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interviews

An Interview with Saun Hough

by Saun Hough
June 11, 2018

This interview with Saun Hough of SHIELDS for Families, was conducted and condensed by frank news. It took place May 23, 2018. 

Would you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Saun Hough. I am the vocational services coordinator here with SHIELDS for Families. For about two years, I was a project coordinator for Family First Jordan Downs in the Jordan Downs Project. My role there was to oversee the workforce development to make sure that the community members were being trained and prepared for job opportunities. As well as to work with the small businesses in the community to make sure that they also had opportunity.

How many people were you working with?

In a year span, we worked with about 150 people in the community.

What was the dynamic like working with Jordan Downs?

It was interesting. At first it was very promising. A lot of opportunities available. We were able to get a lot of people trained, we were able to prepare them for what we were told was going to be 60 jobs. We were looking at hundreds of local workers being employed.

What was the reality?

In reality, first you start getting pushback: We're going to start on January 1, and then January 1 became February 1, and then we’re into August and we still haven't started. But we have a workforce of about 90 people who are prepared for work. When the work would start, what was going to be 70 jobs, would be 5 jobs. Now we have to figure out who gets placed in those 5 jobs. Essentially what we began to do was look outside of the Jordan Downs to see how we could help the community and get them placed into other opportunities.

When did that partnership end?

We left last year. March 1, 2017 we decided, as it was set up, the community wasn't benefiting. We had been there for years, we'd earned a lot of trust within the community as an organization and we weren't prepared to start lying to the community. We're fighting for the community. We could fight better not being contractually tied to the project.

Do you think this redevelopment is ultimately beneficial to the community of Watts?

As it is now or the potential of it?

Both.

I think ultimately, yes. It can be. If, how it's spoken about, the inclusion of the community both in preparation for the work that's there, but also when the work is done, inclusion into homeownership, access to the small businesses coming in, and having a part in how it's governed, yes. As it is now, I don't think the community is being included the way it should be.

Can you explain this to me a little bit further? Is the redevelopment private privately run?

Yes.

But through the L.A. Housing Authority?

The Housing Authority of L.A. owns it right now. There are two master developers who will eventually take ownership, but they're working in collaboration with the Housing Authority. Those master developers are hiring general contractors to do the work on site.

Will it transition from entirely low income?

It's supposed to be subsidized, low income, and market rate housing. 

What's the rate of low income to market rate?

I believe it's 50/50 or 1 to 1.

How do you feel about that?

I think it has the potential to really hurt the low income and subsidized. They have no input. If you don't have ownership, what input do you have in the community, how it's governed, how it's run? I believe there will be a lot of rules applied to them for the purpose of getting them out.

As it stands now, within public housing, there are different things that can get you kicked out of the apartment. You can lose your house. You can be kicked out of the development. I believe that as a home owner, if you’re bringing down the value of my home, I want to have very strict and tight rules on you to make sure that if you do anything that compromises the value of my home, we can get rid of you.

What can get you kicked out of the development currently?

Tickets for hanging out after a certain time. There's trespassing rules.

If someone in the home has a run-in with the law, the entire family can be kicked out of their housing as it stands now.

If that carries over to this new development, where there's not just subsidized or low income housing, but market rate as well, I can imagine a number of people getting kicked out for petty reasons.

That speaks to this larger question of collateral damage of individuals who become incarcerated. If you're an individual who has some sort of run-in, it's your mom, sister, brother, nephews, nieces who pay the consequences.

Not only do they pay the consequences then, but after you've come out, the family has to decide do I, for a lack of a better term, excommunicate my family? Because if you've been incarcerated or you have a felony conviction and you're on parole you can't move back in.

You can’t live in the housing?

No you can't live in the community. That's one of the reasons we felt we couldn't benefit the community as a reentry program. We can't prepare that person in the community for work because they aren't able to be on the lease. We were so upset because we couldn't help people who weren't on the lease. If you have a community of people where there are ten men who are in re-entry, or ten family members who are on parole, we can't support them how the contract was written, because they're not on the lease. They're not on the lease because they have a felony parole or a felony conviction and they can't live in their household.

That's an impossible situation to be placed into. Does it make sense to you?

It doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense at all. To put you in a position where you have to decide where your loyalty is or where your heart is. Are you going to support your brother or do you maintain your household? Maybe you have a small child or you're living with your parent. You can't allow me back into the house. You can't allow your brother back to the house, who has changed his life and is genuinely looking to right some of the wrongs they may have done.

Is this a state law?

It's a rule that's enforced by the Housing Authority, but it's not a state law.

It's not a state law.

No.

[Joe Paul Jr. enters] 

Joe Paul Jr. The former HUD secretary issued a policy under Obama's administration that strongly suggested that local housing authorities give the benefit of the doubt to the re-entry population and that they extend opportunity to allow what Saun just talked about, so that families are not imposed upon, and left with these very difficult challenges to make a decision about following their heart or preserving their well-being. HACLA, in its effort to comply, in their attempt to demonstrate a face value response to what the former secretary had suggested, started a pilot under the Section 8 program that failed miserably.

They allowed Section 8 voucher holders who had family members who are incarcerated the ability to come on the lease under Section 8 vouchers. But they never extended that to public housing residents. We're going to give you this very superficial compliance. We heard you, we agree Obama, but we’re not really going to jump on board with that. The approach that they took in disseminating the information in the beginning to voucher holders for Section 8 was very sterile and bureaucratic. They sent it out in letter form, in very formal legal language, that threatened and intimidated. Most of the recipients of these 10,000 letters felt it was a tactic to expose them: Do you have a felon in your house? Because we want to kick you out now if you come out and say yes.

In my opinion – because we were part of a regional group of participants – there was no veracity behind the Housing Authoritie's intention to leverage this in an authentic way. To say, if we make this work we can spill into these other areas, maybe even public housing. It's better practice at the city level to really exclude and discriminate, versus the federal government's perspective that they receive a majority of funding from.

What do you do now?

Joe Paul Jr.: We fight. We report the news. Si se puede. We get out there, we go hard. Saun and I both were formerly incarcerated people who turned our lives around and have demonstrated that second chances occur. We are extremely adamant about advocating and defending and empowering both sides.

I don't understand this — an elected person who oversees the west side of L.A,  is in a different community. You have affluence, you have education, you have stability. Then you have a person who deals with South Los Angeles. Murder Alley. And you're trying to behave the same way as your colleague behaves? No. You're in two different populations of people. You have to advocate for your people.

Saun: I think Joe's point is we have to fight. Look beyond the face and really see what's happening, really see what's going on. When they're reporting job numbers, are they real?

I'm thinking of an event that they had at Jordan Downs, there were politicians there, and this big grand opening. They had people there with hard hats and vests on as if they were employed — when actually they hired them for the day.

They were extras!

Extras, yeah. Here's your hardhat, here's your money, let's go over here.

That's what people are seeing — and then we're saying there's no jobs and we get push back. I just saw the news, I just saw the paper, I was at the event, I saw the workers there. No, you saw a group of men that meet once a week who were given a hundred dollar stipend to show up with helmets on. Then we hold the community responsible. Don't do that. “Why would you agree to accept” is one of our arguments. Why would you accept this money to portray this picture when you know how hard and how intense the fight is to make sure that you actually have a job.

Who's not going to take a hundred bucks if you need a hundred bucks?

There's a point to that, but then we have to see this hundred bucks is stopping a career. It's stopping more. And beyond that, it's presenting the wrong picture of what's happening in our community. Again there's this preying on the poverty of the people, because to your point, who's not going to take a hundred bucks? I know you need it, so I'll prey on that, and parade you around for my purposes. We're doing the community a disservice and really being dishonest.

It's hard to have foresight in a desperate moment.

Very, very, very — this will make sense tomorrow, but tonight I get to eat, tonight I get to provide diapers, or have a sense of self-worth, I have something in my pocket. However you got it, you come home with something and you know, it's hard to tell a person they're wrong for that.

That begs the question of motive of the other party. Because you're right, survival is a very strong instinct, period.

If I know that human behavior leads in this direction, why would I exploit that? I know if I give you this for the night you're going to eat, but you just forfeited two years, five years’ worth of progress and I knew you would take this bait. That's the diabolical scheming behind the system that I call a chess match.