Our Eyes Were Opened


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Hidden Voices (#6 in a 6-part series)

One other group of people whose voices are hidden are those who deal with severe mental illness and addiction issues. We’d like for people with mental health issues and severe addictions to stay hidden. They are scary to us. They also are some of the biggest users of community services. They tend to go to the emergency department at the hospital a lot. An average visit costs $2100. They tend to get arrested a lot. The state of South Carolina spends over $19,000 a year to incarcerate someone.  They tend to use agency services a lot. We may only hear their voices of delusion while their voices of truth are often hidden.

Greenville has one Housing First model of shelter and that is Reedy Place, on Hudson Street, right beside new condominiums that are selling for $600,000 to $800,000 depending on the number of bedrooms. The residents of Reedy Place must have severe addiction and/or mental illness. The idea of a Housing First residence is that when someone with a severe addiction or mental illness receives housing first and feels safe and secure, then he or she is more likely to deal with the issues of the mental illness or addiction. Reedy Place has 23 one-bedroom units. The first building had 15 units. Greenville Mental Health staff followed those original 15 people. Last I heard, five are still living there. The second group of five moved to better places, a couple of those were to nursing homes but they could not have gotten in had they not been in Reedy Place. Of the last five, one died and they lost track of the other four. That’s a 66 percent success rate.

There’s a large Housing First shelter in Charlotte. The universities there received permission to pull the medical records of the first year’s shelter residents for the year prior to coming into the shelter. Those residents’ medical bills totaled over $2 million. During the first year of residency, the medical bills of those same people totaled just over $700,000.

The state of Utah decided to go totally housing first and the last official number I saw was that they had reduced their homelessness by 75 percent.

Hearing the voices of our neighbors is challenging but we must if we want to be a community that models the God we worship and the faith we proclaim.  There are others whose voices are hidden. I hope we all will being listening.

 

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Hidden Voices (Part 5 in a series)

If we were watching live theater now, we’d see a crowd behind a scrim mumbling softly and then getting louder and louder. In the wings, we would hear the sound of buildings coming down and new construction going up. We’d hear the crash of metal against metal and the constant beep-beep-beep of vehicles backing up to deliver their materials to the construction sites.

The voices behind the scrim are the voices of people whose homes are being taken away. The communities where they have lived for decades are now prime real estate for people who had no use for their neighborhoods previously. The old neighborhoods, often segregation neighborhoods, were seen as blights in our community. Some of us knew not to go into “those areas.” Now, however, those same neighborhoods are hot commodities. Now people with resources want to live near the inner city. Former segregation neighborhoods are being gentrified and houses are being flipped.

People who have been long-time residents in some of the neighborhoods are being pushed out because the home they have rented for years has just been sold to a developer who most likely with tear down the home and replace it with high end properties. Whereas the long-time residents paid less than $500 a month for a place which may have had some construction and plumbing issues, the new buildings on the sites start with rents of $1000, $1250, $2500. When your home is taken from you, where do you go? You lose your neighborhood contacts and you cannot find rent at the same level as your long-time home. Or you cannot sign a long-term lease because you have a criminal record or poor credit or mental illness or spotty income, and so you cannot find a landlord who will rent to you. Even if you own your home, you may be forced out of the neighborhood because the property values have gone up so high that you can no longer afford your property taxes. Or you were offered $50,000 cash which sounds like a lot of money if you’ve struggled your entire life. But then you discover that your home is torn down and a house worth $500,000 is now in its place. You hung in when your neighborhood was a place that people with resources did not want. And now when they do, you do not reap any of its rewards in any kind of just way.

People who have had little, who have learned to live with their heads kept low, who have had promises made and broken by people in power learn that their voices are hidden. They are invisible, unseen, until someone wants what they have.

The people whose voices are hidden and are about to lose their homes do not even realize that for decades people with resources have been living in subsidized housing. The bigger the mortgage, the larger the tax deduction. Buying a home is a huge government subsidy that people with resources enjoy. In 2015, the federal government spent $71 billion on the mortgage interest deduction with households earning more than $100,000 receiving almost 90 percent of those benefits. However, 60 percent of people who use the deduction say they have never used any government program. But let someone who is financially challenged ask for a housing subsidy and all kinds of negative comments float up. They’re lazy, they’re just out for what they can get, I worked for mine, why can’t they work for theirs?

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer prize winning author of Evicted and who was here this past spring writes, “a 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way.”

We are 2500 housing units short for people who can pay no more than $500 a month.  Whose voices are hidden?


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Hidden Voices

We will not, do not, or cannot hear the voices that are hidden in our community.

We will not…hear hidden voices

We stay within the confines of people more or less like us. We live in neighborhoods with people who are more or less like us. We work with people who think more or less like we do. We worship with people who are educated more or less like we are. Our income levels are more or less alike.

We tend to remain with people whose fund of knowledge is similar to ours. Our fund of knowledge grows from our gender, our age, our socieoeconomic status, our education level, our experiences of the broader world, our race, our faith perspective and a host of other things. We often believe that our fund of knowledge is the only one that’s valid.  We will not hear hidden voices.

