Should the homeless be building homes?
by Anthony Stasi
Sep 28, 2011 | 2167 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HUD’s Self Help Housing Opportunity Program (SHOP) grants are about to get under way. These grants encourage homeless families, who are eligible for public housing, to get involved in the renovation of their publicly funded housing.

It is a good idea in theory, but building a home (or renovating it) is real work that needs to be done by professionals. The goal of teaching a skill to those on public assistance is a good idea, and the HUD secretary is right to introduce this, but this should be a very limited program.

This program is a way to distribute TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) funding. Habitat for Humanity likes the idea, but it seems a little risky. Trade unions are who the city encourages to lead construction projects. How is hiring people with no skill set, to work in a dangerous environment, supposed to work?

The most recent program to build on HUD’s SHOP grants is the Sweat Equity program that the city of Washington, D.C., is now introducing. Would the mayor of Washington jump into a program in order help people forget his successful predecessor’s record on housing? He just might.

Washington was very committed to housing renovation under former mayor Adrian Fenty. Fenty was bold, and not always an easy customer to deal with, but he did push down doors to build up housing.

The city’s new mayor, Vince Gray, was elected on the message that he was more likable (not to everyone, however). The days of painting with bold strokes, in education and housing, seemed to be over when Gray took the reins. He campaigned on business as usual, and there was no reason to expect anything else.

Few writers focused on Gray’s lack of innovation in order to combat poverty in the city. Gray found himself in controversy right away by boycotting budget cuts, while raising the salaries of his staff. He was booed at the Washington Nationals’ home opener - the price for running a polarizing campaign.

Now, Gray wants to show the world that Washington is serious about housing the homeless, by introducing the Sweat Equity program. In the end, this is a good program, so long as it is a small program.

I generally support any effort to drive up new construction for those who are homeless. Washington has a lot of run-down housing, and the idea of addressing it is a good plan. But building housing – new construction – is a profession. One does not learn to lay sheet rock or wonder board in one day.

Habitat for Humanity is getting a good chunk of the federal SHOP grants. They have a knack for guiding the less-skilled in areas like this. But how involved can a group such as Habitat be in a large, pro-union, city? Are the homeless families who will work on their own homes going to join trade unions?

If giving out these grants causes people to learn skills and to join trade unions, so be it. But the mayor of Washington would be wise to expect to hear from these organizations if they are about to pick up hammers and nails. It is not a bad program, but it is worth questioning the motives and the safety concerns that come with it.

Chavez and New York

We remember in the winter of 2005, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promised 12 million gallons of oil to people in New York and Boston at a bargain basement price. It was a tactic to embarrass the United States government and George W. Bush.

Bush did not need Chavez to make him unpopular in the post-Katrina universe, but Chavez has remained a difficult entity for U.S. foreign policy for many years. What does a post-Chavez era mean for the United States in this hemisphere?

There are two blossoming economies in southern hemisphere: Venezuela for its oil and Brazil for everything else. Brazil built an economy on concentrating on a growing middle class. Venezuela has oil.

If Chavez dies in the near future, what kind of government can the world expect? If this happens, there is a possibility that Barack Obama will be negotiating with new governments in Egypt, Libya, and Venezuela.

This means that foreign policy debates in our election cycle next year will revolve around policy for which we are not certain or familiar. This would put the president at an advantage on an issue that was not really his forte in the past.
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