Vouchers for Evicted Section Eight Tenants Not a Fair Trade

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Federal vouchers are breaking up communities in order to provide affordable housing.

An article published in the recent issue of WorkingUSA, The Journal of Labor and Society explores the relationships between labor, community, affordable housing, and federal practices by focusing on a housing cooperative in New Haven, Conn.

The Trade Union Plaza (TUP) was a nonprofit, labor-sponsored alternative to conventional public housing. More than thirty-five years ago, it began as a home to single Black mothers and active union members and has housed families for generations. Once described as an urban residential space “for working people by working people,” the TUP is currently being transformed by the new owner into luxury homes called “University Village.”

Author Mandi Isaacs Jackson writes of the TUP in context of the myth of the “urban trade.” Jackson challenges the notion that solutions to the crisis in affordable housing are unrelated to considerations of geography, design, and community, and that individual vouchers, available to income tenants are somehow equivalent in value to the homes and communities they replace.”

According to Jackson, housing policies of the 1960s were successful as they combined the culture of organizing, union jobs, family design, and site-based public subsidy. With the building no longer being subsidized, many of the original tenants were given section eight vouchers and moved out. Some have had to leave the city, moving farther from their jobs and public transportation. Still they are fighting to keep their community alive.

“Labor alliances across racial and ethnic lines created Trade Union Plaza nearly forty years ago, and labor and community alliances work today to save the development’s project-based subsidy, the only thing that will keep the tenant population… truly mixed, truly accessible to all regardless of race and income,” Jackson concludes.

WorkingUSA, The Journal of Labor and Society is an important forum for new ideas on the work experience. Addressing the range of concerns of working people, the journal covers workers both employed and unemployed, union and non-union, both in the marketplace and at home.

This study is published in the current issue of WorkingUSA, The Journal of Labor and Society. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article or any article in this issue please contact JournalNews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net.

Mandi Isaacs Jackson is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale University and an organizer for GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students’ Organization. Her dissertation, “’Model City Blues’: Resistance and Renewal in the ‘New New Haven’” is a cultural and spatial analysis of organized resistance to the city’s redevelopment plans in the 1960s. Ms. Jackson is available for questions and interviews.

This year marks the centenary of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, the famed Wobblies. This issue of Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society evaluates the legacy today of the "One Big Union" that burst on the American scene in 1905, looking at whether and how Wobblyism survived as one current in the stream of American radicalism. In light of the recent debate about the waning power of the labor movement and how to reinvigorate it, followed by the unraveling of the AFL-CIO at its Chicago convention last month, the essays in this issue raise issues that are especially timely. What lessons does the experience of the Wobblies hold not only for today's troubled labor movement, but for activists committed to building a more just society in every sphere.

Contributors include labor historian and activist Staughton Lynd as well as scholars Paul Buhle, Melvyn Dubofsky, Steve Golin, Mandi Isaacs Jackson, Howard Kimmeldorf, Peter Rachleff, Franklin Rosemont, and Sal Salerno. While some take issue with the history of the Wobblies, the essays here try to assess what Joyce Korbluh called "An angry, prophetic voice for building a new world within the shell of the old." They look at concrete victories the Wobblies won, and their success in organizing both industrial and marginal, itinerant workers. How include the growing numbers of today's marginal workers in the ranks of organized labor and win them "the good things of life" that are beyond the reach of so many now? That is the question that lies at the heart of each essay in this volume.

Mandi Isaacs Jackson's article, for example, explores the contemporary relationships between labor, community, affordable housing, and federal policy by focusing on a housing cooperative in New Haven, Connecticut. While she points out that federal policy, specifically its voucher program, works to break up communities, she also shows how the struggle to carve out a literal space for working people as affordable housing continues today in the Wobbly tradition of self-activity coupled with a programmatic response to local circumstances.

The journal will be featured at a panel at the Labor and Working Class History Association conference, October 20-22, at Wayne State University in Detroit. Editors and contributors will be available there for questions and interviews (Thursday, Oct. 20, 11-1). Contact: Manny Ness, 212-966-4014 for more information

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Jill Yablonski