This article is part of a Huffington Post series on the global impact of austerity -- "A Thousand Cuts" -- from affordable housing funds lost in San Francisco to increasing class sizes in New York, food inspector cuts in Canada, disability benefits taken away in the United Kingdom, decimation of France's solar industry, and more. Click here for information on how you can help people affected by these measures.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Just around the corner from the small apartment he moved into four months ago, lifelong San Francisco resident Roman Quinn was stabbed in the heart.
"It was years ago, over a drug deal gone bad," Quinn, 59, told The Huffington Post. "I dropped dead right there."
The attack marked a low point in the gregarious Army veteran's three-decade struggle with drug addiction, but he survived and has turned his life around. Once homeless and hooked on heroin, he's been sober for three years. He recently completed a job training program and hopes to re-enroll in City College of San Francisco to pursue a degree in information technology. He goes to church weekly and participates in Bible study.
And thanks to the Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit group that helps San Francisco residents find affordable housing, he has a home. The apartment is small and located in the Tenderloin, a rough neighborhood. But Quinn is still grateful.
"I enjoy life," he said, eyes beaming over a salt-and-pepper mustache, a jagged scar running along his nose. "I'm the happiest I've been since the day I was born."
Quinn said getting clean would have been nearly impossible if he were still living on the streets. But his struggle to find a place to live proved nearly as difficult as his struggle to find sobriety.
San Francisco has nonprofit groups and other programs in place to help the city's most vulnerable residents -- people like Quinn and, increasingly, families tossed out of their homes due to the recession -- find housing. In recent months, however, that system has been greatly strained.
Federal housing grants and tax credit programs have decreased drastically. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which doles out grants to municipalities for things like affordable housing construction and down payment assistance, saw its budget slashed by almost 38 percent. Cuts to the program the previous year were even more dramatic.
Changes at the state level last year cost the city about $50 million worth of tax revenue that had gone toward affordable housing -- San Francisco's largest source of housing funds. Meanwhile, the flood of individuals who have lost their jobs and homes in recent years has swelled the demand for affordable housing. It became so bad that the city's public housing authority closed the waiting list to new applicants in 2010. The list has yet to reopen.
Without new sources of funding, success stories, even ones as tenuous as Quinn's, will be increasingly uncommon.
San Francisco's rental market is the priciest among major metropolitan areas in the United States. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, to afford the average two-bedroom apartment here, a person would need to earn $36.63 an hour-- more than three times San Francisco's highest-in-the-nation minimum wage.
The issue is one of basic economics: As demand for housing has increased in recent decades, supply hasn't come close to keeping pace.
Not only is San Francisco already densely populated, its outward expansion bound by geographic limits, but building anything in the city is a notoriously arduous process. Due to a maze of bureaucratic red tape and the pervasive "not in my backyard" sentiment, the construction process can run years longer than comparable efforts in other cities.
"San Francisco is an extremely conservative city when it comes to land use," said Tim Colen of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. "There's a civic culture here that says change is to be avoided at all costs, and that makes it difficult to build housing because people will fight the construction tooth and claw."
Moreover, as well-educated workers have swarmed into town to gobble up the high-paying jobs promised by a social media-fueled tech boom, the cost of housing has risen even further. Last year alone, San Francisco saw a 15 percent rise in rental prices, far and away the sharpest increase of any city in the country.
These upward pressures on housing costs mean the city's poor and even middle-class residents must either find access to government-subsidized housing or move somewhere else.
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But in an era of soaring budget deficits both at state and federal levels, government-subsidized housing has become increasingly difficult to obtain.
"There's been virtually no new federal public housing built in the entire state of California in decades," said Shamus Roller of the political advocacy group Housing California. "It's very difficult to get into public housing now. Waiting times can easily stretch on well over a year."
The biggest blow to San Francisco's affordable housing efforts came at the end of last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown (D) shut down a redevelopment initiative across California in an effort to bring the cash-strapped state some much-needed revenue. The redevelopment program had allowed cities to set up special agencies in blighted neighborhoods. A portion of the taxes collected in those areas was diverted from its normal pathway into government coffers, instead being captured by the agencies for local reinvestment.
San Francisco spent the majority of its redevelopment money on affordable housing. When the program ended, some $50 million per year disappeared overnight. As a result, very little new affordable housing is planned.
The housing situation puts additional pressure on the city's network of transitional shelters. Quinn said he has noticed shelters increasing the number of beds they offer, substituting bunk beds where once there were singles.
The process of finding a place to sleep when children are involved can be even more difficult. Only three shelters in all of San Francisco are geared toward parents and their kids. Combined, they have space for 85 families. There are currently 212 families on the waiting list.
