Answer the Question or Face Homelessness

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Housing Authority Abuses abuses its tenants civil rights with the "Citizenship" Question

by Lynda Carson

[Note: By the time this story reaches it's reading
audience during the month of February, please be aware
that an Injunction has just been filed in Federal
Court in an effort to stop the Oakland Housing
Authority from violating Federal Law.]

Oakland's poor have been targeted by the Oakland
Housing Authority for a massive investigation that
uses unlawful practices which are violating federal

Housing officials have been threatening to evict it's
tenants from public housing and the Section 8 program
if they fail to participate in the latest in
interrogation techniques, being administered by the
Oakland Housing Authority.

The Oakland Housing Authority owns or provides rental
assistance for around 14,450 units, many of those
filled with families.

Among other things, tenants are being forced to prove
their citizenship, even though many have been in the
housing programs for years and were born in this
country. This is being done, despite HUD's "ONE TIME"
verification policy, and in spite of the housing
authorities own Administrative Plan under the section

"For each family member, citizenship/eligible
non-citizen status will only be verified once.
This verification will be obtained prior to admission.
If the status of any family member
was not determined prior to admission, verification of
their status will be obtained at the
next regular reexamination. Prior to a new member
joining the family, their status will be

"For each family member age 6 and above, verification
of Social Security Number will be
obtained only once. This verification will be
accomplished prior to admission. When a
family member who did not have a Social Security
Number at admission receives a
Social Security Number, that number will be verified
at the next regular reexamination.
Likewise, when a child turns six, their verification
will be obtained at the next regular

Under federal law, the housing authority is ONLY
allowed to force tenants to prove their citizenship or
verify their social security numbers ONE TIME, while
their in a federally funded
housing assistance program. PERIOD.

In defiance of federal law, and without self restraint
or probable cause of wrong doing, the Oakland Housing
Authority has been going back and forcing thousands of
U.S. citizens to re-verify their citizenship and
social security numbers all over again.

Civil rights attorney Bill Simpich, is alarmed by what
is happening in Oakland and said, "It's hard to tell
just where the push to secretly cut the poorest
tenants from the Section 8 program ends and the push
to spy on Americans by Homeland Security begins."

During recent months, the tenants have been receiving
interrogation packets that imply there must be some
kind of criminal activity occurring in the nations
housing programs, and everyone is being forced to
prove their innocence or make a declaration of "no
wrong doing", before they are even being charged with
a crime or malfeasance.

Making matters worse, the tenants may be charged with
WRONG DOING if they fail to fill out the interrogation
forms properly, even though they were not trained to
do so.

Tenants are being scrutinized like never before, and
investigations are taking place all over the nation.
Recently, HUD conducted a 6 month investigation in
Portland Maine, with the cooperation of the Portland
Housing Authority. The housing authority owns around
1,000 units in the city, and also administers about
1,700 rental vouchers to the poor. Using a newly
available database to identify possible fraud,

investigators matched wage information that clients
sent in to the state with information given to the
housing authority.

These investigations collect way more information than
what is necessary, and documents reveal they are
collecting data that is actually excluded from the
verification process needed to verify an individuals
income or assets.

Descending like a thief in the night, upon the swift
wings of a federal mail courier, an interrogation
packet silently is slipped into the slot of a door,
awaiting to be opened by an unsuspecting occupant.

"Your being invited to be forced into making a
Personal Declaration, that you yourself had no
intention of ever declaring", says the packet to you
through the sealed edges of an unopened envelope.

The thick packet beckons you, and says, "open me."
When opened, the packet quietly asks for a photo ID
from you, immediately demands that you must prove your
citizenship, coerces you into verifying your social
security number again, and then wants to know if you
have been involved in any criminal activity
during the past 3 years.

You can feel the right hand of darkness slipping it's
way further into your cognizance, seeking more
answers, always probing ever deeper into the essence
of your being, demanding to know everything. The
horror of it all unfolding right before your very

"Answer the questions, or face the threat of
homelessness," says the packet impatiently.

As if that is not enough, the packet then asks you for
your full legal name, date of birth and suddenly asks
if anyone gives you money or pays your bills. "Yes or
no," the packet demands.

Like another slap in the face, the packet then asks,
"Have you or any person in your household ever used
any names or social security numbers other than the
one listed on the Personal Declaration," as you feel
yourself shudder from the intensity of it all. "Yes or
no," the packet wants to know, and you must reply.

