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  • Jack H. Bender

More Than a Roof

Poverty must be solved at the national, state and local levels. There is hope at all three levels. The first book that persuaded me to be hopeful was Within Our Reach by Lisbeth B. Schorr. Schorr states that we know how to eliminate poverty. Programs work. The problem is that our resolve waivers.

There are three local initiatives that are particularly noteworthy in supporting those who are experiencing poverty. The first to be addressed here is affordable housing. As we will learn below, housing is much more than just a roof over one’s head. Affordable housing is a powerful tool that helps families move out of poverty.

According to the latest ALICE report (we’ll address this report later), there are three indices that matter most to households experiencing poverty – job opportunities, community resources and affordable housing.

Housing costs should not exceed one-third of a household’s income. Above that benchmark, a household is considered “housing burdened.” As housing costs increase for a family, no-win decisions must be made about paying for other necessities. Families end up asking themselves questions such as, “Will we go without food or medical care?” Affordable housing has a positive impact on the general welfare of a family.

Affordable housing provides much needed stability. Because of high costs, families can enter a cycle of frequent moves from unintentionally defaulting on rent or mortgage payments. The chaos affects all aspects of family life—distance barriers or higher costs related to school, work, child care, transportation, stores and community resources.

A third benefit of affordable housing is that it allows a family to develop neighborhood relationships that become conduits to resources—a cup of sugar, receiving misdelivered mail, a tool, a ride to the auto repair shop and emergency child care. Neighbors can connect the family to resources farther away, i.e. “There’s a food distribution truck at Redeemer Church the first Tuesday each month.”

Affordable housing is much more than what it seems on the surface. It:

Provides shelter

Eliminates the chaos of forced moves

Conserves money so that the savings can be directed to other needs

Aids in connecting household members to resources

Americans have big hearts, but their charity falls off significantly after food donations. We must develop awareness of need, detail what works and explain why it works. Affordable housing is a solution, but the costs are much greater than canned food donations. The challenge to provide affordable housing is to scale commitment and effort to match the need. Making such a commitment is an acknowledgement that “nothing works” is a myth.

Photos are from a completed affordable housing project in Zeeland dedicated just last week. The project was a collaboration, reminding us that collaborators can pull off projects they cannot do by themselves.


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