Justice ... seven letters with so much meaning. On Saturday I went to a seminar at Actor’s Theatre on housing justice. As I listened to the professor from UCLA speak on the vulnerability of the poor in today’s housing climate and the masked efforts to create “affordable housing,” I was struck by the parallels in our community. Planners use the words affordable housing as if we were truly developing it; however, if you look behind the curtain, you find the term leaves behind some very poor people. Those who live on $750 per month to $1,200 per month with a single income are all but shut out of housing today; average rents lie somewhere in the range of $850 to $1,000 per month and that is truly unattainable for many. The onus to create truly affordable housing tends to lie with cities and towns as private developers can’t make housing/land costs move in a direction that benefits poorer people.
Haven House Services has been holding a series of homeless housing forums and the need for housing has been very much at the top of the discussion. While our average income has changed we still have a relatively large amount of people paid a lower wage in this region; those wages and housing costs are not compatible.
At Charlestown’s Housing forum, Mayor Treva Hodges gave a very knowledgeable overview of her community’s housing situation. Mayor Hodges inherited a mess with the Pleasant Ridge debacle and she is working hard to deal with it fairly, but the desire to improve the housing market for all the residents of her community is strong and admirable. She knows she will have a large segment of people who cannot afford current rents in her community and she wants to begin to plan not only for those folks, but the folks she wants to come to Charlestown for opportunity. Charlestown will offer that as River Ridge expands and moves even closer to the community. Her vision was refreshing and honest. Too often we hear leadership in denial about their community’s needs and unwilling to entertain thoughts of building truly affordable housing.
While the dialogue in New Albany is different, certainly revamping public housing is an imitative offered by Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration and an admirable one. The buildings are antiquated and need to be rebuilt or renovated. In tandem with New Hope Services, 72 more units of affordable housing are being built in Lindon Meadows, the City giving a fair share for that housing to be developed. It is needed but there are many people who do not have enough income to afford even that housing. Most affordable housing done by non-profits is done so at 60-80% of the poverty levels; over 2,376 were served at Haven House’s Emergency Shelter last year, most were at 30-40% of poverty, over half what is needed to even qualify for affordable housing.
It is getting attention, while I haven’t yet read the bill sponsored by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, I will. I also will speak to him about his thoughts. Virginia Peck recently wrote a letter to the editor about the issue and she was spot on with her comments. She is also one of the premier people in this region on affordable housing and what is available for it. While Yes in My Backyard sounds like a solution, we need to know exactly what the process will be because much of its language is already on the table and has been enacted poorly.
That’s why the forums. We want an honest discussion on the issue of housing and ending homelessness in this region. A discussion that will offer recommendations, seek solutions, and advocate for change. We need to be able to offer incentives for private developers to incorporate housing for the very low income, and we need to offer more vouchers to private landlords. We have to realistically look at the aging of the Boomers and plan on how to house them, one of the largest groups of people in the world. Their income isn’t where it needs to be for many of them to remain housed independently. Hence the largest number of people over 65 were housed at the shelter last year than ever before. Almost twice the number normally housed.
This isn’t new, as urban planning has become more politically ensconced and less the champions of the poor, their techniques and language have also become more intolerable of the truly poor. Not everyone is a drug addict, not everyone is lazy, and all those stereotypes are just images created to frighten us. The vast majority of the poor are the backbone of this country. They fix our food, they sell us our groceries, they work at Walmart and Target, and they work hard. Many are friends and neighbors, we go to church together. We need to as a community remain together and truly know that the development of safe, decent, and truly affordable housing is attainable. We have to stop thinking of how to control the land around us and build as a people for the entire community.