Tuesday, November 27, 2001

A requirement that certain able-bodied public housing tenants perform community service or face eviction is being put on hold before most communities implement it. It may be scrapped.
The mandate was the most divisive part of a public housing overhaul three years ago. Critics said it unfairly targeted the poor.
“It is one of the silliest things Congress has ever done,” said Sheila Crowley, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It compels adults who have committed no crime to do work for no wages. That’s purely punitive and purely anti-poor.”
The mandate required some tenants to do community service for eight hours per month. Exemptions were given to those younger than 18 and older than 62, the disabled, those already employed, students and those already performing work requirements for welfare benefits.
Housing authorities were largely free to set their own guidelines. The community service could include such things as planting flowers, working a security shift at the housing project or helping with day care.
Supporters of the mandate said it was reasonable to ask tenants to give something in return for government-assisted rent. Community service also could provide some tenants with job skills, they said.
But opponents questioned why residents of public housing were being singled out for mandatory service while those receiving other federal help were not.
An amendment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fiscal 2002 spending bill bans HUD from spending federal money to enforce the mandate for the next year. President Bush is expected to sign the bill soon.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said he sponsored the amendment because he opposed the “indignity of putting this type of burden on poor folks in public housing when there is no such requirement for any other type of federal assistance.”
Opposition was particularly strong in New York City, home to the nation’s largest housing authority. Exemptions would have made less than 10 percent of the city’s 426,500 public housing residents subject to the community service requirement.

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