The housing officials already know that you've been in
Oakland's Section 8 program for the last fifteen
years, and that your name is still the same as when
you joined the program so many years ago, but the
venomous sting of the interrogation spins your head
for a loop, as you wonder why you are being treated
like a criminal.

"This is Kafkaesque," you think. "I am being forced
to prove my innocence, before I am even being charged
with a crime or wrong doing!"

Are they looking for terrorists, you wonder? Illegal
people or undocumented immigrants? You suddenly
recall a study explaining why so many Americans have
been deprived of government assistance because they
lack a photo ID or birth certificate, and you wonder
if your next in line to get screwed by the system.
But, your not sure what really is going on.

Wake up, says the packet, as it shakes you from your
thoughts, "Are you or any person in the household
subject to a lifetime registration requirement under
any state's sex offender program?"

"Have you or any person in the household been arrested
or convicted for the manufacturing of
methamphetamines," the packet demands to know in a
menacing tone.

As the sweat is starting to drip from your brow, the
packet suddenly twists your arm sharply behind your
back and demands that you must sign the Declaration of
214 Status, in which it states that you certify under
penalty of perjury, that to the best of your
knowledge, you are lawfully in the United States
because you are a citizen by birth, a naturalized
citizen or a national of the United States.

By now, your feeling thoroughly worked over as it
starts to sink in that things are just starting to
warm up, because there’s still another 11 full pages of
demands and questions to go before this interrogation
has reached a conclusion.

Never before have you felt worked over like this, as
you wonder how many more times do you have to sign a
statement under the penalty of perjury, to proclaim
your citizenship to the nation that has no allegiance
to you or your family.

The clock is ticking, and you have been ordered to
fill out the interrogation packet before your friendly
Housing Representative comes by to pick it up. You
can't stop thinking that if you give a wrong answer or
fail to prove your citizenship to the satisfaction of
the Housing Rep., you just might be tossed out onto
the streets as a homeless person.

It sears into your mind that by signing this "Personal
Declaration" being forced upon you that it also
states; "You understand that, Section 1001 of Title 18
of the United States Code makes it a criminal offense
to make willful, false statements or
misrepresentations to any department or agency of the
United States as to any matter within it's

You suddenly realize that you feel like you are
"skydiving without a parachute," and everything is
moving real fast, as the horror of what is happening
to you takes your breath away.

The above questions are only a few that are in the
actual interrogation packet sent out to Oakland's
tenants. Under threat of losing their housing
assistance if they fail to do so, the tenants are
required to answer the above questions, or else.

Vivian Hain lives with her family in E. Oakland, and
received one of the interrogation packets in her mail
that demanded everyone in her family must prove their
citizenship. Residing in an 8 unit public housing
building, it turns out that everyone was forced to
prove their citizenship in the building, and the
people were outraged, said Vivian Hain.

"This caught everyone by surprise," said Ms. Hain,
"and we had a time limit placed on us to dig up all
the documentation the housing authority wanted from us

"I couldn’t find birth certificates for 2 of my
children, and had to pay $35 dollars each for new
Certified Copies of the originals, which ended up
taking food from our table because we are so poor. It
was a real hardship to go through this, and I still
have a letter from the housing authority that
threatens to evict me and my family from public
housing if I failed to come up with the birth
certificates," Hain said.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, in California it may take 10 to 12 weeks
to obtain a birth certificate from the county where
the birth occurred. And if you submit the wrong
information while trying to get a birth certificate,
it may take as long as 6 to 8 months.

The Oakland Housing Authority barely gave it's tenants
5 to 6 weeks to come up with all the documentation
being requested and to fill out all the paper work the
tenants were not trained to fill out.

There’s around 6 million adoptees in the U.S., and most
of them have been deprived of ever being able to get
their hands on their original birth certificates.

In one study, it states that there’s more than 3
million children born in the U.S. from undocumented
parents, and many of them also may not have birth
certificates as a result.

Another study points out that many people have never
been issued birth certificates because they were born
at home and their birth was never officially recorded.
It's even been estimated that around one in five
African-Americans (20 %) born around 1939 through
1940, were not born in hospitals because of racial
discrimination that kept their mothers from giving
birth inside a hospital.

It's a fact that the 14th Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution guarantees citizenship at birth to almost
everyone born in the United States or in U.S.
jurisdictions, according to the principle of jus soli.

So why are petty bureaucrats threatening to kick U.S.
citizens out of their housing if they fail to prove
their citizenship?

That very same question was raised on November 18,
when Wendell Harper of KPFA News contacted officials
at the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA), to ask if a
crack down was going on.

