American Nightmare

American Nightmare

Sequestration cuts will force tens of thousands of people out of their homes and onto the streets

By Dr. Anthony Manousos , Dr. Jill Shook 04/25/2013

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When my wife Jill came back from a meeting of the Pasadena Homeless and Housing Network and told me how sequestration would affect low-income folk, my heart sank. 

Sequestration — the budget-slashing measure that took place because Congress was unwilling to deal intelligently with our fiscal crisis — is having a serious impact on homelessness here in Pasadena and throughout the USA.

Myrtle Dunson, housing manager for the city of Pasadena, reported that sequestration requires that the number of Section 8 housing vouchers in the city be cut by 50 to 75 as of April 1. These vouchers are what enable 1,406 low-income people to afford housing here in Pasadena.

This is “only” a 5 percent cut, but some of those whose Section 8 assistance has been cut will likely end up homeless. Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, puts these cuts into a national perspective:

“It is estimated that over 125,000 families and individuals — more than half of whom are elderly and disabled — may lose their housing through the cuts to the housing assistance programs. ... While some programs that aid poor people are exempt from sequestration, these efforts to meet the basic needs of the poorest people are not.”

According to the most recent homeless count, Pasadena has 772 homeless persons, a 15 percent decrease, thanks in part to Housing Works, an organization that houses the chronically and at-risk homeless, thereby saving the city money (since this population tends to need services such as hospitalization and other types of assistance). This highly successful program will suffer cuts up to 5.9 percent due to sequestration.

Of those 772 Pasadenans counted as homeless this year, 560 are unsheltered, including 39 homeless veterans and 33 families with a total of 59 children.

The homeless population is growing older and more prone to illness, as Rebecca Kuzins pointed out in a recent Pasadena Weekly article titled “Aging into homelessness: Experts say more seniors will be on the streets if more isn’t done to increase housing opportunities” (April 4). (Please see related story on page 8.)

Nonprofits and churches are working tirelessly to help those in need. Friends In Deed (formerly known as ECPAC), Union Station and other groups work together to provide services for Pasadena’s homeless population.

Family Promise, a national organization with a new affiliate in the San Gabriel Valley, involves 14 congregations that rotate hosting three to five homeless families, while a full-time director helps these families find jobs and housing. Four Pasadena churches — Friendship Baptist, First Baptist, Lincoln Avenue Baptist and Holliston Community Church — are hosting homeless families, while One Voice Free Methodist Church is offering support for this highly effective program.

According to the US Council of Mayors, “lack of affordable housing” is one of the primary causes of homelessness. That’s why we need to urge Congress to increase — not cut back — Section 8 vouchers. That’s why we need to expand and strengthen inclusionary zoning, like the ordinance in Pasadena that created more than 460 units of affordable housing at no expense to taxpayers (developers are required to make at least 15 percent of their units affordable). We also need to encourage cities to take seriously Assembly Bill 1866, the state law allowing homeowners to build second units (so-called “granny flats”) — a policy that has worked quite well to create affordable housing in places like Santa Cruz and Culver City.

Finally, we need to make a serious commitment to create more affordable housing by supporting the California Homes and Jobs Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 391).

This act will:
• Create 29,000 jobs annually, primarily in the beleaguered construction sector.
• Help businesses attract and retain the talent that fuels California’s economy.
• Generate an estimated $500 million in state investment and leverage an additional $2.78 billion in federal, local and private investment.
• Deploy these dollars throughout California using a successful private/public partnership model, creating jobs and generating revenue for local governments.
• Build safe and affordable apartments and single-family homes for Californians in need, including families, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness.

As Christians, Jill and I believe we have a God-mandated responsibility to make sure that our neighbors have decent housing they can afford: “There were no needy persons among [early Christians]. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and distributed it among the needy” (Acts 4:34).

Housing for all Americans has also been national policy ever since Congress passed the US Housing Act in 1949, calling for “a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.”

Decent housing for all Americans is the true American dream, one that we could and should make a reality. If wealthy and privileged Americans paid their fair share of taxes (at least as much as middle-class people do), and if the middle class chipped in a bit, we could meet this goal and end homelessness in America. Si, se puede!

Anthony Manousos and his wife Jill Shook reside in Northwest Pasadena and work to promote affordable housing as well as other community concerns, such as reducing gun violence (both are involved in the Pasadena Area Gun Buyback campaign). Dr. Shook, with help from her husband, a Quaker peace activist, authored/edited “Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models” (2012), a book that offers workable solutions and true stories by people of faith who have made housing happen for those in need. See makinghousinghappen.com.

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