Our Eyes Were Opened


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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.


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Let’s Get Some Perspective…Please

Such huge dollar amounts are being thrown around these days: $14 billion for a wall between the United States and Mexico or $1.5 million for one condominium on a site where a small mom and pop grocery store used to stand.  Because I have worked for years as an advocate for people who are poor and have had to struggle to find resources to assist just a few people with basic necessities, hot showers, assistance with getting a GED or a job, these numbers seem obscene to me.

Just think, $14 billion dollars could provide a year of education for 13 million school children or housing for 49,993 homeless US veterans for eighteen  years or  for adoption fees for all 415,000 kids in foster care in the US AND provide each one a $50k college scholarship!  This seems to me to provide more stability for our country than a wall which doesn’t really work anyway.

The four unit building with the $1.5 million penthouse could provide houses for almost 28 families in Greenville SC at the median price of $152,500.

Let’s get some perspective and not let our fear or our greed blur our vision.


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Poverty Quiz 2017

How well will you do?

1.The 2017 poverty level for a family of four is:

a. $15,930 or below

b. 24,300 or below

c. $32,570 or below                                                                   Source: liheap.acf.hhs.gov

2. In 2015, the number and percentage of South Carolina residents who lived at or below the poverty level was: 

a. 471,306 or 9.5%

b. 684,634 or 13.8%

c. 897,962 or 18.1%                                                                 Source: wwwcensus.gov./quickfacts

3. Homelessness increased by what percentage in SC since 2010? 

a. 3

b. 20

c. 43                                                                                   Source: greenvillejournal.com/2015/11/27

4. The percentage and number of people ages 25+ in South Carolina with a high school diploma or higher are:

a. 76.6% or 3,800,217

b. 81.4% or 4,038,350

c. 86.7% or 4,301,290                                                                                                          Source:www.census.gov/quickfacts

5. What percentage of Greenville County residents travel in ways other than their own cars?

a. 12.4%

b. 17.8%

c. 21.1%                          Source: Piedmont Health Foundation Report, Dec. 2015

6. What percentage of people age 5+ in South Carolina speak a language other than English at home?

a. 6.9%

b.15.8%

c. 21.4%                           Source: http://www.census.gov/quickfacts

7. Where did South Carolina rank in 2016 in the economic well-being of children? (1 is good, 50 is bad.)

a.22

b. 31

c.37                                  Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

8. Based on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines that no more than 30% of a household’s income should go toward rent/mortgage, a South Carolina worker earning minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) can afford rent of:

a.$377 a month

b.$402 a month

c.$539 a month

Source: National Low Income HousingCoalition/Out of Reach 2016

NOTE:  The fair market rate (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment in South Carolina (2016) was $772

9. Using the HUD standard that no more than 30% of a household’s income should go toward rent, what is the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment in South Carolina at the FMR?

a.$11.42

b.$14.34

c.$17.01                        Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition/Out of Reach 2016

10. For every 100 deeply low income households in South Carolina, how many housing units are affordable and available?

a.68

b.37

c. 19                               Source: nlihc.org/Housing Spotlight

NOTE: Deeply low income (DLI) is defined as households with income at or below 15% of the Average Median Income  AMI. In SC the AMI is $45,483.)

11.Which of the following items may be purchased with food stamps? (You may choose more than one answer.)

a. Diapers

b. Comet cleanser

c. Toothpaste

d. Cigarettes

3. Fried chicken from the deli           Source: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items

12. What is the average monthly payment which a typical Supplemental Security Income (SSI) individual receives in South Carolina?

a.$733

b.$814

c. $942                                                           Source: http://www.ssa.gov

13. What percentage of South Carolinians experience food insecurity?

a.9.7%

b. 16.4%

c. 27.3%                                                          Source: map.feedingamerica.org

NOTE: Food insecurity means: “Consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

14. The hourly self-sufficiency wage for a household of one adult and one preschooler in Greenville, SC, in 2016 was:

a. $11.83

b. $13.49

c. $15.67

Source: The Self Sufficiency Standard for South Carolina2016 report

15. What was the percentage of children in South Carolina under 18 who were living in extreme poverty in 2015?

a. 11%

b. 14%

c. 17.9%                                                        Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

NOTE: Extreme poverty is defined as 50% or less of the poverty line.

