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Grace Ross: Who Needs Shelter from the Worst Housing Crisis of Our Lifetime?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

 

Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

Thanks to a speculation-based housing bubble of historically unheard of heights and its subsequent crash, we are facing a housing crisis unique in our life times today. As of November 2010, the percentage drop in housing prices was greater than that of the Great Depression. And, of course, since 2010 housing prices have continued to drop.

After making bundles of money in the ramp of housing prices during the creation of the bubble, the disappearance of that phantom value from the world markets has destroyed the economy across the globe. And with it, has gone hundreds of thousands of jobs, even just in Massachusetts.

On top of that, because of inaction around foreclosures we have found ourselves in another historically unheard of situation where as housing values go down, the cost of renting in the Commonwealth has continued to increase; the banks continue to empty people and families out of homes and then take those homes off the market so that each foreclosed unit is a double whammy on our housing market – adding another household seeking affordable housing at the same time that the unit they lived in disappeared from the market.

All said and done, there’s nothing surprising that we have massive numbers of homeless families and individuals. I have not seen a percentage comparison to the Great Depression but I suspect that we are rivaling, if not surpassing those figures.

Amazingly, on top of insufficiently proactive policy steps to halt the emptying of our neighborhoods of hundreds of households (these are households that beg us when we knock on their doors to help them force the banks to accept their mortgage payments or rents), we have policy makers trying to make homelessness go away instead by wishful-thinking. Some elected officials want to solve the problem of homelessness by creating an unrecognizable policy definition of homelessness.

That way they seek backroom cuts to funding by discounting hundreds of households in the Commonwealth who got that way not only through no fault of their own, but through clear fault of wealthy interests who made a quick buck and then walked away from their commitments to accept people’s money so that they can stay in their home. Now, we are supposed to end homelessness by illusion and policy slight of hand.

The devastating future impacts of homelessness are well documented – especially their impact on children and the breakup of families from unbelievable stress financially and in terms of ill-health. It could not be more clear cut that the historically unheard of numbers of the homeless are caused by the historically remarkable, society-wide economic situation. The governmental response by our state, much of which has been attempted below the media radar, is simply astounding.

What specifically is our state government doing? The attempts to cap the state expenditures on directly sheltering the homeless at the same numbers as 5 years makes it look like some leaders are not willing to acknowledge the financial reality of more than about 3,000 or so homeless families at any time; the actual number of homeless families vastly outdistances those figures.

With some intelligent organizing and hard work through the legislature, advocates tried to ensure that the cuts to shelter at a time when society needs to ensure shelter the most were ameliorated. They fought policy definitions that ignored real homelessness – like people living in their cars or, worse, spending a night in a bus terminal would not be defined as homeless because they had access to a bathroom all night long.
 

 

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