As I manage a request to help another family struggling to navigate the search for an affordable place to live, I can't help but think this must be what it's like to be in a sinking boat with only a small bucket to scoop water. I'm the Executive Director of a non-profit organization with the mission of helping families escape poverty and have many colleagues who no matter the mission of their organization, are coming in contact with people who are housing insecure or homeless. No matter who I'm talking to, if we're talking about issues that impact communities as a whole, affordable housing always comes up. In discussions about the state of our public education system and some of the issues that are consistently impacting children and their families, inevitably affordable housing will come up.
As a matter of fact when I think about almost every social issue impacting our communities including:
1. Increased domestic violence
2. Racial Wealth gaps
3. Lack of quality Public education
4. Poor Credit and Lack of Savings
Affordable housing could be at the center of the conversation.
One thing that doesn't get mentioned as often is the lack of livable wage jobs. When the affordable housing crisis conversation comes up I ALWAYS mention the lack of livable wage jobs. I believe that the affordable housing crisis was created by and is fueled by the livable wage crisis. I think this opinion is less obvious for those who don't understand how poverty works. Keep in mind that a lot of my opinions and thoughts on these topics are not formed through my professional experience with poverty, but by my own personal experiences. I've spent the bulk of my life attempting to survive and escape my own experience with generational poverty. I am reminded everyday that we still have a lot of work to do and we are NOT winning the War on Poverty.
If we want to begin to solve our affordable housing crisis we must address the fact that a very large portion of our workforce is not earning enough to afford market rate rent. I live and work in Pittsburgh but this is true of many major cities across the country. People who are entering public housing/subsidized housing are finding themselves living there longer because it is taking much longer, if ever to earn out of the subsidy and be able to afford market rate rent, thus freeing up their unit/voucher. If people are not earning out, that reduces the number of units/vouchers that could be available for other families in need of affordable housing. Affordable housing waitlists are getting longer and longer and there is a frantic scramble to urge the powers that be to build more. Our housing advocates in the City of Pittsburgh are working themselves into exhaustion attempting to speak for the thousands who are facing housing insecurity on a daily basis and they are being heard. Some funding and resources are being allocated to build more affordable housing, I'm sure not at the rate that it needs to happen but it's happening.
What I don't see happening are more conversations about rectifying the livable wage issue. How do we start that conversation? Who do we have that conversation with? How do we compel employers, corporations, policy makers, legislators, WHOEVER, that giving up a small portion of profit in order to pay people a livable wage, is worth it for the health of the overall community?
I don't have the answers and won't pretend that I do, but what I do know is that if we don't start having these conversations and finding some solutions soon we will be discussing our housing CATASTROPHE.