Affordable housing in interest of common good

This year, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has joined other organizations in supporting the Homes for All agenda currently before the Minnesota Legislature.

The Homes for All proposal invests $39 million to address a spectrum of housing needs, such as developing more affordable housing, providing services to prevent homelessness and making available rental assistance to low income families.

The home has always played an important role in our nation’s imagination. It represents independence, security and the chance for self-determination.

Sadly, the reality has never completely matched the dream. Throughout history, millions of Americans have suffered homelessness. Others have worked hard just to hold onto any shelter, including crowded tenements and substandard houses. Still others have been forced to repeatedly move from one substandard place to another due to changes in economic fortune.

Homelessness and the lack of access to affordable housing is not a problem of our past. By some measures, affordable housing is growing further and further out of reach for more Americans. Housing costs have increased faster than wages in recent decades, and the number of Americans spending more than the recommended 30 percent of household income on their housing has increased by more than seven million. Families with excessive housing costs now comprise more than one-third of all American households. In Minnesota, a majority of renters cannot afford a market rate, two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent of their income. Homelessness remains ever-present, and an average of 372 families seek refuge in public shelters every day in Hennepin County alone.

Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” listed housing prominently among the rights inherent to all people as beings created in the image of God. Pope St. John Paul II made clear why this need is so crucial. In his words, “a home is more than a roof over one’s head.” It is “a place for building and seeking one’s life.”

Ensuring access to safe and affordable housing is both a mandate of our faith and good public policy, and it is a step toward a more equal, prosperous and self-reliant society. Providing people access to adequate housing costs relative to their household budget has proven to be a tremendous boon to the fight against poverty. When people have the foundation of an adequate home, and the security of stable living costs, they are freed to flourish and develop their potential. They can devote their energy and resources to making long-term improvements in their lives and in their children’s lives.

One notable study on the Minnesota Family Investment Program found that access to public or subsidized housing significantly increased the recipient’s employment rate and wage level. Keeping housing costs to a manageable level of a household’s budget leads to superior child development outcomes across the board. Children raised in a household that has access to affordable housing have higher rates of better nutrition and stronger health, as well as lower high school drop-out rates and improved levels of overall academic performance.

Catholics are called to create a preferential option for the poor —preferential concern, or priority, for the people among us who are most vulnerable. Affordable housing initiatives like Homes for All helps in providing “the means necessary and suitable for proper development of life” (“Pacem in Terris,” 11), and give many of our fellow Minnesotans a step up in their own efforts to escape poverty.

Jones is a Minnesota Catholic Conference law clerk and third-year law student at the University of Minnesota.

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