforms, people said that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Then, on May 22, 2002, the New York City Housing Authority sponsored over 20 buses to transport public housing residents from all five boroughs to Washington. They went to ask the New York City Congressional Delegation for a no vote on all of the proposed housing bills, which many believe, myself included, will have a devastating impact on the future of public housing and the 200,000 families waiting for conventional housing, and another 250,000 waiting for Section 8. I won’t gloat by saying, "I told you so." However, I will note that I am very proud of the leaders and residents who boarded the buses and made the trip to Washington. We all should applaud and thank the New York City Housing Authority for providing the resources that allowed us to do that," he continued.

According to Williams, Washington is looking at a proposed cut of $417 million in the Capital Fund, which will have serious consequences for three million residents within the public housing system. He also points out that the cuts will make it more difficult for NYCHA to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing for New York City residents.

ENPHRONT recently testified at a number of hearings of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity; opposing H.R. 3995 (the Housing Affordability For America Act of 2002). In April, ENPHRONT was one of the panelists at the Conference on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization and Housing Policy, sponsored jointly by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Brookings Institute.

One of the major topics discussed at the hearings involved a bill known as "The Superwaiver." The bill, part of the TANF reauthorization bill H.R. 4700, which was introduced by the House leadership on May 15, 2002, contained a proposal to grant sweeping authority to the Executive Branch to waive, at a governor’s request, most of the provisions of authorization and appropriations law related to a range of low-income and other domestic programs. In transferring such authority to the Executive Branch, the superwaiver provision would allow any Administration, in conjunction with one or more governors, to make unilateral policy decisions that Congress may or may not decline.

"Although the Superwaiver has been modified several times, the changes address only a few of the fundamental concerns outlined in the proposal," said Williams.

Some of the other proposals in the Superwaiver include the following:

*It would allow states and local public housing authorities to waive various protections in federal law for low-income, elderly, and disabled families living in public housing developments, and enable governors to seek more control over public housing resources.

*It would impose time limits on residents in public housing, a step Congress has declined not to take because it could result in an increase in homelessness, causing significant harm to poor children.

*It would be used to override federal rules that residents pay 30 percent of income for rent and to raise rents to higher levels.

"These are just a few of many devastating proposed changes in laws that are aimed at eliminating the oldest affordable housing program for poor people in this country. Now is the time for all public housing communities to connect, stay informed, and register to vote. NYCHA is demonstrating their support for its residents by continuing to work with us. I urge you to continue to support your local Congressmember, and provide him with the tools to fight for you in this battle. I will close with ENPHRONT’s rallying cry: Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize!" said Williams

If you would like more information on ENPHRONT, or the proposed changes slated for public housing, you can contact Ed Williams at his Washington office, (202) 339-9306, or at (917) 577-1368.

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