July 3, 2008

Save Our Homes: The NAHT Affordable Housing Rally

by Elizabeth Borges, Advocacy Assistant.

“2, 4, 6, 8! Fully fund our Section 8!”

On Monday, June 23, about one hundred members of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) gathered to protest the declining number of affordable housing units nationwide, and I joined them for my first rally. Though the effects of the rally were decidedly uneven, I left inspired by the dedication and passion of the NAHT, whose members clearly recognize their role in American democracy and the fight for affordable housing.

Founded in 1991, NAHT brings together HUD tenants from all over the United States who live in Section-8 housing. While the tenants come from different areas and diverse backgrounds, they all share a personal understanding of the acute necessity of affordable housing.

The rally was part of NAHT’s annual conference where members attend workshops on forming and maintaining an effective tenant organization. This year, given the proximity of the November election, the NAHT decided to present its platform to the Republican and Democratic presidential candidate. The platform called on the candidates to fully fund Section-8 housing and other HUD programs, ratify the right to adequate housing, support rent reform, and increase communication between tenants and HUD so that tenants play a more active role in the organization’s decision-making. The difference in reception by the two parties was marked.

The group’s first stop was the Republic National Committee. Carrying signs with such slogans as “Tenants Vote Too” and “If you want the White House, save my house,” we marched up and down the street chanting and drawing attention to our cause. Despite our vocal presence, RNC officials refused to meet with any members of the NAHT. More surprisingly, they did not even allow us to deliver a copy of the NAHT’s Presidential Platform, which was printed on a big poster board. Apparently they accepted a copy of the platform eight years ago before the 2000 election, but clearly times have changed.

Despite the resistance from the RNC, we remain undaunted and focused our efforts on our next task: a meeting with Ian Solomon, an Obama aide, at the conference hotel. At the meeting, Solomon pleasantly surprised the group when he announced that, as President, Sen. Obama would fully fund Section-8 housing. Solomon also promised that Obama fully supported the goals of the NAHT and most, if not all, of their tenets in principal. Still, he admitted that the details of the Senator’s plans could be different than the NAHT’s, especially with regards to funding. So, while Senator Obama seems to support affordable housing initiatives, the NAHT will still need to petition for specific initiatives if he is elected.

Notably, in his remarks, Solomon astutely acknowledged a dilemma that plagues the affordable housing movement, as well as similar movements that affect low-income populations. Low-income residents must work harder to represent their interests in government as they have fewer resources at their disposal; however, these people arguably need help the most. Despite this barrier, the members of the NAHT work diligently to represent their interests and those of their peers, and should therefore be commended, even if the results of their efforts are lamentably hazy.

No comments: