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Affordable Housing: One Weapon in Combating Homelessness

I attended tonight's City Council meeting, which was short. A number of important things were discussed - including a resolution (which passed unanimously) endorsing the Newark Earthworks being recognized on the United Nations's World Heritage list as well as more impending cuts to our fire services (to be discussed further at a later time) - before I eventually rose to give the following remarks:

"Our city recently celebrated the destruction of a handful of blighted houses. I, too, am grateful that we are using our resources to deal with these troublesome properties. However, I have to ask: does demolition have to be the only answer? With what – if anything - are we planning to replace the obliterated heaps of wood, glass, and metal?

Previously, I’ve addressed the humanitarian crisis of homelessness. I believe that we can partially deal with that problem while also handling our condemned properties. Instead of spending taxpayer dollars to lay waste to these buildings, why not use those funds to fix same said structures or replace them with new ones for the purpose of providing an affordable home? After all, the primary root cause of homelessness is the lack of availability in housing within the victim’s price range. I don’t know about you, but I would rather our community be part of the solution, not the problem.

If it is too expensive for the city to take on this task alone, then we should offer incentives to prospective property owners to buy the building in question and transform it into a safe, cheap home for someone in need. Perhaps even working with organizations like the Habitat for Humanity could be an option. Or, we can seriously consider using the empty space for the construction of a village of small single-bedroom homes for the homeless; as has been done in states like Wisconsin, Oregon, and California. Honestly, the symbolism of optimism offered by erecting a new home out of another’s ashes beats the pessimism I see of leaving the space empty once the rubble is cleared away.

Rethinking our use of the wrecking ball is far from the only option before us. Beyond the condemned houses, it would be beneficial to the community as a whole if affordable housing wasn’t limited to the typically poor parts of town. Though it might make some uncomfortable, a community is best served when its inhabitants – rich, poor, and everything in between – live amongst each other as opposed to being separated from those unlike them. Moreover, allowing the poorest citizens to join their affluent compatriots enhances the likelihood that they will receive a quality education, thereby increasing their chances of climbing out of poverty.

So, in essence, affordable housing is an issue of homelessness today as well as preventing such in the future. However, continuing the trend of leading our impoverished brothers and sisters down the path of perpetual misery is not an option. If breaking the cycle and fighting poverty is desired, then it is incumbent upon us to recognize the public threat of homelessness as well as embrace the solutions thereof. We can’t just simply ignore this vital issue if we truly care about what is in the best interest of our community.

With spring having arrived and with it the spirit of hope and new beginnings, I ask you to ponder what I have said. No single policy or government action is going to solve homelessness, but that doesn’t render action useless. At the very least, we can make it easier to avoid living on the streets by doing something to ensure that an affordable place to call home is within reach and is located in an area that will help lift, not trap, the individual and their children. A place of promise, that’s the Newark I like to think of, and I’m sure that each of you feels the same way. Let’s make that vision a reality by touching the lives of our forgotten."

After I took a seat, I was pleasantly surprised that Councilman Jeremy Blake spoke up about this issue of poverty and about how it is a broad topic which includes the inability of many who've been rehabilitated to find work due to the "box" that they have to check on job applications. It was a breath of fresh air when he revealed that legislation is in the works to help deal with this hurdle here in Newark. Let's keep the pressure on. A better Newark is well within reach.

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