Yesterday my friend shared that she will be paying $450 a month for rent at her new place. Her new landlord said, “The rent is really cheap.” Yes, in this economy that is cheap rent for a safe and clean apartment (in our town much crappier apartments go for $800+). The reality is that as a single mom of two it is not cheap, it is 50% of her monthly income. It doesn’t matter how much housing costs compared to other rental properties, it matters how much it costs in comparison to what people are able to afford.
We need Housing Justice.
I think of Housing Justice as meeting people’s basic need for housing in a dignified way (going back to the social justice principle). It is housing as a common good, instead of housing as a money maker.
I know many folks in our town who are suffering because of the lack of affordable housing. Rent is just too expensive for people who are not making livable wages. In our region rent is the highest source of income, along with stock dividends (http://www.crcworks.org/crcdocs/vtgfsum10.pdf). As Ken Meter, a well-respected consultant who presented this statistic, says, “Capitalism is working very well here for a few people.” A very few people are making serious money and causing many people untold suffering. Being homeless is a direct result of an economic system that commodifies our basic needs (housing, food, health care). If you want to learn more United for a Fair Economy has some excellent infographics about housing.
My family has had our own set of housing struggles. (Race and class privilege disclaimer… we are a white, two parent family and we also have the safety net of family who can help out.) Two years ago we were house sitting and we needed to find a place to rent before the owners came home. We had a couple of options that were affordable for us. They both fell through. We had 10 days before we had to move and nowhere to go. Any 3 bedroom house we could find was $1200-1500, and we couldn’t afford more than $1000. We were stressed.
With one week to go we found a rehabbed two bedroom trailer for $800 (+ utilities) on a beautiful country property in the town where we were already living. We got lucky. We found something that we liked and that actually saved us a little money. Living in a trailer has taken some getting used to – people look down on us, I know they do. At the same time, it has increased my feeling of solidarity around housing issues. There are a lot of people who live in trailers! Trailers are amazing. It’s the “tiny house” before the “tiny house” was cool. I have a deep respect for the trailer park people of the world.
Get this…we tried to buy the trailer from our landlord (a really amazing landlord, by the way!). Even though we qualify for a 1% interest loan from the federal government – they won’t give loans for used trailers, even rehabbed ones. There are so many policies that hurt the poor. Stay up to date on the “war on the poor” with this excellent podcast – Talk Poverty.
The need for Housing Justice is serious. In VT for every 100 families that need affordable housing there are only 48 affordable units (source) – and many of those units are substandard (mold, lead paint/pipes, poorly insulated, deteriorating). This is causing people to cram into small apartments. The same friend I wrote about at the beginning has had a stream of homeless friends sleeping in her one bedroom apartment for years. This is how people have to do it: they help each other out; they share rent, even though it means a lot of discomfort; and sometimes they end up at the homeless shelter or sleeping in their car.
Why aren’t we outraged?!!! Well, for starters I think because we don’t know what’s going on.
Now that we know, what are we going to do? People are standing up for for Housing Justice,
will we join them? There is more and more action around the issue of housing. Check out the previous post for info and ideas.
Abi and I with our kids at Groundworks campout to raise money and awareness about homelessness.
Parenting and Housing Justice
I think about it in three ways:
What choices are we making as a family? Because of our race, class, gender, ability privilege we have few housing challenges compared to many people. This is so important to remember and to say outloud. The choices we make about where & how we live teach our kids a lot about Housing Justice. Our personal choices say a lot about “What is enough?” I’ve realized that we don’t need much house. There are many good things about having a small house. We get out in the world more. Less time cleaning. More money to share or to spend on good food and health. We’ve also lived collectively before and this is a very real option for us again in the future.
How do I talk with my kids about housing? Even though we’ve made a choice to live in an affordable small trailer I realize the way I talk about our house influences how the kids think about housing. At first I did a lot of focusing on how small it is. Now I put a lot of emphasis on how great it is for our family. I pay attention to how I talk about housing. I pay attention to the media they are watching and how the media is portraying housing. What is presented as “middle class” housing in many TV shows is actually housing that the top wealthiest 20% of Americans live in.) In our house we talk about “What is enough?”. We talk about Housing Justice and housing as a human right.
How do we show up for Housing Justice? Taking action – it is more than our choices and our conversations, it is how we show up for societal change. For the last two years we have raised money and gone to the campout for the homeless that Groundworks hosts. Birch has contributed his own money. We will do it again this year. There is so much to be done. In many places people are resisting evictions and foreclosures (see above photo). I would love to hear what you are doing.
My friend and her kiddos are getting settled in their new apartment. I hope that she can stay there for a long time and that the landlords treat her with respect. She is a thriving survivor! She has so much to teach me and all of us about what it means to get by in an economy that puts profit over the well-being of people. She is my shero.
This post is dedicated to all the folks who don’t have a roof over their heads, those who are about to lose their housing, and those whose housing is far too inadequate. Everyone deserves a dignified place to live. Whoever you are, you deserve better. Housing Justice is for you.