Kenneth Grady and his son, Junior, were lucky enough to get beds.
At first, they were crammed into a dormitory-style room with up to a dozen other people. Grady said crying babies kept him awake all night. Eventually they were transferred to a smaller, private space.
Grady grew up in the Bernal Heights neighborhood in the 1970s. His great-uncle bought their home in the 1930s, and his family lived there until 2008. After Grady's father died, he and his siblings were unable to keep up with the mortgage payments. They did a short sale on their house to avoid foreclosure.
For a few months, Grady and Junior lived with relatives in the East Bay, he said, and then moved into San Francisco's Hamilton Family Shelter in January. Grady said he has been unable to find steady work since leaving his 20-year job at UPS to care for his ailing father, who was sick with Lou Gehrig's disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Although he has a federal Section 8 housing voucher, which guarantees the government will pay for two-thirds of a recipient's rent, Grady's search for a home has been futile so far. Landlords are under no obligation to accept Section 8 vouchers and, in Grady's experience, most choose to opt out.
"I'm learning a lot of landlords don't like people with housing vouchers and don't like dealing with them," he said.
Organizations like the Hamilton Family Shelter have focused on providing subsidies to help families transition out of shelters into market-rate housing. However, the federal stimulus money largely used to fund those subsidies ran out in June.
"The more subsidies we have to provide to families, the more that waiting list shrinks," said Devra Edelman, Hamilton's deputy director of programs. "There's a direct connection between subsidies and the number of families who are homeless."
In an effort to replace the money the city used to receive for affordable housing, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced plans earlier this year to create a housing trust fund by raising taxes on hotel visits and the sale of properties over $1 million.
"Creating a permanent source of revenue to fund the production of housing in San Francisco will ensure that San Francisco is a viable place to live and work for everyone, at every level of the economic spectrum," Lee, a former tenants' rights lawyer, said in a statement.
Lee hopes to put his plan before voters this November. Housing advocates have already thrown their support behind it.
"We're not in a period of austerity; we're living in a state that's completely unwilling to raise revenue," said Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. "The trust fund is the biggest move the city has made on affordable housing in 20 years. This is a game changer."
Even if the mayor's housing trust fund becomes a reality, however, it won't be a magic bullet that suddenly makes the most expensive city in the country affordable for everyone. The supply is too low and the demand is too high.
Meanwhile, Grady refuses to give up hope. "My body is in the shelter, but my mind is in my future home," he said.
Austerity Measures Devastate Communities Around The World
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/austerity-measures-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666309.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity budget, conservatives' favored response to the Great Recession, is more than just simple belt tightening. It's not one cut or 10, but a thousand. City and neighborhood essentials like bus service become expendable, and things that we have come to depend on as part of our daily lives are slowly erased. Those teachers and firefighters <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/mitt-romney-we-dont-need-more-cops-firefighters-or-teachers/2012/06/08/gJQAvOgDOV_blog.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney doesn't want</a> to pay for? They're already part of austerity's disappeared jobs. This austerity mindset is taking hold not just in cities and states across the United States, but around the world. While conservatives have championed austerity as eat-your-peas necessity, these massive cuts often have unintended consequences.
Fire Department Cuts
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/fire-department-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659671.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> "They are asking you to do more with less," Westfield, N.J., firefighters union president Mike Sawicki said. "A second-grader can figure that out. Show up with nine guys, and it is easier to save." While the number of deadly fires has declined over the last 20 years nationwide, thanks to better construction and safety techniques, fire departments are increasingly called upon to answer medical emergencies, chemical spills and more, said Garry Biese, CEO for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Yet fire departments are going short-handed. The precipitous drop in state and local revenues caused by the Great Recession, combined with budget cuts pushed by austerity-minded politicians, has led to static or slowly dropping staffing levels across the country.
Larger Class Sizes
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/14/larger-class-size-a-thousand-cuts_n_1659591.html">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> When Shania started third grade at P.S. 148 last fall, she was thrilled to be back at the Queens public school. An outgoing eight-year-old, she said she was happy to be among her friends again, and she had loved her class the previous year. Her second-grade teacher would take the time to explain tricky topics like addition and subtraction one-on-one. She had even been named "student of the month." But since 2007, as the economy has tanked and expenses for public schools have risen, New York City has made principals cut budgets by 13.7 percent. When budgets are cut, teachers are fired and others aren't replaced -- including at P.S. 148, which has lost at least $600,000 and eight teachers since 2010. When teachers are lost, class sizes balloon. Shania had 31 classmates this past school year, compared to 20 the year before.
