On the Homefront for Housing
It is so easy to take things for granted, and a few member meetings this week reinforced that. I worked with at least three members either seeking housing or financial assistance to maintain housing. While we do offer programs through our partners to help members pay for utilities, rent, etc, these cases showed me the reality that is increasingly affecting people in the Durham community. Renovated properties, properties bought up from people unable to afford their new tax bills, and evictions have been on a rise all year – and it shows in our member community. However, our hands are tied by limited alternatives and stigma.
Chapel Hill’s housing voucher waitlist has been closed since November 2015. Durham is currently not accepting applications for their waitlist, further discouraging by the reality that people on the waitlist typically spend 24 months waiting for a unit. Thus leaving disadvantaged people to fend for themselves any way they can. However, ‘housing voucher’ and ‘Section 8’ and any other name you can think of for these programs helping low-income individuals and families find affordable housing is a dirty word/phrase. I found that out when I called six different property management companies and apartment complexes refusing to accept my member’s housing vouchers. All she wants is a safe neighborhood to live in with her grandson, but the program she relies on to help can only do so much.
I am hopeful the conversation is changing, however. This week, we took part in the Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable, hoping to talk to, inform, and change the minds of local property owners and landlords about denying residents who rely on housing vouchers. We had an awesome turnout and I really appreciate Mayor Schewel carrying on Mayor Bell’s legacy to have open discussions that involve the city, private owners, and at-risk residents in order to anticipate and stymie the housing crisis taking hold in Durham. My experiences and meetings with my members this past week embodied and personified this issue. While emotionally and mentally exhausting due to current frustrations with the system, I was happy and hopeful that our work at CEF would help realize a better vision and reality for all members in our community so that they remain part of the community.
Cristian Santiago is a rising senior economics major from Tampa, Florida. Cristian is committed to helping vulnerable populations, work he sees as abundant. He will be working to better understand and address urban planning and gentrification issues with Community Empowerment Fund in Durham, NC, a nonprofit organization that focuses on interrelated issues of housing, employment, and financial independence for low-income residents.