Sappho in Wonderland

2008 SF Bay Area, or 1939 Berlin?

Posts Tagged ‘homelessness

Why The Homelessness Pandemic Exists

leave a comment »

People alive before 1980 remember a time when homeless people were few and far between. There were occasional runaways, hobos, drug addicts or alcoholics, but for the vast majority, homelessness was a temporary state. We didn’t even have the label “homeless” to apply to people without a fixed address. Americans of every political stripe boasted that we were the greatest country in the world and would never allow our most vulnerable people to sleep on the sidewalk “like India.” America takes care of its own, everyone said. Seemingly overnight, things changed.

For thousands of families, Sec. 8 Housing was a way out of poverty. Part of Pres. Johnson’s War on Poverty, it is a HUD program that subsidizes a portion of low income families, seniors and disabled people’s rents. It provides safe housing for those who cannot work due to disability or age. Additionally, the program inspects the home to make sure it is up to code, and negotiates with the landlord for a reasonable rent. Sec. 8 recipients pay no more than 40 percent (originally 30 percent) of their income for rent and utilities. There was even an emergency fund for people who were in danger of becoming homeless. No one had to sleep in a shelter, or on the street, especially if there were children involved.

What happened?

Ronald Reagan happened. First he drastically cut Section 8 Housing. Then he said, in response to questions about why we suddenly had homeless people everywhere, “[they] are homeless, you might say, by choice.”

For those who think the Democrats will save us, think again. Bill Clinton continued the cuts to Section 8, forcing even more people into homelessness. He signed HOPE VI, a program to privatize HUD housing projects, which allows only 12 percent of tenants to return to their homes and is responsible for a massive loss of low income housing units. The fact is, no president has restored the cuts to Sec. 8. We could end homelessness tomorrow by bringing Section 8 funding back to pre1982 levels and replacing the units lost to HOPE VI. It’s that simple, should the people demand it.

About the Research

Cuts to Section 8 housing are poorly documented on the Internet. News articles focus on proposed cuts to the program, with no follow up on whether the cuts passed. Archives do not go back to before 1994 or 5, in most cases, including the Congressional Record. When Reagan died in 2004, Peter Dreier wrote a widely reprinted article for Newsday about Reagan’s destruction of Section 8 and the ensuing homelessness epidemic. There are also articles available about the Sec. 8 corruption scandals, in which government officials gave millions of dollars of HUD’s money to their friends in the construction industry, causing the intended recipients of those funds to go homeless. Consider the below list a sampling of articles about the destruction of Sec. 8.

Little is available on George HW Bush’s Sec. 8 policies regarding funding, due to lack of pre1994 archives. Most notable during his tenure was the change in Section 8 that allowed recipients to move to different areas if they wished. The idea was that people could go where the jobs were and lift themselves out of poverty. At the very least, people could move to different, often better, neighborhoods.

I occasionally cite Wikipedia. My standards for Wikipedia articles include accuracy and proper sourcing. Wikipedia is like any other secondary source. Its quality varies, but we can fact-check for ourselves.

Section 8 Timeline

63 Years of Federal Action in Housing and Urban Development

Government publication. Timeline of Federal housing programs from 1932 to 1995.


HUD (Housing and Urban Development) created by Johnson. This Wikipedia article is well-sourced and a good springboard for further exploration.

1974 Sec. 8 Housing Created by Nixon

A decent Wikipedia article on the history of Sec.8.


Reagan’s cuts to Section 8 Housing

By Peter Dreier. Originally published in Newsday, 6/10/04

“Between 1980 and 1989, HUD’s budget authority was cut from $74 billion to $19 billion in constant dollars. The number of new subsidized housing starts fell from 175,000 to 20,000 a year.

One of Reagan’s most enduring legacies is the steep increase in homeless people. By the late 1980s, the number of homeless had swollen to 600,000 on any given night and 1.2 million over the course of a year.”

Bill Clinton’s cuts to HUD in the guise of “saving” it:

Clinton’s HOPE VI Destroys Low Income Housing for 100,000s in the name of renewal.

The idea of tearing down the most rundown projects and replacing them with mixed-income housing sounds wonderful. The result? Thousands of low-income people lose their housing, as hundreds of units are replaced by dozens, and only a few of those for low-income renters. Some of the people displaced by HOPE VI are offered Sec. 8 vouchers, ahead of people on the Sec. 8 waiting list—causing yet more homelessness. The program continues to this day, often tearing down perfectly fine buildings. Developers make big bucks as the once-public housing projects are privatized and opened up for market-rate rents. We will return to HOPE VI through the years.



Congressional Record, 1994

passed the House of Representatives (House Roll Call),

but did not become law (

S. 1299 [103rd]: Multifamily Housing Property Disposition Reform Act of 1994 “Tracking the 110th United States Congress”

Replaces the Housing and Community Development Act of 1994; changes the way Section 8 is funded, to the detriment of recipients.

“A bill to reform requirements for the disposition of multifamily property owned by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, enhance program flexibility, authorize a program to combat crime, and for other purposes.”

Clinton unveils plan to save Section 8 – assisted housing program
Real Estate Weekly, March 12, 1997


$2.3 Billion in Housing Aid Is Cut From Spending Bill, New York Times


For Whom is there Hope in Hope VI?, Greater Birmingham Ministries


Written by berkeleysappho

January 30, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Why The Homelessness Pandemic Exists Part 2

leave a comment »

George W. Bush’s cuts to HUD:


Housing Choice for HOPE VI Relocatees

Final Report, Urban Institute, Robin E. Smith. HOPE VI continues to destroy low income housing.


Bush’s House of Cards, The Nation. Predicts housing bubble collapse, mentions Sec. 8 cuts.


EXCLUSIVE: HUD Secretary Admitted Professional ‘Bias’ Against Bush Critics, Ignored Warnings From Lawyers</a Yet another HUD corruption scandal.

Hope VI Project Double Crosses Oakland Renters

Poor Magazine; 178 units demolished, only 13 out of 178 families allowed to return by HUD. Nationwide, 12 percent of “displaced tenants” allowed to return to their homes.


Bush in my backyard – why I didn’t protest

Cottonmouth Press

“Life and politics below the sweet tea line”


Congressional Record, 2007 changes to Section 8, mentions previous cuts.

HOPE VI Improvement and Reauthorization Act

letter to sponsor Maxine Waters, National People’s Action (umbrella group).

HOPE VI Project Causing Homelessness in Dade County? Short answer: yes. Many posts on HOPE VI.


Hope VI = Homeless Minus 100,000 Homes

Los Angeles Mission’s Blog

“At a time when the need for housing units continues to increase, why is there any argument about replacing what we tear down?”

Written by berkeleysappho

January 30, 2008 at 3:59 pm