I recently visited Washington DC to attend the conference of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT).
NAHT is a national tenants organisation representing low income families who have bought or rented homes through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These are some of the poorest people in the US, who find their homes under attack by the same neo-liberalism that threatens council tenants in Britain.
The conference was held in a predominantly black neighbourhood.
It is common to see the Stars and Stripes flying outside American homes. In this part of the capital, I didn’t see a single one. What I did see were signs of a hitherto abandoned community, struggling to survive against a tide of gentrification.
The fight for affordable housing was the main theme of the NAHT conference. It was attended by 160 delegates from 12 states.
Lester travelled from Roxton, Texas, a town with a population of 761. He had never been outside of Texas, never flown in a plane, never seen the ocean.
He is fighting to defend affordable rented housing in his community, under attack by a system that encourages property owners to push up rents and force out low income tenants.
Cheri Honkola from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign told the conference, “Let’s stop being patient. Let’s take back the things they’re taking from us.”
She went on to describe the struggle of homeless families in Philadelphia who marched for seven days to Harrisburg, the state capital. They set up camps - called Bushvilles - until they were broken up on the orders of the state governor.
In some of the most moving testimony at the conference, Robert Coakley, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, described a brutal form of displacement and social engineering, but one triggered by natural causes.
Some 71 percent of the buildings lost in New Orleans were the homes of people with low incomes. Very few have been able to return to the city, where rents have soared.
There were 5,000 people on the city’s housing waiting list before the storm, only 300 have returned. In the midst of the crisis, the authorities spent $300,000 on security doors at one public housing site, to prevent displaced people from occupying it.
Robert described being evacuated to Washington DC at the point of a gun, but he said that other survivors have been scattered across the US. He added, “I voted for Bush. I wish I could get that vote back.”
I spoke to Charlotte Delgado, a tenant from Sacramento who is president of NAHT.
Her husband and all seven of her sons were in the US Marines. Three of her sons died in Vietnam. Charlotte is unequivical - the troops should come home now.
She summed up the mood of militancy at the conference: “It’s the poor people across this nation that are doing the labour for the rich. We can shut this country down.”