Abandon All Hope? Not Just Yet

Thomas Breen PhotoAmid all the talk about impending dangers from the incoming regime in Washington, Karen DuBois-Walton offered a glimmer of hope Tuesday night: Perhaps, just perhaps, there is opportunity in uncertainty?

DuBois-Walton, who runs New Haven’s housing authority, was one of three expert speakers at a “community conversation” on what New Haven should expect from, and how it should respond to, President-Elect Donald Trump’s recent choices to run federal departments. DuBois-Walton specifically addressed the selection of neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s appointment to become the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“I am very concerned about Dr. Carson’s comments about how the government is not the right provider of a safety net for the poor and the elderly,” DuBois-Walton told the 100 people who gathered at the forum at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI) on Harrison Street (which started a half hour late because of a scare over two pressure cookers left across the street on Whalley Avenue).

“But the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) has always taken advantage of whatever opportunities came down the pike. There are clearly administrations and policies that make our work easier, and there are those that introduce greater barriers. But without a real track record either from the President-elect or from the Secretary nominee, it’s really hard to gauge yet how this administration is going to approach the issue of public housing.”

That was about all of the optimism the night would afford, however, over the course of a two-hour conversation.

From concerns over the stalling of criminal justice reform to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the defunding of HUD, that assessment was charged with both anxiety and resolve to push back at the local level.

The community conversation was the second in a monthly series of post-election debriefings and planning sessions organized by the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Following up on last month’s meeting at Bethel AME Church on Goffe Street, the Deltas, a sorority of college-educated African-American women, reached out to BEKI in a gesture of cross-cultural communication that legal aid attorney and BEKI member Amy Marx identified as reminiscent of “the golden era of collaboration between the African American and Jewish communities, when we marched together and fought together for civil rights equality” in the 1960s.

Unlike last month’s meeting at Bethel AME, which looked back at the reasons behind the election results and then looked forward to increased citizen engagement with activist non-profits, Tuesday night’s conversation was grounded in the complicated and all-too-uncertain present. New Haven Independent editor Paul Bass, with support from the WNHH Pundit Panel crew Markeshia Ricks, Babz Rawls-Ivy, Michelle Turner and Joe Ugly, moderated a series of presentations from policy experts and community leaders that focused on understanding the local implications of the current national political moment.

Civil rights lawyer Joshua Perry kicked off the evening with a sobering reflection on the president-elect’s nomination of Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general.

“I think there’s a really optimistic scenario, and I think there’s a worst case scenario,” Perry said as he described the nation’s next top law enforcement official, whose responsibilities will include overseeing U.S. district attorneys to setting high-level policy in areas like civil rights enforcement.

“If I had to guess, I think we’re going to be a little closer to the worst-case scenario with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as the attorney general. This is somebody who is fundamentally out of step with a bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform, and you can expect that local federal prosecutors will be encouraged to seek heavy, serious punishments even for low-level and drug offenders.”

Push back at the local level, he urged the audience, by supporting immigrant defense organizations, civil rights lawyers, and state legislators who advocate for criminal justice reform, for these groups are going to have a busy and trying four years ahead.

Next up, New Haven State Rep. Pat Dillon spoke about Tom Price, the president-elect’s choice to lead the department of Health and Human Services.

“In Tom Price’s bill [to replace the Affordable Care Act], an insurance company is defined as having a ‘conscience,’” she noted. “And can therefore deny women’s reproductive services.” Her recommendations: Donate to Planned Parenthood, support community health centers, and be vigilant about how money is distributed from an ever-shrinking state budget in Hartford.

Finally, DuBois-Walton took the floor to talk through the uncertainties around Carson’s imminent leadership of HUD, focusing her presentation on how the funding of public housing services supports more than just a roof over everyone’s head.

At the core of public housing is “a belief in people that uses the housing as an opportunity to get involved in people’s lives more broadly,” she said. She identified as core to HANH’s mission initiatives that “leverage tenants’ economic and educational success,” such as programs that help children in public housing developments get through school and into college, and others that help residents become entrepreneurs and eventual homeowners themselves.

Warning against the allure of lower taxes, she asked the audience to “think about tax policies beyond your own paycheck,” for so many of her department’s public housing services are funded by tax credit programs that rely on higher income levels who pay their taxes and seek out tax breaks.

A few audience members in the subsequent Q&A found amidst this rash of conservative appointments one or two unlikely sources of optimism for a Democratic opposition, including one attendee who described the president-elect as a “valuable opponent” because of his thin skin and reactionary Twitter polemics. But the tone of the night’s conversation was marked by concern over the potential harm that these nominees could inflict on the welfare of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

“What we should all be prepared for is how you kill a program by continually underfunding it,” DuBois-Walton said towards the end of the evening, expressing a sentiment inherent in all three of the expert assessments of the incoming federal department heads. “I’m not worried that HUD is going to cease to exist. But if it’s not funded at the level that’s required to meet the needs of homeless families, or that allows people to get their first mortgage, then that’s a real problem that’s going to eat away at our city’s social services.”

