SUN has been a participant in the National People’s Action (N.P.A.) coalition for almost 20 years. Over 1,000 residents, working in neighborhood groups from over 30 states across the country, gather in Washington, D.C. and work to change federal policies and improve their local neighborhoods.
One of the many N.P.A. victories that that has had a positive impact on Syracuse was the agreement with H.U.D. to radically improve the maintenance of the vacant houses owned by the federal government. With intense board ups, weekly inspections and large signs with emergency phone numbers posted on all the properties, H.U.D. went from being the biggest slumlord in Syracuse to having the best kept vacant houses in the city.
H.U.D. also benefited from this partnership. Due to their improved condition, houses on the H.U.D. list do not linger for months and years–they sell in weeks. Because the houses have not been stripped of all their value, copper pipes, water heaters and wood fixtures, the houses also sell for a higher price.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration recently decided to award new contracts to maintain and sell H.U.D.’s inventory of vacant houses. SUN contacted the new maintenance company for our area to schedule a meeting. The regional manager in New Jersey agreed to come, but was pessimistic about their ability to meet our demands on board ups. According to the new company, their request to continue the maintenance policy in Syracuse was denied by a low level official in HUD’s Philadelphia regional office.
SUN told the manager that we were meeting in Washington during the N.P.A. conference with a HUD official with slightly more authority–Secretary Alphonso Jackson. We agreed to have our meeting in Syracuse a week after the N.P.A. conference. On the Thursday after our conference, three officials from National Home Mortgage Solutions toured the H.U.D. houses in our neighborhood and met with 20 members of our Housing Leadership Team. National Home’s attitude on the day of our meeting was completely different from the week before. SUN presented National Home’s regional manager with a 10-point agreement on how houses should be maintained in our neighborhoods. National Home signed with no objections.
SUN leader Barbara Devoise co-chaired this meeting–her first such experience. It was easier for her since she had just returned from her first N.P.A. conference. At the end of the meeting, with the agreement signed, Barbara was wrapping up the meeting by asking National Home what they wanted out of this meeting. The regional manager replied without hesitation: “We’re going to do whatever you want.”