Saturday, July 16, 2016

Wendy Williams and HBCUs

Morning talk show host, Wendy Williams, recently made comments regarding Historically Black Colleges and Universities that didn't set well with many:

...I would be really offended if there was a school that was known as a historically white college. We have historically black colleges.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities(HBCUs) were created in the first place because blacks couldn't attend white universities. Secondly, I attended an HBCU(Southern University) where I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. I am white. Just because the overwhelming majority of individuals attending HBCUs are black doesn't mean these institutions discriminate on the basis of color. If they did, I would never have been able to attend and receive the quality education that I did. Let it also be said that Southern University was the only school that accepted me. They did for me what predominately white schools wouldn't. For that, I am eternally grateful. These institutes of higher learning serve a critical purpose and should never be dismantled.

As the result of Williams's comment, however, Chevy pulled out as a major sponsor of her show. We all have learning curves and teachable moments. Unfortunately, we are inching ever so closer toward a nation of robots where everyone will soon be afraid to voice their opinions out of fear of the backlash to come. This will not end discrimination. If anything, it will end further dialogues on topics we desperately need conversations on. If we were as outraged by the epidemic of human trafficking as we were about the opinions of others, we might possibly affect real change. But, then again, that's just my opinion.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Abyss of Affordable Housing

In an article for Slate, Jake Blumgart lays out a plan that he believes will end the homeless problem in America. As I am personally bouncing around right now from transitional housing to homelessness, I felt compelled to comment on a few excerpts from the article.

"America has never really tried to ensure that all its residents have access to decent and affordable housing."

I am bipolar. Let's just get that out of the way. Most everyone here at this transitional housing facility(i.e., halfway house) is either mentally ill, drug addicts, ex-convicts or some combination of all three. As harsh as it may sound, there are many people who aren't equipped to live responsibly in housing of their own. It could be the result of the environment they grew up in or it could be the product of their mental condition. Fixing the mental health issues that plague this country would solve a lot, but that, in itself, is equally and possibly more complex than the housing crisis. Navigating that system is often so frustrating that it leaves you with less hope than when you went in. Either way, the transitional facilities I've been to have rules and a security guard on site. If you don't abide by the rules, you are out on the streets. Some people, for whatever reason, can't abide by even the simplest of rules despite the repercussions. You can't have those people disrupting those who are honestly trying to get their shit straight. And, unfortunately, if you want to find "cheaper" housing, it will often be at the expense of you and/or your family's safety. You cannot give out the housing vouchers that Blumgart speaks of without a code of conduct attached to it that is actually enforced. In an ideal world, nobody would be homeless, but it's just not realistic.

"The consequences have been tragic for many poor families, all the more so because of the invisibility of their suffering. When total costs including utilities are taken into account, a majority of renting families below the poverty line are paying more than half their incomes for housing. “In 2013 between 50 and 70 percent of poor renting families spent half of their income on housing,” writes Matthew Desmond, drawing from the American Housing Survey, in his groundbreaking recent book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, “and between 25 and 50 percent spent at least 70 percent on it."

I couldn't agree more. I live in Austin, Texas, where gentrification(code for "whitening up the neighborhood") has sent living costs through the roof. Even "affordable housing" for those who are considered low income will often take up half your income. This will force me, once I get a check or two, to find someone who is renting a room at a price that is somewhat more affordable. If you are a minority or have kids, this is not exactly an option. Most people, understandably, don't want someone else's kids in their house. The overwhelming majority of people renting these rooms, however, are white and they are going to rent their room to someone who looks like them making the housing issue even more complex for nonwhites. On top of all that, because I have a job, the threshold for being considered "below the poverty level" often excludes those who are working. It's a never ending tale of bureaucracy nightmares.

Boarding homes present a whole other set of problems for low income individuals. Basically, someone rents an apartment or house and charges roughly $500 to $600 for you to live there. They cram as many beds into these spaces as possible. There is no one there to enforce any sort of rules so it's basically a free for all. I thought I was going to get robbed at one of the boarding homes I went to. The place was filthy. Some people I know have told me about crack vials lying around. There have been reports of abuse on residents who are unable to defend themselves. Stealing crucial medications from residents is another problem regarding boarding houses. Why is this allowed to continue? Because the state of Texas does not regulate boarding homes. Many people live off their disability checks which amounts to roughly $600 a month. Being that the cost of living in Austin is growing every day, many low income individuals have nowhere else to turn.

"An accompanying law to prevent landlords from discriminating against Section 8 users could mitigate large concentrations of voucher holders."

There are already laws in place to prevent housing discrimination and, like everything else, landlords know how to get around it. If a particular apartment complex doesn't want you to rent from them, they will likely say that all their units are full whether they are or not. If you have bad credit, like myself, they may ask you for first and last month's rent on top of deposits which could easily discourage someone from living there. On top of all that, if an apartment complex really wants to get rid of "undesirables," they will simply raise the rent and call it capitalism. Good luck stopping that.

"A lot of landlords could get behind a universal voucher program. This would be an intervention with landlords to help families [obtain] the most basic necessity in a way that's efficient and scalable."

The landlord is a mythical figure. When you rent an apartment, you rarely if ever see this person nor do you know their name because they're too busy collecting money while hiring others to do their dirty work. I lived in an apartment complex in Austin that was owned by a company in California. They could care less about what's happening at those apartments, much less vouchers from low income individuals.

"In an essay in Democracy, Peter Dreier recommends an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to act as a kind of Section 8 voucher through the tax code, which could help renters cover costs without the bureaucracy of a housing authority and without substantial upfront outlays."

This proposal would be useless for many people, including myself, as many individuals have their wages garnished including their tax returns for whatever reason. You can chalk mine up to student loans. Yes, I have a college degree which means nothing in today's economy.

In conclusion, I agree with Mr. Blumgart that the system is broken. This "system" has both helped me and failed me, leaving me anxious as to what the next day will bring because each day is filled with uncertainty. They may put a roof over your head one day and tell you your time is up the next. There are good people who truly want to help you get on your feet and there are others who just dial it in. I can't say that I blame the latter. It's so easy to lose your idealism in this abyss of hopelessness.