We must invest in housing


April 13, 2017

It really was great news that Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond’s urgent wake-up call about the gross injustice of evictions, won the Pulitzer Prize. The painful reality of housing insecurity was brought home to me on April 1, when the National Coalition for the Homeless held a National Day of Action for Housing. There were events in Washington and in a number of other locations around the country. At the D.C. event, we heard from Deborah, who became homeless in Delaware after losing her job; she felt that her identity was damaged without housing. And from Steve (pictured), who had been homeless for 17 years, but now is in permanent housing. He fought addiction for decades, but said “politicians make bad decisions too.” It was clear from all those who spoke that being able to live in stable housing was a necessary foundation for people’s lives: making it easier to connect to services they need and to hold down a job.
Congratulations to Matt Desmond for showing how the legal system fails to protect low-income people from evictions, and how those evicted are all too likely to risk homelessness or miserably inadequate housing.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak at the National Day of Action. Here’s what I said:

“The Coalition on Human Needs stands with you in this National Day of Action for Housing. We are organizations of faith, service providers, labor, civil rights, policy experts, and other advocates fighting to get the federal government to do more to meet the needs of low-income people.

“We stand with you for the obvious reason that housing is a central human need. Having a place to live is literally a foundation on which we build our lives – it’s essential for health, and safety, and work. We know that when people have a place to live, they are more able to get the services and health care they need, and that means they are more able to find and keep a job.

“But you know how many barriers there are that make people homeless:

    • If you’ve been evicted, it’s very hard to find another apartment, even if you’ve been evicted because your landlord was foreclosed on.
    • If you’ve lost your job.
    • If your family threw you out because you’re gay.
    • If you’ve just aged out of foster care – it is shameful that our government takes responsibility for youth who cannot live with their families and gives them so little support that they land in the streets. Of hundreds of homeless youth interviewed by researchers, nearly 40 percent had been in foster care, and 44 percent had been in detention or jail.
    • And once you’re on the streets it can be hard to avoid run-ins with the law – if you’re a runaway youth, or just trying to sleep in a park after dark.

“The hundreds of thousands who find themselves homeless on any given night deserve better.

“And in communities around this country, some progress has been made. When we invest in housing, increase rental vouchers, and connect people to services they need, we have reduced homelessness.

“But now we have a fight on our hands. The Trump Administration wants to shift money from rental vouchers, and public housing, and home heating and cooling assistance, and job training, and much more, and give it to the Pentagon. They want to cut health care, and make it harder for people to get Medicaid and food stamps by throwing up bogus work requirements. Instead of investing in our health and nutrition, they want to hand hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich and to corporations.

“We can win this fight – we can beat back their budget full of the wrongest, sorriest choices ever. We can win the way we beat their attack on health insurance – by standing together and hollering until Congress hears us. Together, we can show the nation the difference between the righteous – that’s you – and the self-righteous – like the members of Congress who spout scripture to justify harsh limits on food aid, medical care, and housing. It is righteous to demand of Congress and Trump that the budget must invest in housing, and provide the funds needed for a real and vital commitment to end homelessness in America. Together, we can help the millions of people who have marched and called on Congress to see how righteous it is to demand that everyone have a place they can call home. Your commitment today and in the days to come will help build a movement to invest in that most basic human need – housing. Thank you – and know that millions of Americans will stand with you.”

Budget and Appropriations
child poverty
Housing and Homelessness
Matthew Desmond