the philanthropic community has basically abandoned funding services that improve the lives of the residents—after school programs, summer camps, health & wellness and financial literacy, to name a few. Government must increase its commitment to affordable housing. It is clear, if we are to tackle social inequality in this country, housing and related services must become a top priority of these funders. Where We Have Been . . . Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his Great Society, a set of domestic programs to eliminate poverty and racial injustice in America. According to some estimates, we’ve spent upwards of $22 trillion taxpayer dollars in hopes of creating such a society. Yet fundamentally little in the way of poverty and racial injustice has changed. Today, 46.5 million Americans live in poverty, 16.1 million of whom are children. Millions live on the edge, one job loss or one illness away from an impoverished existence. Why has this monumental—and costly—social endeavor failed? While there are a number of reasons, a key component of social inequality is our housing policies, which for decades have simply created islands of poor and low income families who, for all intents and purposes, have been ignored and cut off from mainstream society. Our housing policies have forced entire generations of Americans into neighborhoods—whether labeled public housing, low income housing, or under capitalized affordable housing—offering little supportive educational or social services. The result has been unemployment, ever increasing crime rates, drugs, gangs, domestic violence, child abuse, high rates of incarceration and premature deaths. Consequences of Ignoring the Crisis Where and how people live either provides or deprives them of opportunities to engage in healthy and prosperous lives. However, the fact is that it’s not only those who live in unhealthy homes and environments who are affected. All of society suffers when people are denied decent, safe, affordable housing.
When people are forced to spend as much as 50% of their income on housing the following are often the result:
• They live in substandard housing. For many, however, the infrastructure of their neighborhoods is important to them—churches, relatives and friends nearby, public transportation, social services, etc. Moving new affordable housing to the suburbs is not the panacea some believe. Much needs to be done to preserve deteriorating housing and improving neighborhoods in the urban cores. • Those who seek nicer housing at affordable rent farther from urban areas find themselves pushed further distances from their work. This not only places a strain on them and their families with respect to commuting times and costs, but also on their employers who often experience higher absenteeism and worker turnover rates, greatly adding to the cost of doing business. • They are often forced to rely on fast food establishments for their caloric intake. A family can buy a lot more calories for $10 at McDonald’s than at the fresh fruit and vegetable section in a grocery store (if they have access to a grocery store) plus there’s no preparation required after a long workday and commute. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was a staggering $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars.
Unaffordable Housing: A Root Cause of Social Inequality
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