In a historic incidence of moral failure, on April 23 the Housing Authority in San Jose, California will begin its implementation of the bipartisan sequester cuts imposed on it by Congress and the President of the United States. San Jose is in the heart of Silicon Valley, the richest region in the richest nation in the world, at the richest time in its history.
On April 23, the Housing Authority will decide whether to overcrowd families in smaller apartments, raise their rents to unaffordable levels, make them move to the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the County, or force some 1500 families into homelessness by taking away their Section 8 housing vouchers altogether.
Even before the sequester we have had an “explosion” of homelessness in Silicon Valley. The San Jose City Council was recently humiliated when corporate executives apparently complained they had to look at the tents of the homeless when their jets approached the local airport. The Council moved swiftly to force the homeless – who include whole families – back into the bushes where they could suffer out of sight.
The Federal sequester decimating the Section 8 program is not an act of God that we cannot control, influence, or prevent. Silicon Valley corporations received over $100 billion in profits in the last year alone. Yet with all its wealth, its technology, and its world-class universities, it still cannot figure out how to keep a roof over the heads of its people. Actually it is more accurate to say that our opinion leaders are all paid very well to NOT figure out how to house our people.
Like banks and corporations across the country, Apple, Google, and other major local companies evade taxes with notorious dodges such as the “Double Irish”, “Dutch Sandwich”, and shell companies in Bermuda. Some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent CEOs are part of a corporate-led coalition called “Fix the Debt” that has aggressively lobbied for reduced corporate tax rates and a “territorial tax system” to permanently exempt all US corporate offshore income from US taxes. They advocate to pay for these tax breaks by “discretionary spending cuts similar to Simpson Bowles” - precisely the scenario now being put into practice by the sequester.
Only a corrupt government beholden to craven corporations and their limitless lust for profit would enact a sequester against its own people. A government based on moral principles and the justice and general welfare enshrined in our constitution would take steps to secure the livelihood of its people.
America has effectively ended homelessness before, from the 1940s through 1970s, when it allocated the necessary funds to ensure an adequate affordable housing. The government stopped doing that in the 1980s. Affordable housing shrank or disappeared, rents skyrocketed, and 1930s-style homelessness reemerged all over America. The reasons for this have to do with automation, globalization, and the refusal by corporations to pay taxes to house workers they no longer need to make their money.
A just and democratic government would implement the Green New Deal that was at the center of the Jill Stein – Cheri Honkala 2012 presidential campaign. It advocated housing for every American:
“We will honor the right to decent affordable housing, including an immediate halt to all foreclosures and evictions. We will create a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgages and either restructure the mortgages to affordable levels, or if the occupants cannot afford a mortgage, rent homes to the occupants. We will expand rental and home ownership assistance, create ample public housing, and capital grants to non-profit developers of affordable housing until all people can obtain decent housing at no more than 25% of their income.”
The Green New Deal would promote public banks to invest the nation’s capital in projects for public benefit, like clean energy and affordable housing. No more would we see whole cities decimated by man-made natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy – and then lie in shambles for years because government refuses to rebuild people’s homes.
But government of the people, by the people, and for the people does not just happen. It has to be fought for and created, just as our ancestors fought for it and built it. It begins with resisting the daily injustices and indignities of the corporate dictatorship. I was honored to be part of the May 2012 Western Regional meeting of the World Courts of Women on Poverty in the United States. Its resolution on housing called us to “Support every foreclosure defense, every housing takeover, every foreclosure auction disruption, every tent city, every eviction blockade, and every bank occupation that the people feel is necessary to defend the human right to housing.”
We start there, but we have to go further. To win the battle, we have to move beyond our single issue silos and build the independent political networks necessary to confront power. After all, defeating the housing sequester will solve nothing if it comes at the cost of cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Out of control poverty and climate crisis force us to make a stark choice. Continue to allow the destruction of our country and our planet, or embrace the sacredness of all life, and build a society based on the love and compassion necessary to nurture it and help it to thrive. The choice is ours.
~ Sandy Perry is an outreach minister at CHAM Deliverance Ministry and organizer at Affordable Housing Network in San Jose, California. He is Secretary of Housing in the Green Shadow Cabinet.