'The Big Problem For Me Is Fear'
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/15/austerity-measures-uk-a-thousand-cuts_n_1670711.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE for the full story.</a> Since birth, Lisa Egan, 33, has dealt with a rare genetic disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. The condition has caused more than 60 fractures in Egan's lifetime, including five separate breaks in 2011. "I once broke my back sleeping in an awkward position," she said. Because her disease is "wearing out her joints," doctors told Egan to use a wheelchair. "I can walk a very short distance and very slowly," said Egan, who lives in Camden, North London. "But sometimes things happen, such as my knee dislocates or I will tear a tendon out of a metatarsal and pull the end of the bone off with it. ... So I use a wheelchair most of the time." Despite her condition, Egan said she does not like to be seen as "vulnerable." Intelligent and articulate, she has written extensively on disability and politics, and has even tried a stint at stand-up comedy. As one of nearly 500,000 people in the United Kingdom who rely on welfare benefits, however, Egan now experiences fear daily: fear for her future, fear for her ability to live independently, even fear for her life.
Public Transit Crisis
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/detroit-bus-cuts-a-thousand-cuts_n_1647867.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Waits have been getting longer for many of the roughly 107,000 to 117,000 daily passengers who depend on Detroit's bus fleet. The city has lost about half of its bus service since 2005, according to Transportation Riders United, a rider advocacy group. Under the Detroit Department of Transportation's new "415" plan, the city has increased service along its four busiest routes, with buses now running every 15 minutes, but the new schedule necessitated tradeoffs elsewhere. In March, the department, whose management had recently been privatized by the city, shortened hours on more than 30 routes and discontinued all service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. The changes, which the city anticipates will save $40 million a year, have forced an estimated 3,200 nighttime travelers to come up with alternative plans for getting around town and left others waiting longer on the side of the road. "I'm hurting. A lot of times they don't come around, and when they do, they pass you by," said George Jones, 57.
Fewer Food Inspectors
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/canada-food-safety-a-thousand-cuts_n_1664579.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Frances Clark's last moments were not peaceful. Flu-like symptoms and seizures wracked her body. Her breathing deteriorated. At the end, she was "gasping, like a fish out of water," her daughter recalled later in court documents. The 89-year-old woman died on Aug. 25, 2008, the first victim of a listeriosis outbreak that killed 23 people, sickened thousands more and triggered the biggest food recall in Canadian history. A government investigation determined the cause of the outbreak: tainted meat from processing giant Maple Leaf Foods. The company apologized to the victims and settled a number of lawsuits, including one brought by Clark's family, for CAD$27 million. Following the scandal, the federal government introduced significant changes to its meat inspection program, including nearly doubling the number of inspectors from 225 to 400. But now, the government has slashed the budget for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal department responsible for food safety, by $56 million over the next three years.
Affordable Housing Gap
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/affordable-housing-san-francisco-a-thousand-cuts_n_1666760.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> Roman Quinn said getting clean would have been nearly impossible if he were still living on the streets. But his struggle to find a place to live proved nearly as difficult as his struggle to find sobriety. San Francisco has nonprofit groups and other programs in place to help the city's most vulnerable residents -- people like Quinn and, increasingly, families tossed out of their homes due to the recession -- find housing. In recent months, however, that system has been greatly strained. Federal housing grants and tax credit programs have decreased drastically. Last year alone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which doles out grants to municipalities for things like affordable housing construction and down payment assistance, saw its budget slashed by almost 38 percent. And changes at the state level last year cost the city about $50 million worth of tax revenue that had gone toward affordable housing. Meanwhile, the flood of individuals who have lost their jobs and homes in recent years has swelled the demand for affordable housing. It became so bad that the city's public housing authority closed the waiting list to new applicants in 2010. The list has yet to reopen. Without new sources of funding, success stories, even ones as tenuous as Quinn's, will be increasingly uncommon.
New Industry Struggles
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/austerity-measures-france-a-thousand-cuts_n_1679428.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> While austerity measures remain comparatively limited in France, one field has suffered considerably: renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems. Over the past few years, nearly half the jobs in the sector, a total of 12,000, have been disappeared. According to the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, the renewable-energy trade union, nearly one-third of those jobs vanished in 2011. Entrepreneurs like Kilian Heim, who had gone out to conquer this new market, are now restarting from zero.
Austerity's Big Winners
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/austerity-wall-street_n_1690838.html" target="_hplink">CLICK HERE to read the full story.</a> The austerity game also has winners. Cutting or eliminating government programs that benefit the less advantaged has long been an ideological goal of conservatives. Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as government services are privatized and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.
How You Can Help
As readers of The Huffington Post, you can take action to help those affected by these austerity measures. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/austerity-cuts-how-you-can-help_n_1669072.html" target="_hplink">Click here for information on what you can do.</a>