Six days out of every seven volunteers show up at Columbia Community Care sites and facilitate the distribution of food, hygiene products and other necessary items to members of our community. Their work is a lifeline. The donations are supported by individuals and groups from all over Howard County. The work of founder Erika Strauss Chavarria and her team has been featured nationally on NPR’s Hidden Brain.
The economic instability underlying this desperate need during the Covid 19 crisis is provided, in part, by a lack of affordable housing. Decisions about affordable housing come from our local government. Local government is elected by us. We are responsible.
It’s all connected.
From “The Difference”:
I’ve written about this before, but it has come back to the front of my mind as I watch the massive effort put forth by Erika Strauss Chavarria and her team at Columbia Community Care. Why is their work necessary? I would argue that the combination of low wages and high housing costs is a recipe for disaster. Low wages are not specific to our area but the high cost of housing is definitely a local feature.
The work of Columbia Community Care, the Howard County Food Bank, and other such local efforts is necessary not just because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but, perhaps even more, because of the crazy imbalance our culture perpetuates for the marginalized.
We have all seen plenty of articles recently about the importance of essential workers during this crisis. So many of those people without whose work we cannot survive are the same people whose low wages and high housing costs leave them just barely making it during the best of times. What would happen if we, as a society, chose to honor the dignity of their work by insisting on a living wage, and pushed our elected officials to support affordable housing solutions and fought for them ourselves? What if we were determined to remove the barriers which keep members of our community perpetually behind, perpetually out of balance, and perpetually fearful?
Right now the County Council is working on our annual budget. It’s a difficult, economically uncertain time. They must assess what is most important for the good of the community. It’s hard work.
Guess what’s on the chopping block? Affordable housing. A project you may have seen called NCC, or the New Cultural Center, combines an arts venue with a housing component. Included is affordable housing for eighty-plus families in the heart of Downtown Columbia. A project like this is the result of a lot of complicated financial agreements and the joint cooperation of a variety of local and state organizations.
A letter from the Association of Community Services outlines:
- the importance of the multi-purpose facility for development of 87 units as a contribution to closing the County’s affordable housing gap
- project delay threatens the already secured $65 million in State and other funding that will fully fund the affordable housing component of the NCC
- delay would also threatens development of the other four (4) multi-use projects that are to include almost half of the 900 affordable units the County committed to develop in the 2016 Downtown Development Plan.
The three council members proposing these cuts (and a host of others) are Deb Jung, Liz Walsh, and David Yungmann. They no doubt believe that these are things we cannot afford. I would counter that anyone who is meeting the needs of our most vulnerable right now is painfully aware that what we cannot afford is more poverty creation. Poverty acceptance. Poverty as a part of the way things work.
High housing costs make people dangerously poor in Howard County. Either we make affordable housing a priority or we are tacitly accepting poverty as a necessary evil that makes things work better for the rest of us. If our family budget is balanced through choosing to sustain poverty, what kind of family are we?
It’s all connected.
Please write the County Council if you feel we should make affordable housing a priority even during (or especially during) economically difficult times. It’s easy to write the entire Council at this address:
Make the connection.