Chicago–Faced with the prospect of budget cuts throwing thousands of people out on the streets or forcing them into institutions, 300 people packed into the Chicago Temple on Feb. 25 for a teach-in called “Stop the HUD Budget Cuts!” As Liz Brake of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus said, “They pick on the old, the poor, the disabled because they think we won’t fight back. They’re wrong!”
Called together by the Chicago Housing Initiative–composed of several public housing residents’ organizations, tenants’ and neighborhood groups, and housing advocacy groups–along with Access Living and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, we heard a number of speakers outline the severe impact of the proposed budget cuts. The Republicans under Speaker John Boehner came under the heaviest fire but one speaker reminded everyone that the Democrats are pushing cuts in housing too.
This was not a crowd that would fall for the “everyone has to sacrifice” mantra. We knew that the poor are getting budget cuts and the rich are getting tax cuts. Cuts in low-income housing programs equal the cost of tax deductions for vacation home mortgages. Heating and cooling grants to poor families equal tax breaks for oil companies. And so on.
Cuts are even proposed for funds for helping people with disabilities live independently instead of in nursing homes. The House Republicans, President Obama and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (a Democrat) all want to cut these funds, even though it costs Medicaid $45,000 to keep someone in a nursing home and less than one-third that amount to allow an individual to live independently. This giveaway to nursing homes has nothing to do with balancing the budget.
When the Chicago Housing Authority opened up its waiting list for public housing, over 210,000 families applied in three weeks. This is for a waiting list with 40,000 spaces and no promise even to get screened for eligibility in less than seven years!
After the teach-in, we marched to the state office building. In the midst of the rally, about 30 people suddenly surged into Clark Street, blockading traffic. They held signs reading, “Future Resident of Speaker Boehner Tent City.” Beside them were large cardboard boxes marked, “Tea Party Housing Development.” Police arrested 11 of them. They refused to arrest the four people in wheelchairs–it looks bad on TV when people are grabbed out of wheelchairs and thrown into paddywagons. Traffic was stopped for well over 15 minutes. Meanwhile, 300 protesters chanted with the blockaders, “Housing is a human right–we won’t go without a fight!” and “Not on the backs of the poor!