16. The consequences of child poverty (15-22% depending on the study) in the US is a cost of $X a year in lower earnings, lost tax revenue, and other negative long term effects.

a. $1 billion

b. $250 billion

c. $500 billion                                                       Source: Foundation Center, websearch 7.29.13

17. How many states spent more per pupil than SC did in 2014?

a. 29

b. 32

c. 43                                                                                Source: http://www.governing.com/gov

18. In 2015, what percentage of babies were born to single mothers in South Carolina?

a.7.7%

b.23.8%

c. 46.4%                                                                         Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

19.How is poverty measured?

a.Determine the amount of money needed to buy the lowest-cost nutritionally adequate diet identified by the United States Department of Agriculture and multiply by 3 and then account for the number of people in the household.

b.Estimate the amount of money needed to provide basic housing, clothing, food, and utilities adjusted by the consumer price index, and account for the number in the family. Source: USDA

20. As recent as 2000, Greenville had excess of low-cost rentals ($500 in today’s dollars). Today the city is short by:

a. 500

b. 1500

c. 2500

Source: City of Greenville Balancing Prosperity and Housing Affordability in Greenville report fall 2016

NOTE: SC population in 2016= 4,961,119

Answers: 1b, 2b, 3b, 4c, 5c, 6a, 7c, 8a, 9a, 10c, 11none, 12a, 13b, 14c, 15a, 16c, 17b, 18c, 19a, 20c

All rights reserved, Beth Lindsay Templeton, 2017


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Powerful Learning Experience

Back in 2007, I discovered the Missouri Action Community Poverty Simulation, an experience that opens people’s eyes to the human cost of poverty. The power of this unique learning resource is that it creates, like nothing else, insight into the state of chronic crisis that consumes so many working poor families. Participants experience one month of poverty comprised of four fifteen-minute weeks. Afterwards, in the debriefing, they share insights of extraordinary vividness and intensity.  I have now facilitated the simulation for more than 4000 people.

Participants are placed into families made up of one to five members. They receive an envelope that describes their demographics, their income/resources, and their bills. They interact with “vendors” (trained volunteers) who sit at tables around the perimeter of the room. During the course of the simulation, they may deal with a mortgage/rental company, school, pawnbroker, banker, employer, and others.  To get from “home” to one of the vendors requires a transportation ticket. This is just the first of many challenges the participants experience within the two-hour time period.

I recently led the teachers of New Prospect STEM Academy in Anderson, SC, through the simulation. Here are some of their responses to the question: “Will the poverty simulation be helpful in your job or your life? If yes, in what way?”

“I will be more understanding of the stresses parents have to deal with in their lives.”

“I will have a better understanding of what my students may be going through.”

“Before this experience, I was too judgmental.”

“I now understand that making an A on a spelling test does not feed the child.”

“I have more insight into the home lives of many of my students.”

“This will definitely help me be more polite at school and out in the community when I interact with folks in poverty. This helps me to know better how to talk with kids and parents who struggle in so many ways.”

“I will be more empathetic.”

“I have students living in poverty and now I can understand why homework isn’t getting done.”

“This experience will help me to think more critically in terms of cutting back in certain things that I really don’t need. Most importantly though, this simulation has taught me to not take for granted the financial blessings that my family and I have in our lives.”

“I now understand why children who come to school are tired, hungry and distant.”

 

Powerful!

 

 

 

 


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The Invisible Workforce

Take a bag of potato chips and think about how many people were involved in the making of this treat that you now have in front of you.

