Most children function within a six block radius of their home that includes going to school, shopping, worship and play. These six blocks help define who they are, what they do and what they can become and if this six blocks keeps changing every few months what are the odds of that child gaining stability and sense of worth? The majority of people would consider shelter, food and clothing as basic needs. Housing is critical as one of the most foundational requirements to live a “healthy, productive life”. Whether that shelter is a condo, a teepee and igloo or the Taj Majal....What one calls home adds to the shape of how they see themselves now and what they can envision for their future. Statistics from the 2010 Census show that almost 51% of Chicago renters and 49% of Chicago homeowners are Cost Burden, a term used to describe paying over 30% of one’s income towards housing. Many of these families spend up to 60% of their income trying to keep a roof over their families’ heads, while also trying to decide how they will use the remaining portion to cover the rest of their needs. With foreclosure still recovering from record numbers, the challenge of housing instability touches 57 of the 77 communities that make up Chicago, making it the 37th most expensive City in the U.S. This often exacerbates other issues plaguing these neighborhoods such as increasing crime rates, under/unemployment, lack of education and many others. In fact, over 200,000 residents left Chicago between 2000 and 2010, with the majority of those being family households (Chicago Rehab Network). Statistics from the National Housing Conferences’ Paycheck to Paycheck database, show that the 2017 Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a 2 bedroom in Chicago is $1232 and would require a person working 40 hours to make at minimum $22/hour to afford. With current minimum wage being $11/hour it would take someone to work at least 84 hours per week to afford this unit. It might be easy to dismiss this scenario and encourage people to go out and get better jobs, however looking at the issue from a different perspective, we still see that the average Office Clerk makes a little over $18 and would have to work 51 hours, while Bank Tellers and Janitors average a salary of about $14 per hour and would need to work 66 hours. Even a Chicago Firefighter who on average earns about $23 per hour barely makes enough to afford a 2 bedroom but what if his family consist of 3 kids or kids of different sexes that can’t share a room. City of Chicago hiring policies mandate that City workers reside within the City limits but can they AFFORD to live in the City?
My perspective on the issue come from having been born in the midst of my father’s deployment during the Vietnam War, my mother and I lived with my maternal grandmother in anticipation of his return. Once re-united, I remember somewhere around the age of 5 years old living in what seemed like a huge multi-unit building across the street from where I attended kindergarten. The apartment had lots of windows and I have a faint but fond memory of my dad (after having been up all night Christmas Eve assembling a play kitchen set for me) rushing off to a shift as a CTA Bus Driver. Shortly after that Christmas my parents used a Veteran Administration (VA) loan to purchase a two unit building a few blocks away. Although it was literally less than 2 miles away, I recognized now that this decision changed the dynamic of my life. Our new neighborhood and the stability of being homeowners exposed us to many opportunities that we might not have experienced otherwise and kept my life from being as nomadic as some others have experienced. This move enabled me to attend the same grade, middle and eventually high school with most of the same kids from the neighborhood and enjoy the stability of calling a place home. The summer before my 13th birthday, we moved exactly 2 blocks to a single family home which my parents still live in over 3 decades later. This stability helped me to be able to focus on my goals and dreams while being exposed to a variety of choices. The concept is housing as the fundamental point of growth in any other area, whether that be employment, education or social. I realize that the stability of my home and my 6 blocks helped me to dream big. My parent’s ability to use their resources to provide stability for my sister and I, opened up opportunities and relationships that I cherish to this day but it’s also the reason that now married, my husband and I have chosen to do the same with our son. Both having college degrees, we have chosen to make our six blocks in a neighborhood where this is not the reality for the majority of our fellow neighbors. While our neighborhood experiences high levels of unemployment, foreclosure, crime and violence and housing instability, it is ALSO full of the same types of families who just want to provide more for the next generation. Serving in a non-profit where I live, I see children every day who not only have to worry about getting to school and back safely within their six blocks but also if they will be able to eat again after they leave school and wondering constantly about what is even in store for them IF they do graduate. Claretian Associates has focused on providing housing first as a way into assisting with other areas, but housing must be first. Some of the children we serve come from homes where they have moved more times in a few years than some have their entire life. The instability of their housing has caused them to rotate from place to place. Homes where parents are working hard and finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet and have to decide between food, clothing and shelter as an everyday existence or having to double up or do without in order to survive. Where there is housing first then attention can be given to other goals….it is not housing ONLY just housing FIRST. Housing instability is not just an issue for poor families but 60% of ALL families in the Chicago Metro area. These are our teachers, food prep workers and even Firefighters who can’t affordably live in the City they serve. These are challenging issues that will need to be addressed or greater number of families will continue to struggle with the basic need of housing. Each of us lives within some 6-block radius and possesses the ability to make sure that there are options and housing stability for families of all sizes, whether we use that ability to become educated about the issues and support Public Representatives and legislation that promote affordable housing or support organizations like Claretian Associates; we can spread the word that housing first matters. Unless we get the basics right, we’ll continue to see families never belong to any particular 6 blocks!
This article was featured in the worldwide circulated U.S. Catholic for its Feb. 2018 issue on housing.