We do not… hear hidden voices.

We do not want to hear hidden voices. We are busy enough with career or retirement, caring for kids, grandchildren, or ailing parents. We struggle with our own limited world of influence and certainly do not want to be disturbed by issues beyond our control. We want to remain in our own bubble. We like our blinders of our skin color, our privilege of power or prestige, or our position in society. We prefer that hidden voices remain hidden. Otherwise we might feel uncomfortable and we do not want that! We do not hear hidden voices.

We cannothear hidden voices.

We are stressed already with the problems of the world. We are overwhelmed with all our responsibilities in our home, our community, our church, our work, or our neighborhood. We may be going through a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, struggling with health issues, or facing financial challenges ourselves. We do good to crawl out of bed in the morning and plow through the day. We simply cannot take on any more. Our bandwidth is taxed heavily right now. We cannot hear hidden voices.

But there are hidden voices in our community. During my next few posts, I’ll share some of those.


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Gentrifying vs. Gentle-fying

Gentrifying: House is purchased for income building
Gentle-fying: House is purchased for neighborhood building
Gentrifying: Security is based on locks, gates, and systems
Gentle-fying: Security is based on friendships and watching out for each other
Gentrifying: Long-time residents may not be welcome
Gentle-fying: Long-time residents are cherished
Gentrifying: Diversity is threatening
Gentle-fying: Diversity is cherished
Gentrifying: My way is the right way
Gentle-fying: Our way is the right way
Gentrifying: The past is obscured as not important
Gentle-fying: The past is celebrated as part of the heritage
Gentrifying: Us vs. Them
Gentle-fying: It’s all Us


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What’s the Definition of Affordable?

Affordable is a nondescript word. However, it gets used a lot, especially now in Greenville while the City works with their consultant and other groups planning to build more “affordable housing.”

When people with resources apply the word affordable to housing, their definition of affordable may be more perception than reality. They may picture high rise buildings that are dilapidated, crime-ridden, dirty, and trashy … where “those people” live. The idea of “affordable housing” being built in or near their homes becomes threatening, indeed. NIMBY (not in my backyard) becomes virulent. That’s one understanding of affordable.

To people on the other end of the economic spectrum, affordable means having a home that their meager income allows without the landlord or mortgage company pounding on their door every week.  Homes that are safe, well-maintained, lovely…and affordable… would certainly be nice but are not readily available in many cases.  Affordable in this scenario allows for not only rent to be paid but also food, medical care, clothing for work, and childcare.

When people who are housing advocates or housing developers talk about affordable housing, even then the definition is murky. Is the definition of affordable based on the area medium income (AMI) which is about $66,000 in our area? If so, affordable housing defined as a percentage of the AMI can require household incomes of $52,800 (80% AMI) to $99,000 (150% AMI).

Basing the formula for affordability on the poverty guidelines is a different story. In 2017, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $24,600. So affordable based on 50% of the poverty guideline for a family of four is income of no more than $12,300 while 200% of the poverty guideline allows an income up to  $49,200.

There is quite a discrepancy between $12,300 (50% poverty guideline) and $99,000 (150% AMI).  Both the AMI and the federal poverty guideline are used in different situations as THE definition of affordable.

Another definition for affordable is rent costing $500 or less a month. That becomes extremely hard for the grandmother who is living on her Supplemental Security Income of $770 a month.

Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) guideline is that no more than 30% of a household’s income should be used on housing (including utilities). Since studio apartments in some of the new housing complexes in and around downtown Greenville have rents ranging from $800 to $1400, the HUD recommendation is income of $32,000-$56,000. Can a four-person moderate income household afford this studio unit?  One-bedroom units are renting from $1000-$1800 a month with utilities not included (annual income of $40,000 -$72,000.)

Low and moderate income people may not define these units as affordable.

Our burgeoning tourist and convention economy means that visitors spent $1.145 billion in Greenville County in 2015 and the accommodations revenue increased by 65% in the City of Greenville in 2015. This is significant and important when we think about housing for low and moderate income people. Do employees in the hospitality industry who clean the hotels, bus the tables, wash the dishes, and clerk in the retail shops earn enough to afford the new units being built in the urban area?  Are they able to live near their work place?  If they choose to live in housing that low and moderate income people can pay a reasonable price for, are they close to their work in the hotels and restaurants?  Where do the people live who clean up after the wonderful street festivals? Where can they find a home that they can pay for?  And then can they get to work?

‘Work force housing” is another term used occasionally to mean affordable. These homes may cost less than the open market can bear so work force housing indeed addresses the needs of some low and moderate income people.  People who are often eligible for work force housing include teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and health care workers.  Some communities have built neighborhoods or apartment units specifically for these vital workers so that the town can have quality teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and health care workers. The downside of this definition for affordable is that it rightly expects the people who live in these homes to have a steady income, few credit issues, no criminal record, non-evident mental illness, and/or a steady income.

The good news is that our community is primed to address the issue of affordable housing. Let’s just make sure that everyone is using the same definition of affordable.