Thank you Chairman Mack and committee members. I too wish to extend a special thanks to Senator D`Amato and to Melody Fennell of his staff.
The New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition represents 20,000 individual tenants who are dues paying members froml throughout New York State. Many of these tenants are public housing tenants. Public housing is a real priority for us because there are 198,000 federal public housing units in New York--more than twice the number in any other state. This is not only about New York City. In fact upstate and suburban counties alone have more public housing than 43 states, For New York State, your continued support of public housing tenants is an absolute necessity.
We are greatly pleased that the Senate heard the concerns raised by tens of thousands of tenants nationwide about rent increases and that S.462 preserves the Brooke Amendment. We are pleased that you have rejected the extremist proposals in the House Bill to force time limits on public homing and Secdon 8 and to deregulate public housing under the guise of home rule block grants. Furthermore, you are correct to maintain the 1937 housing act-repealing it would open a Pandora's Box of challenges to subsequent legislation and case law.
My testimony contains specific comments on many other pan of the bill, but I was asked to focus my statements on tenant empowerment.
You can mandate structures which give tenants real control over policy decisions which govern their lives. Judith already mentioned the need to have tenant elected housing authority commissioners. But this is just a start. You can mandate that tenant input be solicited by HUD in assessing housing authority performance. To make this simple and meaningful I recommend that housing authorities be required to solicit a performance report card from tenant associations and individual tenants. These report cards would be submitted to HUD and scored towards the overall assessment of housing authority performance.
Every day HUD is issuing, assessing and amending policies which govern tenants' homes. The major organizations representing housing authorities are consulted in the development of these policies. What about tenants? We have worked in partnership with HUD nationally to set up tenant task forces which are working on, or have helped developed, new policies pertaining to security, rent increases and building conditions in Section 8 buildings. You would be amazed at the insight tenants can offer policy makers when they are included as real partners at the table.
You can also provide resources to build tenant capacity, skills and organizational structures. You can mandate that every public housing development make space available for tenant meetings and tenant association offices free from interference by the housing authority.
Your bill authorizes $25 million in funding for resident activities and services. The House would only authorize $15 million and would allow public housing authorities to administer such funds. S.462 appropriately allows these funds to be granted to resident councils, resident organizations and resident management corporations.
Funding resident groups is an excellent way to improve housing authority performance promote opportunities for residents. However, we should expand the purposes of this program.
Outreach, education, tenant organizing and organizational capacity building should all be eligible activities under this funding program. The bill currently states that these funds can be used for activities relating to:
physical improvements to a public housing project in order to provide space for support services.
Services are a good thing, but what about activities designed to improve building conditions for their own sake. Bad housing conditions should not be tolerated and we should empower tenants to get their rights to decent housing. Tenant organizing has been proven to.be a significant factor in improving building conditions and increasing tenant satisfaction. Research shows it is also critical to reducing crime and preventing drug dealing.
What do I mean when I say organizing? I am talking about one of the most basic of American traditions--civic participation. Organizing requires committed people, like Judy Smith, willing to volunteer hundreds of hours to improve their communities. However, in order to help people succeed in this mission, we must equip them with the tools they need. There are countless stories of organizing efforts losing steam after only one or two meetings. Funds do not guarantee success, but they can make it possible for tenants to staff their organizations. And funds can make it possible for them to contract with skilled tenant and community organizing training centers to help tenants develop their abilities to be leaders, run effective organizations and improve their communities.
The purposes for use of these funds should be expanded to include: outreach and training for the purpose of educating residents regarding their rights and responsibilities; planning and implementing activities designed to improve neighborhood quality of life; and developing the capacity of resident councils, resident organizations and resident management corporations.
We support the way in which you would allow housing authorities to create flat, ceiling and tiered rent structures while still leaving the choice between these rent structures in tenants hands. By contrast the House would put the choice in the hands of the housing authorities. We also commend the 18 month income disregard for newly employed tenants, the same incentive should be offered to any already employed tenants who take the initiative to increase their income and better their lives.
We oppose the work requirement in your bill. Encouraging people to work and providiig job training and counseling would better serve residents than requiring residents to work 8 hours per month. Enforcing and strengthening Section 3 to employ more residents with HUD dollars should be taken seriously and public housing authorities should no longer get away with the overt disregard for this law.
Local control is a popular theme these days, but history shows that local control does not always work in housing policy. I would be happy to take you on a tour of neighborhoods in New York where local control meant that housing projects were sited in ways to promote economic and racial segregation. The federal government has a right to regulate housing authorities, after all the federal government is paying the bill. Local housing authorities across New York State are high performers. This high performance is the result of effective federal regulation and quality local management. The formula is working and your bill keeps it in tact.
While the provisions in S.462 regarding demolitions and disposition are superior to the House Bill, they remain inadequate. Resident organizations only have 60 days to obtain financing -- six months or a year would show a sincere intent. Exemption of tenants dislocated by demolitions or dispositions from the Uniform Relocation Act is unacceptable. Among other things, this Act mandates that there actually be housing available for dislocated tenants and that this housing be accessible to people's jobs.
We Americans love our rights and do not want them taken away. Public housing residents are no different from other Americans. The House bill would take away the right public housing tenants facing eviction to the grievance process which has been in place for over 25--years. The grievance process in most cases is superior to court. In New York City we have an overcrowded housing court system which allows the average tenant only 5 minutes before a judge and usually without the representation of an attorney. In smaller upstate communities most courts have very little experience dealing with contested eviction proceedings. We thank you for preserving the existing grievance procedure.
We strongly support S.462 public housing targeting priorities which direct 40% of vacant apartments to families at 30% of Median income or below and would like the see the bill target 85% to families at or below 60% of median. We feel the tenant-based Section 8 targeting should direct at least 75% of certificates to tenants earning less than 30% of median income.
The income targeting standards should measure how we distribute apartments which become available for rent, Your bill does this. H.R. 2 on the other hand would measure the percentage of low and very low income tenants within a profile of the entire housing authority. The House methodology would severely jeopardize the accessibility to public housing for those most in need of shelter and would allow housing authorities for the foreseeable future to admit higher income applicants to the exclusion of those. with income below 30% of the area median income. We urge this committee to stand strong and not compromise on any occupancy profile targeting criteria.
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