Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD

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