By Justin Bell, member of the Green Party of Philadelphia City Committee.
The elected leaders of Philadelphia, PA, are debating how to deal with three encampments of people who have no permanent homes. There have been several threats to remove the unhoused citizens using police force, and some of these threats have been reversed by the courts.
As a Green Party of PA (GPPA, www.gpofpa.org) leader, I do not approve of evicting the encampments. This would endanger those living in them and get us further from a resolution. In today’s climate we can not ask the police force to do anything responsibly or expect any accountability from them for the damage done in the process. However the encampments are really just the surface of the core issue. How do we end housing insecurities?
The Green Party would begin by ensuring that people do not become homeless. That part won't be easy. The Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, candidate for president of the U.S., has put forth an Economic Bill of Rights. This would include ending poverty as we know it. Hawkins says, “We will end poverty by guaranteeing every person has an income above the poverty line. The income guarantee will be built into the federal progressive income tax structure. If your income is below poverty, the federal government will send you a monthly check to bring your income above the poverty line. . . . We will update the official poverty line to reflect a realistic income needed for self-sufficiency to pay for basic needs. Researchers find that 200% of the current poverty line is a more realistic poverty line.”
Hawkins continues, “The income guarantee we will enact is often called the Negative Income Tax (NIT). We prefer it to the Universal Basic Income (UBI) because it targets the benefits to those who need it, provides a sufficient benefit to end poverty, and costs a fraction of a UBI.”
Hawkins would also guarantee every person a job. His Economic Bill of Rights says, “We will enact . . . a federal job guarantee to every American willing and able to work in public services and public works (infrastructure). If you cannot find a living-wage job in the private sector, you go to the Employment Office — not the Unemployment Office — and get your living-wage job. The program will be like New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, but expanded to guarantee full employment.”
This would help citizens become independent and buy their own homes as opposed to renting and being at the mercy of landlords. It is also a great way to build generational wealth. There are many families that are not able to leave an inheritance to their heirs. This exacerbates the wealth gap and is especially devastating to black and brown communities.
The Green Party’s next step will be to pick up the pieces and make people who have already lost their homes whole again. “There are 10 abandoned houses for every homeless person in Philadelphia right now,” said Cheri Honkala, director and co-founder of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC, https://www.facebook.com/ppehrc). Honkala was the Green Party’s candidate for vice president in 2012.
Hawkins’ Economic Bill of Rights says, “Public housing and universal rent control is how we will provide affordable housing for all who need it within a decade. We will build 25 million new units of public housing in a 10-year, $2.5 trillion public housing program that is part of our Ecosocialist Green New Deal. 40% of the units -- 10 million units -- will be set aside for low-income people seeking affordable housing. This set-aside will more than cover the current shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals. These public housing developments will be high quality, humanly scaled, and designed to be energy efficient and powered, heated, and cooled by clean energy. This housing program will be a jobs program, a clean energy program, desegregation program, and a walkable communities program as well as an affordable housing program.”
Offering affordable housing is a good start. In order to accomplish it, universal rent control and public housing will need to be widespread. It will be controlled federally so that local organizations like the Philadelphia Housing Authority(PHA) cannot use funds inappropriately. A good example of that would be the $45 million PHA headquarters, where one of the encampments has staged itself. Instead, a community lead board should be elected to establish and enforce laws regarding the illegal repurposing of properties. This would apply to developers removing people from their homes or landlords charging unreasonable amounts.
These actions need to be taken with utmost urgency. The unhoused population is expected to increase by 250,000 people in the U.S. This is the beginning of a crisis situation in our country. Lisa Savage, a Green Party candidate for senate in Maine tweeted: “Homelessness is an abomination & completely preventable with the vast resources of the U.S. I support the demands of Portland's tent-out protest led by unhoused folks, including an eviction freeze & safe space for unhoused people. Housing is a human right!”
On September 10, a third attempt by the city of Philadelphia to evict the encampments was unsuccessful. Activists (including GPPA & PPEHRC) from all around the city showed up in force to prevent the removal. They were successful. In a press conference, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) stated, “We’re going to continue to try to do it the way we’ve been doing it, in an amicable way, in a non-forceful way. And we’ll continue doing that until we have to move it.” So as of now, there is still a stand off. The city offers temporary housing as a solution to a problem that is not temporary. We are going to need to think outside the two-party box in order to curtail this crisis.
More information about 2020 GPPA candidates can be found at: https://www.greenslate2020.org/. The GPPA is an independent political party that stands in opposition to the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based on the Green Party’s Four Pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice/equal opportunity. For further information about GPPA, please visit www.gpofpa.org or email [email protected]. Please follow GPPA on social media: Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/gpofpa/, and Twitter, https://twitter.com/GreenPartyofPA.
For more information, please see:
“Economic Bill of Rights” by Howie Hawkins for President, https://howiehawkins.us/the-economic-bill-of-rights/; and
“Green Party of Philadelphia Joins the Fight for Housing Rights,” news release, July 26, 2017, https://www.gp.org/philly_greens_housing_rights.