Build Back Better: a Scam For the Rich

Dec 2021-Jan 2022

From the Day of Action protest in San Francisco in front of the Federal Building against the Build Back Better scheme
UFAD members protest Build Back Better at the Bromley Heath / Mildred Hailey development in Jamaica Plain, Boston

As the cloud of the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to hang over the US economy, the Biden administration has touted House Resolution 53.76 as a solution. HR.53.76, commonly known as “Build Back Better,” is meant to provide funding to state, local, and private programs in education, labor, child – care, healthcare, and the environment. While at face value this seems like a positive investment that improves some people’s lives, actually the bill is designed to funnel money to the rich, including by advancing the privatization of public housing.

Build Back Better appears to offer $65 billion dollars for the repair of public housing, but as much as $63 billion of that could, at the HUD secretary’s discretion, be used for a variety of privatization programs grouped under the term “mixed-finance projects.” {Build Back Better destines funds towards “eligible activities under section 9(d)(1) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437g(d)(1)) for priority investments as determined by the Secretary to repair, replace, or construct properties assisted under such section 9.” However, section 9(d)(1) makes it clear that “mixed finance projects,” which actually ultimately eliminate section 9 public housing, qualify as “eligible activities.”} These have historically resulted in mass displacement and gentrification.

For example, under the HOPE VI series of mixed-finance projects, on average only about one in four (27.6%) of households that were relocated were able to return after their buildings were taken over by private developers. In half of such projects this figure is less than 18.2%. Moreover, the current bill dramatically increases funding for so-called “Tenant Protection Vouchers,” which are Section 8 vouchers used when public housing units are destroyed and/or replaced by Section 8 units.

These are key instruments for privatization schemes such as the proposed “Blueprint for Change” in New York. If the full $65 billion was destined to address the backlog of repairs in public housing without privatizing, it would be enough to fully address the repair/reconstruction needs if used intelligently. {The backlog was estimated at $70 billion back in 2019, and grows each year that public housing is underfunded.} However, corruption and graft run deep in these authorities, and without pressure from the masses they will not use public funds for the public good. Any repairs that end up being done will likely end up being poorly done, and projects will still end up being privatized.

Congress, HUD, and the housing authorities have conspired to slowly but surely kill off public housing over the last several decades through underfunding, mismanagement, and privatization. Now, the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act is being sold as a historic investment in public housing that will begin to reverse this course, but this is a lie. Despite the fact that at this time the bill has been delayed, and its passage seems less and less likely, millions of impacted tenants need to understand that this effort by Congress is a smokescreen to further rob the people, as social wealth (in the form of public housing stock) is surrendered to private real estate companies.

Activists of the UFAD organized a day of action in Boston and San Francisco to bring attention to and oppose the BBB legislation. In New York, the group Save Section 9 held a vigil to shine light on this “crime of the century.”

In Boston, the UFAD rallied at the Jackson Square train station, located near the Mildred Hailey/Bromley Heath public housing development. Mildred Hailey has been a focal point for the struggle in Boston; the UFAD’s committee at the project has been waging a struggle for several months to expose the lies of the privatization scheme, as well as the atrocious living conditions caused by the housing authority’s neglect and mismanagement.

At the protest, UFAD members spoke about the BBB scam and how it is part of the larger trend of privatization that impacts public housing across the country. Activists discussed the victories won so far, forcing the Boston Housing Authority to clean hallways, wax floors, make some repairs in apartments and fix potholes.

These victories are important, but the Housing Authority is still grossly neglecting the buildings it oversees. Residents also highlighted the need to struggle and fight for more than just decent housing, because the elite are screwing the people over with a million different schemes. The demonstration attracted passers-by from Bromley and the surrounding neighborhoods and these growing connections are important to the work of the UFAD moving forward.

In San Francisco, tenants from the Sunnydale and Potrero Hill public housing developments rallied in front of the SF Federal Building, where congress member and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has her office. Potrero Hill and Sunnydale have been severely underfunded for years, with conditions in some units ranking lowest in the country by HUD’s standards.

The Federal Building is right in the heart of Downtown San Francisco where the crisis of homelessness and poverty is out in the open for all to see. In fact, Downtown has a number of “Mixed-income” and subsidized developments meant to warehouse SF’s elderly, disabled and impoverished. Several passers-by who lived in subsidized developments and Single Room Occupancy hotels in the surrounding areas joined the protest.

One woman walked up to the crowd and explained, “I live in a hotel nearby, it’s cramped and the staff are awful. These politicians don’t want us to live in the city [of SF] anymore, they want to get rid of us”. Sunnydale and Potrero Hill residents fear that if their developments are privatized they won’t be able to live anywhere in SF, and will be forced out onto the streets.

It was important to protest this bill because this is not a local issue. It’s a national fight, and tenants must come together to fight, rather than getting taken in by the false promises of politicians.

Videos and photos from the San Francisco protest
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