Hud Blocks Subsidies Until Squatters Leave

Posted: December 12, 1990

The federal government has proposed a hostage swap with two homeless- advocacy groups:

If one group, the National Union of the Homeless, ceases squatting at 10 properties owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then the agency will release funds to subsidize rents for 123

families that would be tenants under a program run by the other group, Dignity Housing Inc.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Mayor Goode announced that HUD Secretary Jack Kemp had agreed to release 123 certificates for the Dignity-run Section 8 program. The announcement ended more than a year of fighting between HUD and Dignity officials, who said the federal government had reneged on its promise to provide 200 subsidies for the project, which places homeless families in permanent housing.

But Linda Marston, acting regional administrator for HUD, said during a recent interview that the certificates would not be issued until squatters left 10 HUD properties. The homeless union has been squatting in HUD houses since the spring, demanding that the federal housing agency turn over the boarded properties to homeless people and to honor its commitment to Dignity Housing.

"I want to make them (subsidies) available as soon as possible, but the squatting has to stop. That's my bottom line," Marston said.

Alicia Christian, director of Dignity Housing, said yesterday that HUD's action was unfair.

"The Union of the Homeless is an independent, separate homeless advocate group. The dispute between Dignity and HUD was a dispute on its own merit," she said. "We're not going to be held hostage to the reaction of aggrieved people all over the city."

Leona Smith, president of the Union of the Homeless, which since the spring has occupied numerous HUD properties around the city, declined to comment on Marston's decision. Smith, who also is a member of Dignity Housing's board of directors, has said that the union's aim was to get HUD to release the subsidies for Dignity Housing and to force the agency to turn over properties to homeless-advocacy groups. Union members also are squatting in HUD houses in other cities, she said, including Oakland, Calif., Detroit and Minneapolis.

Goode said through a spokeswoman yesterday that "the squatters should move out so that the agreement that has been made can move forward."

Marston said that appeals from Goode, the Rev. Leon Sullivan and other elected and community leaders from Philadelphia had moved Kemp to make the additional subsidies available to Dignity. Since the program began in 1987, HUD has provided a total of 77 certificates. Dignity Housing has 110 households in the program.

The Section 8 subsidies make up the difference between the amount of money a low-income family can afford to pay and the fair market rent of the property.

Marston said that regulations for awarding Section 8 subsidies had changed since the certificates were initially promised to Dignity. Kemp waived the regulations for Dignity, she said.

Christian said that Dignity would be willing to work with HUD officials to resolve the dispute, but if necessary, the agency would sue to get the certificates. She said Dignity tenants had been thrilled to hear the news of the additional subsidies. "We went from joy to disappointment," she said.

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