New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman says Homelessness and housing affordability is an issue that confronts Newark and the entire country. But she says she hopes that as a member of the House appropriations committee, that’s responsible for setting funding levels for federal departments and agencies, she can help steer more dollars toward the nations housing crisis.
“The legislature which puts the money in has demonstrated its commitment to diversity in housing, to fixing up some of the public housing that has been in such disrepair, looking at the vouchers and seeing what makes sense , how to make them more useable, and all of those issues. But there’s not a will that comes out of this administration or an understanding that comes out of the secretary of HUD about what their mission should be.”
Watson Coleman was among several panel members who led a discussion along withn local advocates, following a screening of the film the invisible class. A not yet released documentary that examines the three causes of homelessness: housing shortages, income inequality, and the criminalization of homelessness.
One of those in attendance was Arnold Cohen with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
“We cant talk about an affordable home without talking about a job, if somebody had a job that paid a decent wage then they could afford the cost of that housing, so we need to be taking it on both sides, and as the film pointed out what we have is we’re losing our middle class here.”
According to the national low income housing coalition Seventy-five percent of all extremely low-income
families are severely cost-burdened, paying more than half their income on rent. And New Jersey has the nations seventh highest housing wage, which means a person has to earn more than twenty eight dollars an hour or work more than one hundred thirty one hours a week at minimum wage, to afford a two bedroom rental home. Arnold says while those statistics seem out of reach the state’s housing trust fund and department of community affairs, led by Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, is making progress for the first time in nearly a decade, to the tune nearly $59 million provided in Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed 2020 budget.
“Once that budget passes we need to be fighting to make sure those dollars are used effectively and efficiently to provide homes where needed and how needed.”
Diane Yentel is with the National Low Income Housing Coalition; Yentel says progress is being made at the federal level as well to address both low-income housing as well as public housing.
“When we started as a country talking about the need for an infrastructure spending package housing was not part of the conversation. We pushed to make the case that housing is infrastructure just like roads and bridges, it’s a critical part of communities to help low income people and the communities themselves thrive, so we’ve gotten to a place now where chairwoman Maxine Waters, the chair of the house financial services committee to, if there is a infrastructure spending package, to provide $70 billion for public housing capital repairs and $5 billion for the housing trust fund.”
Yentel says she hopes people realize homelessness did not always exist in the U.S and that inaction comes at a cost.
“We’re paying for homelessness and housing poverty through increased health costs, declining wages, lowered educational attainment, we can instead choose to invest that in the homes that are needed to end homelessness and housing poverty.”
Despite what progress is being made on a federal and state level advocates who work on the local level say its just not enough. Elaine Helms is the founder of RAIN foundation of Essex County, an organization that serves LGBT homeless youth.
“This is most important to the LGBT community and the things that’s happening today in this society with that administration that we have, I’m afraid for my kids, I’m afraid.”
According to a study by the Williams Institute LGBT Youth make up less than 7 percent of the population in the U.S. but make up a staggering 40 percent of homeless youth. Helms says one of their major hurdles is finding permanent housing something Helms says can be a matter of life and death.
“Without a place to live, without a bed at night there’s no way a person can strive let alone get educated and work because you need an address and without that you cant go anywhere and how are we going to grow as a United States of America.”