Faith Works 6-5-10
A Roof Over Your Head, A Place To Rest Your Heart
Today you may well hear about the housing voucher line in downtown Newark.
Called "Section 8" or "Metro housing" vouchers, this is a federal program that's been around since 1974 to help low-income families stay housed. It's not a giveaway, since each applicant family is means-tested as to income and assets to see if they qualify, and they get a voucher which means that they pay a certain percentage of their income in rent, normally no more than 30%.
The federal part is through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which pays the rest of the rent above that 30% according to what is determined to be "fair market value" for the area and size of the unit rented. Some landlords find that amount to be too restrictive, or the inspections too onerous, and choose not to participate; most landlords like to keep their units occupied, and the guarantee of income from being part of the program is worth any downsides.
The major problem, so to speak, with the Section 8 program is that only a certain number of these vouchers are available at any given time, no matter how many people qualify. This means that the waiting list is usually long, and no matter how quickly people increase their income and move off the voucher program, there's plenty already "pre-qualified" to step into that voucher, so the waiting list is opened at what has become long, sometimes up to two year intervals.
Which means when the "list is opened" again, as it will be this Saturday for the Licking County Metropolitan Housing Authority, there's gonna be a line. A long line.
This time, the waiting list is likely to go over a thousand. If there's a pool, I call 1,200. Sadly.
The Metro Housing folks, who have their Section 8 offices now at 144 W. Main St. (sharing the space with the Community Health Clinic), are trying to be kind to their clients, making special arrangements to use the 5th Street gymnasium just around the corner. This will keep people, some of them, out of the sun or rain or whatever weather Saturday brings.
But there's likely to be a line around the block again. It's from 10 am to 3 pm, and you can check out www.lickingmha.org for more information.
Some of my non-church friends ask "what do churches do for the homeless?" the answer, in fact, is quite a bit. Between the Licking County Coalition for Housing and its transitional housing program, the Salvation Army emergency housing shelter, the Coalition of Care pooled funds from congregations to help keep people in current housing, and Habitat for Humanity which is working right now to finish one of some two dozen homes to date built by people of faith alongside of the future homeowner: quite a bit.
There are also churches which own rentals, who work with some of the above mentioned programs or other supportive housing programs, not to seek the highest income for properties they own but to make the most compassionate use of them. And I can testify from personal experience that both landlords and LMHA board members and staffers in between are often people of faith, who go the extra mile to help families and individuals in need to not fall in between the cracks.
What can churches do to help the ongoing problems we have in Licking County of adequate, safe housing for low-income people? First, please pray for grace & peace among everyone who is going through this Section 8 process today. It can be incredibly stressful for everyone on both sides of the table – previous years have been very friendly and filled with little moments of kindness, but the last couple years have not been good for anyone's stress levels. Pray for them all!
And look at how your own congregation talks about and uses and relates to property. There is more that many of us in the faith community can do to be aware of the fact that a decent three bedroom rental for a family of four is beyond the reach of a two worker, fulltime, basic wage household. If you're even a couple notches above minimum wage, you may still not be able to find a place to live for you and your kids working 40-60 hours a week, and if you're underemployed as so many are . . .
We'll be back to this subject in the coming weeks, but for now, keep praying!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; the need for adequate housing for low-income families is a subject he tries to write about no more than a dozen times a year! Tell him where your heart rests at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.