How HUD’s Dismantling is Playing Out in Maywood

Saturday, August 26, 2017 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews

Feature photo: HUD Secretary Ben Carson | Wikipedia 

Earlier this month, Tiffany Robinson, the executive director of the Maywood Housing Authority, urged the Maywood Board of Trustees to draft a letter of support that would be sent to the head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Chicago regional office.

According to Robinson, the MHA is in trouble. HUD claims that the authority owes over $800,000 in connection to instances of theft and misconduct that happened roughly a decade ago and that landed the MHA’s previous executive director, Gwendolyn Robinson, in prison.

Tiffany Robinson (no relation to Gwendolyn) said that she’s been asking the Chicago HUD office to clear the debt so that the authority can start getting money that’s owed them. In the meantime, she said, MHA has had to ask the federal agency for funding in fits and starts, on a month-to-month basis — $325,000 here, $303,000 there. That’s not a sustainable revenue flow for an authority that had roughly a month of reserves left in its coffers at the time Robinson reported to the village board on Aug. 9.

Meanwhile, landlords who rent to tenants that the MHA provides with Housing Choice vouchers (formerly Section 8 vouchers), are forced to wait as payments trickle in. By the way, administering housing vouchers is the MHA’s primary function. That’s why it exists.

Putting aside the MHA’s corrupt past or the heated debate over whether or not Maywood is already overrun with vouchered tenants, this most recent issue is fundamentally about a much more terrifying reality that’s been afoot since Nov. 8, 2016.

“Many times, we’ll get a report that we’re going to receive funds and, next thing you know, two or three days before the end of the month, we’ll receive another letter saying we won’t [receive the funds],” Robinson said during her Aug. 9 board report. “So, we then have to send in a request to ask for funds and send in all the necessary information.”

Robinson said that she’s been working with various HUD agencies for 25 years and “this is the worst I’ve seen any agency be treated.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the deafening silence and the disrespectful runarounds to which the MHA has been subjected are by design — the deliberate result of a federal government that is run by people who want to see government (at least the aspects of government that don’t benefit their interests) destroyed.

I arrived at this opinion after reading Alec MacGillis’ New York Magazine and ProPublica story, published on the magazine’s website on Aug. 22, and entitled “Is Anybody Home at HUD?” — Robinson’s testimony indicates no. So does the testimony of many other HUD employees.

“People feel disrespected,” one HUD staffer told MacGillis, referencing President Donald Trump’s nomination, and the subsequent appointment, of retired neurosurgeon and well-known idiot savant Ben Carson as HUD secretary.

HUD HQ.jpg

The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, headquarters of HUD. | Wikipedia 

“They see Carson and think, I’ve been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse,” the staffer said.

Carson has no expertise in housing or urban policy (which he has publicly admitted), but maintains an abiding faith in the power of belief. If enough poor people simply believed that they could be better off, so goes his thinking, then there would be no need for public housing; indeed, there would be no need for virtually any of the aspects of government that are putatively designed to help the majority of American citizens.

There would be no need for Medicaid or Medicare or Social Security or the Affordable Care Act — all of which are currently under assault by the Trump administration and the radical right.

Carson, who nurtures an open disdain for those institutions, doesn’t really think all that much of HUD or the people the agency is empowered to serve, which makes him the perfect figurehead to preside over its dismantling. And that dismantling is happening now through inertia, indifference and nothingness.

According to another career HUD employee who spoke to MacGillis:

““I’ve never been so bored in my life. No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against. Just nothing.’”

MacGillis, who shadowed Carson for his profile, portrays a HUD where “virtually all the top political jobs below Carson remained vacant” and where Carson “himself was barely to be seen.”

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has proposed nearly $7 billion in cuts to HUD, which is 15 percent of the agency’s budget, MacGillis notes. If that budget is passed, voucher recipients would “need to pay at least 17 percent more of their income toward rent, and there’s likely be a couple hundred thousand fewer vouchers nationwide.”

In March, when we published an announcement from MHA that, in May, it would open its waiting list for the voucher program for the first time in several years, our site was bombarded with over 100,000 visitors attracted to that post alone.

According to Robinson, the MHA received 43,000 applications within a matter of weeks, holding only 2,000 of them. This doesn’t signal a glut of affordable housing. There is an obvious need for HUD’s services and there are people who would be homeless if not for housing vouchers — just as there are millions of senior citizens who literally owe their lives, and livelihoods, to Social Security and Medicare.

Unfortunately, the people responsible for administering these aspects of the common welfare are deliberately out of the office or, when present, more focused on leveraging the massive resources of the federal government to the benefit not of the American people but of their own relatives, associates and friends (see Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner or Trump’s wedding planner, Lynne Patton, whom the president tapped to lead HUD’s New York and New Jersey offices).

Where does the gradual dismantling of HUD leave the local landlords who are waiting on payments, or the tenants who rely on housing assistance (many of whom are women with children or elderly)? Where does that leave the Maywood Housing Authority?

Only time will tell.

Read Alec MacGillis’ New York Magazine story here

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