Growing up in D.C. I saw public housing developments be replaced with new luxury apartments, cafes and eateries. “Wow, it’s so vibrant now,” I would tell myself. But it wouldn’t take long before I saw someone wrapped up in ragged blankets outside of a business, and I would think: What cost, and to whom, does transforming a neighborhood come with? Maybe these changes would give vulnerable persons another chance to have a job, so that they’re not displaced. They would have a place in the neighborhood like anyone else, not be shut out. It would be a chance for them to start over and get back on their feet. But over the years, I’ve learned having a job isn’t a single solution to prevent homelessness or for someone to end their homelessness. Instead, it starts with keeping housing affordable for individuals and families with low and moderate income levels.
While working at a homeless organization for four years in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the most wealthiest counties in the nation, I gained insight on what it means to afford housing cost. For the first time, I learned about the average cost of housing in the D.C. area, and it was startling. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Montgomery County is over $1,400. How many workers could afford it?
Now a week into my new job at NHC, I’ve had the chance to look at our Paycheck to Paycheck 2016 report and view the webinar. And it really hit me. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to only make minimum wage or be extremely low income for housing to be unaffordable. Even a professional, like a school social worker, would have trouble being able to afford living near where he or she works. Out of the 210 metropolitan areas assessed in the report, only 52 percent were affordable for the average school social worker.
What if someone’s check went to cover car expenses, an unforeseen medical expense, an unexpected legal expense or a family emergency? What if their work hours decrease? What if someone is only making minimum wage? The scenarios can be endless, but the solutions aren’t— and one solution is increasing the supply of affordable housing. I remember hearing people can be one paycheck away to being close to experiencing homelessness. And for me, “Paycheck to Paycheck” has put this in even greater perspective.