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posted by: wendy1 on December 7, 2016  8:58am

Once again, city officials in denial…..I’ve heard rumors the state will be broke by 2018 Jan.  We are a sanctuary city in a blue sanctuary state.  GET REAL!!!

When the s*** hits the fan, I know where the $$ is.  Will Yale allow the city around all its property to slide into violence, chaos, unbelievable blight, a future Calcutta only colder?????????????  Since they have already stated they’re not moving, we will see.  If BA, PS, RL are not amenable, perhaps others will take the reins.  Yale now has monthly “board meetings”.  All of us who live here and pay higher taxes, utilities, insurance, bus and train fares, etc. must picket and demonstrate at all these meetings along with angry students when necessary (soon).  Winter is coming, Yale.

posted by: vpaul on December 7, 2016  9:39am

Ms. DuBois-Walton should take a much more positive outlook, and be the first to meet with Dr. Carson, and maybe invite him to visit HANH facilities, in conjunction with the Mayor and perhaps Democratic and Republican Town Chairpersons. Carson is no doubt sincere, but he has no idea of the scope and extent of public housing needs and problems.

A unified front on behalf of New Haven would go a long way to smoothing a transition and educating this man to the seriousness and necessity of our housing needs and engaging his will to fight for budgetary improvements.

posted by: JPArete on December 7, 2016  10:33am

“I’ve heard rumors…” “I know where the $$ is.” Visions of “violence, chaos, unbelievable blight, a future Calcutta only colder????????????? ” “Winter is coming, Yale”—doubtless filled with White Walkers scaling the university’s Gothic walls and battlement.

Come on, Wendy1. The arrival of a a government led by D Trump and a Republican Congress is cause for grave concern, and the problems besetting New Haven are very serious and complicated. But a rhetorical tone that echoes, even if unwittingly, the conspiratorial, apocalyptic visions of Trump’s fiercest supporters is hardly helpful. Yes, winter is coming—as it does every December. But the city needs leaders and citizens willing to engage in the hard work of realistic problem-solving, all the more because of foreboding political circumstances.

posted by: Stencil on December 7, 2016  11:31am

wendy1, I see that your’e always looking to shakedown Yale.  Yes, Yale does not pay taxes on its academic property.  However, the only reason any other property in New Haven has any substantive taxable value is because it is near property owned by Yale.  Furthermore, Yale IS the economic engine of New Haven, an enormous asset that neither Hartford nor Bridgeport have. Despite this economic advantage, New Haven cannot get its finances in order.  The city government is run by Unions who are only concerned with themselves, and they agree with you that shaking down Yale is always the way to go.  How’s that working out?

Hartford and Bridgeport would love to have New Haven’s “Yale problem.”

posted by: Bradley on December 7, 2016  11:39am

JPArete, thanks for your comment. In addition to the initiatives being undertaken by the Deltas, people may want to look into the work being done by Pant Suit Nation and What Now, New Haven?

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 7, 2016  12:00pm

Republicans always want to lower taxeation to the very wealthy.

It’s their thing ... in a hundred different forms.

Trump has already hinted at lowering the corp tax rate to 15%!

And, eliminating the estate tax.

This may mean that If the Republican controlled Legislative and Executive branches get their way, then social net programs may be gutted unless the mid-terms elections change Congress.

Trump is in favor of corporate welfare ... look at the Carrier deal ... just not in favor of poor folks welfare.

One of the more pernicious lies has been, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

I have a really bad feeling about all this ... I hope I am wrong.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 7, 2016  2:48pm

Blame the Democrats for this mess. Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 7, 2016  2:59pm

Let’s not fool ourselves, if you’ve lived in New Haven for a minimum of 20 years, then you know that the NHHA has been a bastion of utter waste and neglect for quite some time. 


This matter was presented to the attention of both Karen and her project manager that works in the area (by me), prior to the collapse, and still nothing was done. 

I was contacted by the tenant to witness and take pictures of the ceiling before the collapse, and contacted again when the ceiling actually did collapse.  I still have the before and after pictures in my camera today.

What I found to be astonishing, was the fact that this tenant was the president of the Tenant Representative Council in the neighborhood at the time in which she was complaining about her ceiling, and still absolutely no movement by the HA to correct the matter.  Typical in my view.

“She identified as core to HANH’s mission initiatives that “leverage tenants’ economic and educational success,” such as programs that help children in public housing developments get through school and into college, and others that help residents become entrepreneurs and eventual homeowners themselves.” 

I construe the director’s remarks as nothing but a deflection from perpendicular fact.  If anyone wishes to know the truth about the Housing Authority, just visit a complex and talk to the tenants.

