I was willing to lose everything!

root - Posted on 18 September 2002

A low-income disabled woman of color fights Section 8 Housing Authority and WINS!

by Valerie Schwartz with Jewnbug and Audrey Eichorn/PNN Media Interns

On a sunny but windy afternoon there is a voice that resounds in my head louder than the fervor of the wind knocking against my window demanding my attention… It is the voice of Patricia Webb, a woman who I had the pleasure of speaking with today, who with the help of POOR Magazine/PNN and The San Francisco Bayview has won a crucial victory with the San Francisco Section 8 Housing Authority.

What some people may consider to be only the small problems of the poor and disabled are… more than small. For me this is not only a concept but an understood reality, as I am a low-income disabled person myself, who has had plenty of first-hand experience with discrimination and poverty. Usually in our apathetic world of seemingly monolithic problems these peoples’ "small problems" are rarely heard, understood, addressed or much less resolved. In one of these not so "small problems" Patricia Webb, a resident of the Fillmore Center has gone the distance and held her ground against overwhelming odds.

"My dilemma began with re-certification from Section 8 Housing." In April 2002, Ms. Webb contacted POOR to ask for help with what was an overwhelming problem with her housing re-certification. Ms. Webb is disabled with Cerebral Palsy in a progressive stage. She lived with her son who is her in-home caretaker and employed by I.H.S.S. (In Home Support Services). Upon receiving a letter for her re-certification Ms. Webb was informed by the Section 8 Housing Authority that there was too much income in her household, and raised her rent from $281 to $833 a month. They then informed her that her son must move out if she was to be re-certified for Section 8.

"Family support, as all of you are all too aware, is crucial. It needs to be a part of a network of services that promises inclusion rather than isolation"

Excerpt from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s speech at the annual dinner of the Developmental Disabilities Council of Contra Costa County.

Ms. Webb then started the tedious task of following a paper trail of red tape, many grueling physical trips out of her home to attend to the matter… and a game of pass the buck via the telephone with the people at Section 8. As Ms. Webb told me, one of their supervisors, Cynthia Black said to her… "I’ll send you what need, not how to get it!" Ms. Black had also put Patricia’s son down as her attendant instead of her I.H.S.S. in-home caretaker, and created prolonged confusion with the paperwork. Ms. Webb told me later "It is my intention to write a letter of complaint to H.U.D. about Cynthia Black"

Ms. Webb did what was asked of her and provided the people at Section 8 with all the necessary documentation and paperwork she was required to present to them for having her housing re-certified. This also meant showing 3 pieces of verification that her son had moved out of her apartment, yet her rent stayed at $833 even though her son was no longer living with her. She continued to question why and how something that she felt was so unfair was happening to her. How was she going to deal with the absence of her son’s presence and support to help her, especially at night when she needs him there and how to deal with the break-up of her family?

It is unthinkable to me that any kind of social services/housing organization would want a stranger caring for a disabled person when there is a qualified and supportive family member to do so. I can fully understand how frightening it is for many to be cut off from their families and have to deal with having a stranger in their home taking care of them and how vulnerable that could feel. What is the purpose of dividing someone’s family?

"Most of the time the family is the only resource in the lives of disabled youth and adults, especially low income and people of color with disabilities. To cut this link inside the homes of people with disabilities is an invasion of privacy, family values and leads to separation i.e. institutionalization which leads to segregation" Excerpt by Leroy Moore of POOR Magazine/DAMO in an open letter to Gray Davis.

I asked Ms. Webb if her son’s employment and or housing status had been changed by all of this. She explained to me that her son is still her in-home caretaker but he does not live in her home and that he is now residing with his grandmother. I then asked her what would have happened if he had not had his grandmothers help, She answered quickly , "He’d have been up a creek."

As of the 1st of June 2002 Ms. Webb’s rent has been rescinded back to $282 a month a dollar higher than it had been, before the re-certification raise. I was immediately curious about what I consider to be an overpayment of rent for those three months and inquired whether she would have any of that overpayment refunded or put towards her upcoming rent payments. She told me she didn’t know and that she was trying to find out.

Ms. Webb acknowledged her heartfelt gratitude for the support of POOR Magazine, and Victoria Tedder of the Independent Living Resource Center for helping and advocating for her during this long process. She also requested that a mention be made for Mr. David Folis who works at the Fillmore Center for being "kind and helpful"

I finally asked one last question. How does if feel to have won what you thought was a no-win situation with the Section 8 Housing Authority? She replied in a voice that sounded like a melodic blend of humbleness and righteousness, thus creating a funny warm sustaining chord in my head… Her answer was: "Fantastic, totally elated that I fought for what I believed in and what I was doing and that I was willing to lose everything if that’s what it took."


Sign-up for POOR email!