SHELTERFORCE: Rossana Torres: Taking on the FHFA

SHELTERFORCE: Rossana Torres: Taking on the FHFA

Originally published in Shelterforce

The following is a first-hand account from Rossana Torres on the need for the government to contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund. In July, 2013, Torres joined with Right to the City and the National Low Income Housing Institute, to file a lawsuit against the Federal Housing and Finance Agency and its chair, Edward DeMarco, for failing to contribute over $382 million to the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF).

Torres, a member of the Miami Workers Center, is just one of the many who have been effected by the national affordable housing shortage and could be helped by the National Housing Trust Fund. Tenants & Neighbors, a grassroots organization that helps tenants build and effectively wield their power to preserve at-risk affordable housing and strengthen tenants’ rights in New York, also joined the campaign realizing its potential for preservation along with production of housing.

By Rossana Torres

In the summer of 2013, I made a bold decision, I decided to be a plaintiff in a national lawsuit against Federal Housing and Finance Agency.

Why? Well, I never envisioned myself raising children in a shelter, and that is exactly what I have been forced to do. I have searched for a permanent home. My children are my priority, so I picked up every job I could find—cleaning houses, landscaping—doing any job I came across to take care of my family. It was never enough to afford rent long term for the three of us in Miami.

My organization (Miami Workers’ Center), Right to the City and the National Low Income Housing Coalition in July 2013, filed this national lawsuit against Acting Director Ed DeMarco of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for violating the 2008 Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA). HERA requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to contribute a portion of their revenue to the National Housing Trust Fund, a fund created explicitly to support low-income affordable rental housing. Despite these banks’ reporting $28 Billion in record setting profits in 2012, FHFA, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has failed to contribute into the National Housing Trust Fund and shirked their responsibility to millions of families in need of affordable and fair housing. Families very much like my own.

I am a proud resident of Miami and a mother of two Miami Dade Community College students. I’m also homeless. As a domestic violence survivor, I have worked and sacrificed to get my children through elementary, middle, and high school, sometimes living with them both out of our car and sometimes with a temporary roof over our head.

This national lawsuit was also filed here in Miami, Florida, the state that reported  the highest  foreclosure rate in the nation in 2012. The waiting list for both affordable housing programs (Section 8 and public housing) in Miami-Dade County has been closed since 2008 and there are still over 20,000 households on the waiting list. These statistics have made me realize that I am not alone.

President Obama’s Federal Housing and Finance Administration has the power and the money to help mothers like me who become homeless to avoid violence, but they have illegally withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of that assistance. That is why I am joining this lawsuit to make them follow the law and contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund.

I have been waiting for Section 8 Housing since 1997, when my then husband became dangerous to our safety and eventually left without notice and without paying the rent.  Despite court orders for him to contribute, he dropped off the map leaving me with two children and no income.

I was born in Mexico City, and I never thought of coming to the U.S. until I met my then husband. He swept me off my feet and convinced me to move with him to Miami. We had two beautiful children together, but then things started to fall apart.

He walked out on us. We were left to live in a car before eventually finding a shelter.

I never envisioned myself raising children in a shelter. I found little help on the waiting list for Miami-Dade public and assisted housing.

So 16 years ago, I applied for federal housing assistance. During all this time waiting, I have moved from “affordable housing” apartment to apartment, working tirelessly, and still barely able to make the rent. I developed an eviction record, making finding a new home more difficult each time. All this time waiting, and I have never received help.

I scraped together the money to support my two children, but no number of minimum wage jobs seem to meet regular rent.

What the affordable housing system needs is improvement, not cuts.

I can’t find an apartment I can afford, and I’m not alone. But still, rents continue to rise. It is estimated that rents will go up by 4.6 percent this year and 4 percent more in 2014. As part of Right to the City’s Homes for All campaign,  I have found out that close to 11 million people are still searching desperately for affordable housing and that ain’t right.

My children and I have had to make sacrifices living this way: paying for and arranging transportation to and from jobs, not having consistent access to our personal things in storage, the inability to eat proper or consistent meals.

I want a better life for them, but I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for me.

So far, the Obama Administration has not budged, they only talk about further privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with no real plan for affordable housing. The Federal Housing and Finance Administration needs to follow the law and contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund. Families like mine need real change, now.

Please sign our petition, we need atleast a thousand signatures to send DeMarco a message, that affordable housing is a priority for millions of Americans, not a consideration.

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