Section 8 vouchers provide housing to about 2 million low-income families - 31,000 in Oregon - by making up the difference between 30% of their income and the cost of modest rent. As of April 22, HUD and the Bush administration announced changes that would both cut overall levels of funding in 2005 and change the way the money is administered, amounting to a further cut in funds.
About 70 people gathered outside the Portland HUD office while Steve Weiss, of the Community Alliance of Tenants, went upstairs to meet with local HUD representatives. He was asking that the Portland HUD office fax a memorandum to the national HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson to demand that he: rescind the proposed cuts to Section 8, establish a grassroots consultant group of housing advocates who would review any proposed changes in housing policy, and cease all future attempts to cut Section 8 funding.
As Weiss pointed out, Alphonso Jackson is a man who has said, "Being poor is a state of mind, it's not a condition." His phone number is (202) 708-0417.
While Weiss was meeting with the HUD reps, several speakers addressed the effects of Section 8 on people here in Oregon. Rob Cook, a disabled advocate from Eugene, talked about the impacts of Section 8 cuts on people with disabilities. According to Cook, about 20% of Oregon's population has a disability. In Lane County, where he is from, the percentage is even higher, standing at 32-35.% Many of these people, being unable to work, depend on Section 8 vouchers to keep them housed.
Alan Levine spoke about his own experience, having spent 30 years of his life homeless and addicted to drugs. He had both his feet amputated after they were severely frostbitten one night. Levine said, "I could not make my recovery [from addiction] while I was worrying about where I was going to sleep and what I could eat. I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just saying I was unable to do it." After finally getting housing through the Section 8 program, he was finally able to deal with his drug problem.
Finally, Cassandra Garrison, from the Oregon Food Bank, spoke about her experience as a welfare mother who used Section 8 to help pay her rent while she put herself through school. She is now a homeowner.
Weiss returned from his meeting and reported that the local HUD representatives had been fairly sympathetic and had faxed his demands to the regional office in Seattle. However, as someone in the crowd shouted, "That's not enought!"
The next step in the campaign will depend on how HUD responds to public pressure. In the meantime, call Secretary Jackson and the Oregon Congressional delegation (their toll-free number is 1-888-818-6641).