Crowd erupts at Housing Commission

Four arrested; voucher program rescheduled

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — An event designed to help low-income families turned into a near-riot at the city’s Human Services Building, 25637 Eureka Road, resulting in four arrests and postponement of distributing applications for housing vouchers.

Applicants interested in joining the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher waiting list began waiting late Jan. 11, in anticipation of the 9 a.m. Jan. 12 distribution.

The agency was prepared to accept up to 1,000 applications, according to Taylor Housing Commission Director John Carter, similar to the turnout in 2009 when the vouchers were last available.

Instead, Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said that a crowd of between 4,000 and 5,000 people were on hand to obtain vouchers. A majority of those waiting had been there since Friday evening, but a busload joined the crowd early Saturday and began cutting in line, prompting tensions and fights among the applicants.

“At one point, members of the crowd became unruly and disorderly,” Sclabassi said, “forcing officers to take actions to avoid injury to innocent bystanders.”

Carter said the disruptions forced the commission to cancel the application event, which will be rescheduled.

“We will meet with HUD representatives to discuss the series of events, re-evaluate the distribution method and implement a process that ensures a greater level of efficiency and safety,” Carter said.

One option being considered is to make the applications available online.

Police took to the loudspeaker for nearly a half hour in order to calm the crowd, Sclabassi said.

“Our officers handled a difficult and potentially volatile situation while choosing not to overreact,” Sclabassi said. “As a result the incident was resolved, for the most part, peacefully, with only four arrests and minimal issues.”

The incident attracted national media and viral attentions, with images of low-income residents and an under-prepared public services organization. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-12th District) said the event was a public service that must be held.

The Taylor Housing Commission provides shelter assistance through programs such as Low Rent Public Housing and the voucher program, and the Jan. 14 event was designed to get families on a waiting list and into new homes.

“It’s imperative that those in charge of this event, and events like it, figure out what happened and why in order to make sure disruptions like this do not further hinder the public’s access to help,” Dingell said.

“I will do all I can in the coming days and weeks to resolve this issue, and to ensure that families, veterans and all throughout the district who are eligible receive the housing assistance they need.”

Sclabassi said that the four arrests were for misdemeanor obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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