Giving a “Voice to the Voiceless”

October 1, 2005 by  
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A family living in Houston’s 5th Ward neighborhood is in a tight spot. Housing costs and expenses are creeping up, but their income remains unchanged. No matter how hardworking they may be, the dream of raising their children in a safer, healthier environment continues to be out of reach. Voicing grievances against unfair lending practices, they find themselves unheard and lost in a sea of bureaucracy.

Thankfully, that’s where ACORN steps in. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, advocating social justice and working to build stronger communities. With 175,000 member families and still growing, ACORN is tightly organized among 850 close-knit neighborhood chapters in 75 metro areas across the United States (including Houston), as well as in cities in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Peru.

ACORN battles fought and won
ACORN members have earned the right to be proud of the fruits of their labors in fighting and winning campaigns over the years. In their battle for community reinvestment, ACORN negotiated landmark agreements with banks in more than 17 U.S. cities, winning more than $1 billion to act as loans for low-income neighborhoods. Housing campaigns led eight U.S. cities to turn over vacant houses to low-income residents.

On the education front, alternative public schools in four ACORN neighborhoods were established, school facilities and governance were improved in five U.S. cities, and school safety in New Orleans and Detroit was significantly improved. Due to ACORN’s efforts in recent years, lingering unemployment, health and environmental justice issues were addressed. Developers in more than eight U.S. cities were required to hire low-income unemployed residents through the secured “First Source” agreements, and companies were forced to clean up, move or cancel plans for toxic plants and dumps in 11 cities. With neighborhood safety being a major issue among low-income communities, ACORN fought and won the battle for police and city officials to respond more effectively to rapes and went on to establish rape-prevention programs in five major U.S. cities.

ACORN’s work in Houston
One of the central campaigns currently being fought by the ACORN Texas chapter addresses the growing need to establish affordable housing for low- and middle-income families in the Houston area.

“‘Affordable’ is just not affordable for low-income families,” says Toni McElroy, president of ACORN’s Texas chapter. Median incomes in Houston hover around the $57,000 mark, though McElroy continues: “Many families make well under that. Rather, the majority of ACORN families are in the neighborhoods of making $24,000.” To address the growing need for affordable housing in the Houston area, ACORN is focusing its attention on getting an ordinance passed to receive the money necessary to meet the housing needs of ACORN communities; unfortunately, the fight is proving to be an uphill battle. “Local funding is done ad hoc,” McElroy explains. “Those that get there first, get the first cookie out of the cookie jar.”

In the meantime, ACORN continues on its steady course in supporting those Houston communities in need – the 3rd and 5th Wards, Acres Home, Independence Heights – by hosting community meetings and keeping residents abreast in the goings-on of the city government and local communities.

ACORN members and volunteers regularly hold loud, visible public rallies with the hope that the news coverage generated will give the public a better understanding of the plight of Houston’s low-income communities. “We want the public to see those folks in the red ACORN T-shirts,” McElroy explains, “and hear them raising heck to give a voice for the voiceless.”

Join the ACORN Rally – volunteer!
“The month of October is dedicated to voter registration and getting a solid voter turn-out,” says McElroy. To do exactly that, on Monday, Oct. 24 – the first day of early voting – ACORN will hold a rally among Houston’s low- and moderate-income communities to help build local awareness of the importance of the voting process and mainly, according to McElroy, to “generate interest in voting.” To ensure the success of the Oct. 24 rally, ACORN welcomes all volunteers to join their cause, whether to set up booths, hand out fliers to members of the community or simply to help out where help is needed. If you are unable to join the ACORN rally, but would still like to participate in the cause, donations are always welcome and can be processed through the ACORN website.

What else can you do for ACORN?
Plenty. If you are an advocate for economic and social justice and are passionate in fighting for the rights of low- and moderate-income communities, ACORN wants you for a member. By contributing an annual membership fee of $120, ACORN members receive regular bulletins and updates on the progress of local and national ACORN campaigns. Equally as important, membership fees secure ACORN’s ability to pay omnipresent bills and sustain its role as the nation’s largest grassroots organization, protecting the lowest income families in the U.S. and giving them the voice they deserve.

For more information about ACORN and ACORN membership (or if you would like to make a donation), visit www.acorn.org or call (713) 868-7015. H

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