Click below for the link to the November 18, 6:00 pm,
KPFA Evening News...

During the news report, an OHA official states that
the housing authority is demanding certified birth
certificates from present and prospective tenants in
their housing programs. Regardless, of what the
housing authority is demanding, the office of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) has no such eligibility

HUD leaves to the discretion of the nation's housing
agencies how they may check for proof of citizenship
or eligibility, and according to Larry Bush a
Communications Director at HUD, these things can be
verified in several ways and there’s no need to force
people to come up with certified copies of a birth
certificate. "People are required to show a legal
identity, their required to show a proof of age and
citizenship, which may be shown through a variety of
ways such as a voter registration card, or motor
vehicle ID card rather than a drivers license if they
do not have a drivers license," said Bush.

There is nothing in the Administrative Plan of the OHA
that says it is required for tenants to provide a
photo ID to remain in the housing programs, yet the
tenants are being forced to provide photo ID's upon
demand in the interrogation packet being sent out to

In HUD's web page, among the frequently asked
questions, it asks; Does HUD require a PHA to obtain copies of government
issued photo IDs, for applicants, to establish legal

Answer: No. The regulations do not require this type
of verification to establish legal identity/citizenship.

Click below for HUD's Verification and Frequently
Asked Questions...

In the November 18 KPFA news story, Wendell Harper
goes on to ask the housing authority official, "What’s
the policy regarding eligibility requirements? Are
people being required to show certified birth
certificates," asks Harper.

"Yes, we don't accept copies of birth certificates, we
look at actual birth certificates, there’s so much
theft of identity and we're supposed to make copies
and make them a part of our tenant's files," said
Sharon Harrison Coffey, the Deputy Executive Director
at the Oakland Housing Authority. "It's required by
the federal government, and for both public housing
and Section 8 it is a federal registry requirement
that’s codified in section's 24 CFR 5.508F and 5.502.
This has been going on for years. Congress required
that we do this for all of our new admissions, and
that we go back and we verify everyone who is on the
program, and you know, verify social security numbers
as well," said Coffey.

With a trick of words, Sharon Harrison Coffey, failed
to mention the section in the OHA's own Administrative
Plan that clearly states that tenants only have to
verify their citizenship and social security number
ONCE, because of the "ONE TIME POLICY" under the
section known as the FREQUENCY OF OBTAINING

Not only is there an abuse of discretion going on that
forces tenants to provide a certified copy of a birth
certificate when unnecessary, the OHA is clearly in
violation of their own policies as well as federal law
by forcing people to prove their citizenship over and
over again to the satisfaction of some sadistic
functionary in Oakland's housing authority.

This is not about fraud, or undocumented people. It is
all about breaking the trust of it's tenants by
breaching their own administration policies as well as
federal law that prohibits such activity.

It is all about the lack of self restraint on the part
of the housing authority to abide by federal law, and
the lack of probable cause showing that the tenant is
engaged in any kind of wrong doing.

It is clearly a hardship or burden for all the tenants
in Oakland's public housing and Section 8 program to
continuously be harassed into proving their
citizenship under the threat of losing their housing
if they fail to do so. Especially the elderly and
chronically ill.

Making matters worse for tenants is the interrogation
packet that makes every one feel like they are being
forced to prove their innocence, despite the fact that
no one is being charged with a crime or wrong doing

In addition, in violation of FEDERAL LAW the tenants
in Oakland are being forced to sign a release/consent
form that fails to meet the minimum standards under 24
CFR 5.230 .

In the consent form that fails to meet minimum
standards under federal law, the Oakland Housing
Authority claims the right to release just about any
information they want from the tenant's files to other
federal, state or local agencies, including collection
agencies and the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.

With so much theft of information going on in the
collection agencies, this is not the type of
information that Oakland tenants want to see being
extracted from them, only to be handed over to someone
that sells it later for a profit.

And with all the illegal spying going on in this
country by the federal government, one can only wonder
why the OHA wants to hand over all of the tenant's
secrets to the Department of Defense.

On December 15 2005, a law suit was filed against the
Oakland Housing Authority known as CASE NO. CO5-0523.

The plaintiff, a citizen of the United States claims




Injunctive and declaratory relief to halt the demands
for photo ID, a birth certificate, and to sign the
releases as presently drafted have been requested.

Bill Simpich, a Civil Rights Attorney, may be reached
at; 510/444-0226

Lynda Carson may be reached at; 510/763-1085


Sign-up for POOR email!