It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. But when you care about affordable housing and believe that a roof overhead is a basic human right, then you can add one more item to the “sure things” list. You can add the mistaken belief most people have that their community has more than its fair share of poor people and that some other community is where poor people should be living.
In Ulster County, we frequently here that Kingston has way more than its fair share of poor people and that other communities in the county should be doing more to help low income families. But the minute affordable housing in proposed in communities outside of Kingston, the NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) syndrome kicks in and opponents do everything but take up arms to stop it.
The sad truth is that no municipality in Ulster County has provided enough affordable housing for its workforce, seniors and disabled residents. And the sad truth is that Ulster County is not unique. The New York Times published “Subsidies and Suspicion” by Jennifer Medina on 8/10/2011 describing a battle being waged by two suburban communities in California against people being assisted with Housing Choice Vouchers. (Click here to see the article.) While the actions of officials and residents in these communities are extreme, they are not by any means unique.
The Housing Choice Voucher program, more commonly known as Section 8, began during the Nixon presidency as a way to break up urban poverty pockets and allow more people to live in suburban areas with better jobs and better schools. The program generally requires participants to pay one third of their income for their rent. In Ulster County, the vast majority of those using the program are either senior citizens on fixed incomes or residents with some sort of disability.
Age and infirmity are not choices made by human beings but facts of life that can not be avoided. Yet the stereotype held by many is that people use the Section 8 program because they are lazy. A Mayor quoted in the New York Times story says that advocates trying to help Section 8 participants are “poverty pimps who are just looking for attention.”
It’s hard to fight such stereotypes because if 1 of 100 participants fits the stereotype, then that is the story that will be repeated and exaggerated to the point where people believe that 99 of 100 fit the description. As advocates for affordable housing and housing choice, we must do a better job of debunking the myths and showcasing the success stories. The positive impacts of this program are demonstrated day in and day out in every community in Ulster County. If you have a success story, please share it!