By Maggie Dolan, news correspondent
Activists at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain encouraged citizens during a panel discussion Thursday to stay involved in local politics and fight for issues they are passionate about in tumultuous political times.
The event, called “HUD 101: Federal Housing Policy, the New Administration and What We Can Do in Boston,” was hosted by City Mission, an organization dedicated to eliminating poverty in Boston. Speakers discussed how the public should work with Ben Carson, President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Mick Mulvaney, his nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Eric Shupin, director of Public Policy for the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), said Carson has no experience in housing policy but does not seem to want to eliminate existing housing programs.
“He committed to supporting those programs, so that’s an okay thing,” Shupin said. “But what’s the funding going to look like?”
Shupin also said no matter how much Carson cooperates with existing state programs, he would have little control over the federal budget that will go toward them. The public needs to focus on protecting existing state resources, he said.
Michael Kane, director of the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, said Massachusetts’s affordable housing and rental grants rely on billions of federal dollars annually, which U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan proposed to cut last year. He further explained Carson’s anticipated abilities as head of HUD.
“In my opinion, Carson is a positive,” Kane said. “In fact, we think we can work with him. We think he wants to try to do the right thing, but he’s not going to have the power over the budget.”
He said that Mulvaney helped reinstate the Republican Tea Party caucus in 2013, pushing for trillions of dollars in budget cuts. This would terminate vouchers and other funding for affordable housing for up to 5 million people.
Gloribel Rivas, sophomore English and history major at the University of Massachusetts Boston and East Boston resident, questioned whether the real housing issue in the city is vouchers.
“The problem in East Boston is more that working-class families without subsidies are being evicted so they can rent out to people with higher income, but the issue of subsidies doesn’t really affect that population,” she said.
Mehreen Butt, director of public policy at the Roxbury shelter Rosie’s Place, the first women’s shelter to open in the United States, emphasized the need for lower-income residents to turn out to vote and contact their local representative about housing issues.
Butt said the higher a person’s income, the more likely he or she is to show up on Election Day, so candidates target the wealthy in their campaigns.
“Whose vote are they trying to get? They are trying to get the people who go to the polls,” Butt said. “They’re hearing from the high-income people, but they need to hear from everyone.”
Kane explained the need for constituents to react to upcoming budget cuts and policy changes. Butt followed up by encouraging people to use social media to stay on top of local events and issues.
Homes for Families, a Boston-based advocacy organization and a City Mission ally, hosted its annual “Cookie Day” at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday morning to raise support for more funding of the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), housing vouchers that have lost funding from budget cuts. Homes for Families distributed house-shaped cookies to legislators to ask for $120 million in the budget for MRVP.
“We want to be ready, out on the street, just like the Women’s March, just like the Trump Tuesday marches,” Kane said. “We have to be ready to protest at the drop of a hat.”
Photo courtesy C.K. Hartman, creative commons