Advocate perspective: If education is the great equalizer, adequate housing the first step
I have always been a strong advocate of education. Through my work, study and voluntarism, I’ve learned that education is the great equalizer. As far back as 1848, Horace Mann cited in Education and Social Inequity that, “Education, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery.”
All data supports the reality that high quality schools level the playing field for disadvantaged children. Education gives children and youth critical skills and competencies for the workplace that fuels economic growth and development for all. If I had won the lottery, I would have put my winnings — after taxes, of course — toward educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.
However, in recent years, I’ve become aware of an even more basic human need — stable, safe, energy-efficient and affordable housing. My son, who was working for a Baltimore/DC affordable housing group, started bringing the issues surrounding stable and affordable housing to my attention. Local advocates like Annie Busch, Doug Pitt and Debbie Hart were also urging our community to understand and address this most basic need.
Living without stable housing can drastically worsen health. Homelessness exacerbates mental illness, substance abuse and chronic physical health conditions. Research shows that lack of stable housing affects a person’s (or family’s) ability to obtain necessities, such as food, clothing and medicine.
A strong body of evidence links inadequate housing and homelessness to child abuse and neglect. Housing instability can lead to frequent school moves, high rates of absenteeism and low test scores among children. Aha! If education is the great equalizer, you need stable, safe, energy-efficient and affordable housing to get there!
In other words, housing affects almost everything. Yet, there are not enough housing subsidies to meet the need. Only one in four households eligible for housing vouchers receive them and waiting lists in many cities are years long.
While we do have federal and state low income housing tax credits for individuals earning 60 percent or less of the area median income, there simply are not enough tax credits allocated to our area to create more than 40-50 housing units a year. The private market does not produce enough affordable housing, especially for deeply poor families.
As a result, the number of families paying too much for rent is at historic levels. (Anyone paying more than 30 percent of their income is considered “rent burdened.”) This leaves little for food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, etc. And worse, they face eviction and/or homelessness. Have you read “Catch 22”?
I have come to the realization that stable, safe, energy-efficient and affordable housing is a community imperative. Stable housing improves many outcomes. If left unanswered, the issues — such as a quality education — will have to be addressed at a much higher cost somewhere else in the Catch-22 cycle.
Now when I buy a lottery ticket, my plan is to use the winnings to support stable, safe, energy-efficient and affordable housing for this community that I love. Better yet, let’s not count on my lottery winnings. Let’s address this issue with sustainable resources that will truly address the need and prevent people from entering the vicious Catch-22 cycle.
Morey Mechlin retired from Care to Learn in 2015 after thirty years in the nonprofit sector. She has served on the boards of numerous community organizations and is the recipient of multiple awards from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, City of Springfield and others.