You might list farmers, pickers, truckers, processors, and grocery stores. Then dig further.  What kinds of functions/jobs on the farm were required for you to have this bag of chips? You might add: owner of the farm, seed purchasers, mechanics who keeps the equipment running, field workers, people who build the boxes or shipping containers, and others. The processing plant will have computer engineers, housekeepers to keep the plant clean, chemists who develop the recipes, human resources people who hire the workers, and others. Even before that, universities will have professors and students who explore ways to produce better potatoes as well as those who train all the chemists, agriculturists, marketers, managers, and accountants.  There will be company owners and administrators, graphic artists designing the bag, and advertisers convincing us that this bag of chips is better than another. There will be as many as one hundred people or more involved in this one bag of chips. Except for the store stockers and grocery store cashiers, all of these people are invisible to us.

We often do not think about the large number of people who allow us to enjoy a bag of potato chips, not to mention our lives. We depend on many folks who are invisible to us in order to have the quality of life we enjoy. We are interconnected and yet forgetful about everyone who makes it possible for us to enjoy our lives.

We take for granted that our garbage will be picked up on schedule; our yard limbs, leaves, and clippings will disappear from where we piled them on the street; and the dead animals will be collected from our roads.  We ignore the people who clean our offices, churches, and civic buildings until something is not done. We forget about the people who hang the lovely lights in the trees downtown, who wipe the bottoms of people in medical care facilities, and who serve our food at lovely eateries. We slight those who take care of preschoolers even though their pay is not commensurate with the responsibility entrusted to them.  We are blind to the vast numbers of people who help us live the lives we take for granted.

In order to write this article, I needed a computer designed by others, a technician who keeps my computer working properly, software designers who know how to make what is in my head come out properly in this machine. I require HVAC maintenance people to keep the temperature comfortable in my office, medical staff to help keep my body healthy for my brain and fingers to work, teachers and editors who taught me how to write,  people who  prepare nutritious meals using safe food for me, and a host of others who help my life function for me.  I need clean water, reasonable gasoline costs, well-maintained transportation, and a host of other conditions that are regulated by elected and appointed officials.

We are all connected. Some of the discourse in Washington these days makes it obvious to the rest of us that we truly are inter-related even when our elected officials seem to forget that. We need each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Let’s remember some of those invisible people who are so important to our lives.  We need them. They need us. Together we can appreciate the gifts and talents of each other to make our community the kind of place we want to be. This way we all can thrive and realize the “inter-related structure of reality.”

 

 


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Defining Success

When I worked at a large nonprofit that offered people who lived in poverty life changing opportunities, the work was sometimes frustrating. We had to redefine success. Some people in the community thought our success should be defined as our taking a street prostitute and turning her into a school teacher. The likelihood of that happening was extremely slim! However, when we defined success as the street prostitute admits she has a drug problem, we and she could keep going.

Success was when she wanted to get into drug treatment; success was when she actually entered drug treatment. Then success was completing drug treatment.  Success was being clean one week after drug treatment. And if she failed this time, maybe…maybe the next time would be the time that took. And in the meanwhile, we succeeded when we were able to stay in relationship with her, enjoying her, and we all kept on going.

Of course, there were some days when we wanted to put our own hands around her neck and choke her. That was real, too. Then we’d go behind a closed door and scream, grab another staff person and complain, or leave the building to just get away from everything.

Sometimes we laughed. One woman who was a self-mutilator with a border-line personality cracked us up when she told us about propositioning Santa Claus in the bar at a local hotel!

We might give people names that we’d use for them….in private, of course. “Praise the Lord” was a participant who said “Praise the Lord” every three words. These irreverent words used only amongst the staff were ways to transcend the misery  we encountered every day and maintain our own sanity.

Agency staff members don’t usually share this side of the work because most people would not understand. The community may expect staff members to be all-loving and all-giving. The community might demand that the staffs of helping agencies assuage the community guilt by always BEING THERE and always DOING GOOD. When a staff member buys into that philosophy too much, then he stresses out or she no longer functions as a servant to the very people she wants to help. Sometimes simply showing up is a powerful measure of success.

Some truisms helped:

We’re not called to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.

Just as there are many parts in the body, there are many gifts.

I am one person. When lots of us do what we have the skills to do, then change happens.

Things happen when we’re not concerned about who gets the credit.

I am not the messiah. We’ve already had one of those.