It is my hope, on behalf of tenants like the aforementioned, that the new HUD administration would come down and literally “drain the swamp” of the NHHA.  They’re concern is more about the Trump administration putting an end to the wasteful party, than it is in putting an end to the social element that they now voice a concern over.

posted by: vpaul on December 7, 2016  3:30pm

Come on, people! Let’s stop living in fear of the new Administration, or, on the other hand, expecting it to work miracles. We’ve got to get Dr. Carson down here to see what we’re experiencing. He’s a nice man and has to be very smart, so maybe he’ll work with us better than we expect.

posted by: Bradley on December 7, 2016  8:32pm

Vpaul, I have a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from Cornell. If, God forbid, you needed brain surgery would you want me anywhere the operating room?

posted by: vpaul on December 9, 2016  8:50am

OMG! Dr. Carson was here yesterday (Dec. 8)! Did we miss the tag?? Could have taken him to tour real public housing. This is a man who will be responsive, but he has to be SHOWN what our needs are.

posted by: Renewhavener on December 9, 2016  10:06am

@Bradley, Not sure I understand your analogy.  Aren’t we all involved in urban planning by way of our active participation within an urban context?  Or, as one educated to that level within the sphere, do you believe us outside the sphere to be incapable of “getting it”?

@BLJ, “Let’s not fool ourselves, if you’ve lived in New Haven for a minimum of 20 years, then you know that the NHHA has been a bastion of utter waste and neglect for quite some time…“[KD-W] identified as core to HANH’s mission initiatives that “leverage tenants’ economic and educational success…”

Agreed.  Without trying to draw to bright a line here, believe it should be HANH’s role to house people, temporarily, not act as a surrogate for their family by way of housing, nurturing and encouraging them ad infinitum.  This is prototypical mission creep, hope if nothing else changes that HUD forces authorities to retreat out of aspects of people’s lives that have nothing to do with housing.

Regardless of what actions Carson / HUD takes, believe there remains a fundamental disagreement over what subsidized housing ought to be.  Is it temporary, is it permanent?  Debated that with Jonathan Hopkins here:

posted by: wendy1 on December 11, 2016  8:42pm

@  Stencil—————The unions here are weaker than I am (I sound like Trump) and somebody has to shakedown Yale.  Yale is not an asset, it is a predator on a third world town, mostly poorly paid minorities too frightened to act up.  WE are in deep doo doo.  And by the way I just read that CT is short 1.3 BILLION, no big deal for Yale Corp.  Wake up and smell the gunpowder.

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 12, 2016  9:59am

Look folks.

We are in deep doo-doo but not just locally but our entire republican experiment is about to go ca-plooey!

After the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, Ben Franklin said that a republic was just created IF we can keep it….

Trump is going to destroy our republican government.

And we are going to let him UNLESS we citizens act now ...

after January 20th, it well may be too late…. and know I am not a partisan wing-nut ....

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 12, 2016  4:13pm

I think Bradley’s point was that we should have about as much faith in (medical) Dr. Carson’s ability to run HUD effectively about as much as we should trust a (philosophy) Dr. Bradley behind at the operating table. That of course assumes that Trump believes the HUD appointment is something other than a vehicle for patronage and a way of cynically running that government agency into the ground.

posted by: 1644 on December 12, 2016  9:52pm

Wendy:  Yale is already deeply involved in stabilizing the city as a whole and the parts of the city near its campus in particular.  Yes, in part Yale is land-banking, but it is, also, making its home more attractive to prospective students (hence the chain stores on Broadway, all open until 9 pm), and safer, for all students (Yale’s Cleary report numbers are consistently better than Harvard’s, and the latest report (2014) Yale even beat Dartmouth).  John DeStefano, Rick Levin, and Bruce Alexander all worked to get Yale to buy up Broadway, the former American Laundry (behind the Burying Ground), and the Schiavone/FDIC Chapel and College Street properties.  Yale was also key to renovating 300 George and getting Alexion here.  Yale’s homebuyer program is, also, aimed at stabilizing the marginal neighborhoods on the campus’s margins.
Mayor Harp would do well to work with Yale rather than against it.  Moreover, if the city wants more money for its budget, it could support development which would increase its Grand List, lessening its dependence on state and federal money.  Instead, the city shakedown developers for “concessions” like affordable housing, concessions which decrease the value of the property meaning less revenue for the city. And yes, the state is more than broke.  We are just above Puerto Rico in general fiscal management, with huge liabilities to bondholders, present and former employees, et alia.  Meanwhile, policies supported by many NHI readers like a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, progressive tax rates, and judges and commissioners hostile to employers are driving employers from the state.

posted by: wendy1 on December 13, 2016  8:49am

1644——I dont call it stabilizing, I call it greed, insensitivity, segregation, and injustice.

Yale might as well build a WALL paid for by Mexico.

The homebuyer program and the jobs pipeline are a cruel sham.

The policies you deride are the town’s only hope. Dig your head out of the sand.  I hope to hell your kind of employers who cheat workers leave town for good.