June 06, 2005

Go in peace?

AlterNet: Rights and Liberties: Un-Housing the Poor

A few years back, when I was first applying for Social Security and waiting the two years it takes to get approved and thereby become eligible for a variety of benefits available to the disabled, I was encouraged by my case worker to apply for Section 8. It's a voucher program in which poor people pay a third of their income for rent and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) pays the rest of the market-rate rent for an apartment or house.

Actually, I wasn't encouraged to apply, but to take advantage of the once in-every-18-months event when they open the waiting list, which was happening in a month or so. Now, the waiting list is 4-6 years long. And opening up the waiting list means that for one week, at a different place each day between 9 am and 2 pm, you can fill out an application to be put in a lottery to be chosen to get on the 4-6 years long waiting list. When I went to fill out what was essentially a lottery ticket, the line filled the rooms and spilled outside and down the street. A lot of the people there had kids. All of them, of course, poor and in need of safe, suitable housing.

I kept shaking my head at the Steinbeck-esque scene. And still do. My eyes fill with angry tears and all I can think is, what the f*** kind of society do we live in?

But wait! It's getting worse. Our Christian President and Congressmen are trying to reduce the amount of funding for Section 8 by offering it to people whose 30 percent would be more money than that of the very poor. Basically, pitting the working class against the poorest for housing that's rapidly becoming too expensive for them both.

Last month, Congress began hearings on two bills -- one each in the House and Senate -- that threaten to reorient federal assistance away from the families that need it most. Specifically, the legislation would double Section 8's existing median income cap to 60 percent, thereby allowing families who earn more to qualify for these vouchers.

It also removes rules which ensure that families in serious need receive the most assistance. Under the new measure, local housing authorities are free to award up to 90 percent of their vouchers to applicants that qualify under the raised income cap -- allowing them to dole out the majority of vouchers to families who earn more and therefore pay more of the rent.

It's often said that you can't just throw money at poverty. But this is something where money is the answer, as in adequately funding a program, Section 8, which so obviously needs it. I've seen the lines. I've seen the kids running around while their mother tells them to knock it off while she fills out an application, praying it will get picked so she can spend the next 4-6 years waiting and working 80 hours a week to stay out of the shelter.

"If...one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." James 2:16-17

(Cross-posted at Behind the Surface)