Seventy-five residents of public housing, Section 8 housing and manufactured homes repeatedly disrupted Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson at a speech in Las Vegas on Wednesday, asking, “where will we go?” Over 40 housing justice leaders from Los Angeles led the charge.
On Tuesday morning a charter bus wound its way through Los Angeles to pick up low-income residents from Long Beach, Skid Row, Boyle Heights, Culver City and Pacoima. Members of People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Union de Vecinos, the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, Alliance of Californians for Community Engagement (ACCE) and Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE) all piled into the bus and headed to Las Vegas.
These fearless Angelenos weren’t going to hit the slots or see a show, though. They were joining with grassroots leaders from all corners of the country to directly confront HUD Secretary Ben Carson on the day he was being wined and dined by the Manufactured Housing Institute, a corporate industry group that is hoping to make massive profits off of the nation’s housing crisis.
This also happened to be the day that Secretary Carson announced that HUD wants the poor to pay higher rents for public housing, to strip residents of rental credits for health and child care, and force people to meet work requirements to keep their homes. Carson’s proposals triple the rent on the nation’s very poorest families.
These changes will affect millions of individuals and families, especially seniors and the poorest residents of public housing who are already ravaged by frozen budgets, budget cuts, skyrocketing costs in the private market, and the privatization of public housing by local housing authorities. The proposal will bring crippling new burdens to the poorest and most vulnerable people — many of whom may entirely lose the already-precarious roofs over their heads.
It’s no wonder that residents from throughout Los Angeles, which is already the most brutal city for low-income renters, wouldn’t think twice about taking two days off from work and away from their families to confront the evil mastermind who was trying to destroy their communities to help his corporate pals.
The Angelenos came together with other housing justice leaders to create a sophisticated plan to infiltrate the Manufactured Housing Institute’s spring meeting in the Paris Hotel in Vegas, which was closed to the press and public and required a $600 registration to attend. Leaders stayed up late into the night Tuesday breaking into teams, assigning roles, role-playing, and planning for all contingencies.
The gathering was sponsored by People’s Action, the Center for Popular Democracy, Carson Watch, and Right to the City’s Homes For All campaign. The group extended a special thanks to MHAction, who brought expertise about the Manufactured Housing Institute’s convention, and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), who provided meeting space at their Las Vegas office.
The grassroots leaders’ effort paid off, and the plan worked! The entire team got into the hotel and disrupted Carson’s speech several times, while a second team simultaneously held a press conference and rally outside, attracting a lot of attention and injecting an unnerving note of sobriety on the boisterous Las Vegas Strip.
The first one to stand up and shout Carson down was lifelong Venice resident, Section 8 tenant leader, and POWER member Kendra Moore, who told Carson that his plans would destroy her community and displace her and her family. She was followed by low-income senior Jeliner Jordan of Chicago’s Jane Addams Senior Caucus. She asked, “If you increase rents and cut the HUD budget, where will I live?” Then Carson was interrupted again by MHAction leader Patricia Norberg, a manufactured home owner from Delaware.
Carson’s response? Instead of offering solutions, he insulted poor tenants, saying “This is a perfect example of what happens when the swamp gets a hold of people.”
Then the room exploded as over a dozen other grassroots leaders scattered throughout the room began to chant and shout Carson down, demanding that HUD serve those in need and that Carson do his job by providing housing to everybody.
One by one, those disrupting Carson’s speech were escorted out as hotel security radioed that they needed more support. Some conference attendees quietly told the protestors that they were with them, even as the majority-white audience heckled and booed. One rich investor even said that the solution to the housing crisis was to “vote Republican.”
After they were all booted from the conference, the leaders joined with their allies on the Strip and swelled the ranks of the rally and press conference.
“It is absolutely unthinkable that the Trump Administration’s response to the crisis is to make things worse with draconian rent increases and work requirements. We insist that Congress reject the proposal and we demand a HUD that’s fully funded to meet 100 percent of the real needs of American people,” said Kendra Moore at the rally.
“Carson is out of touch and patronizing. He thinks poverty is a state of mind. He needs to do his job and push for a massive reinvestment in community-owned and public housing. We need him to make a true commitment to alleviating the conditions of poverty and the dismantling of the racist structures embedded in our housing system,” said Trenise Bryant from the Miami Workers Center. “And we, those who are directly impacted by the crisis and live with it every day, need to be at the center of the conversation and decisions made to solve it.”
What this group of leaders is demanding is a radical rethinking of the HUD budget and the country’s response to the housing crisis that is gripping every county, but is hitting us especially hard in Los Angeles. The group told Carson to do his job to faithfully execute the mission of his department, and to advocate for a HUD budget that will meet the needs of every qualified family to safe, decent, affordable housing.
We know the only way to make that happen on the scale that is necessary is to dramatically realign resources in order to meet the need by investing in resident-led public and community-owned housing. The public-private partnerships can’t keep up with a speculative private market that will inflict misery and death to maximize profit with no regard for the social impact of their business practices. Housing is a Human Right!
*Some portions of this article sourced and reprinted with permission from HUD’s Carson Offers Tenants Insults, Not Solutions by Tara Raghuveer