Bob's Links and Rants

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Homeless for the holidays

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a minimum-wage worker in the Ann Arbor area has to work 106 hours a week to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment. The NLIHC's Out of Reach 2004 report compares typical rents throughout the country with wages, and the ability of low-income workers to be able to afford rent. It could be worse--in San Francisco, it takes 140 minimum-wage hours! But it's bad enough in Ann Arbor that a man nearly got himself compacted the other night because he was sleeping in a dumpster.

I went to a local town meeting last night, organized by some local peace and justice advocates. Some people talked about things I have been thinking about, like the need to develop a diverse local economy as the global economy inevitably crumbles. Others talked more specifically about issues that the community is not adequately addressing, such as child care, racism/sexism/classism, and affordable housing.

I haven't read enough about the housing crisis to know what the real root causes are or what we can do about it. About all I can figure out so far is that Ann Arbor has a reasonably robust economy, with the University and Pfizer and the auto companies and high tech, that keeps real estate prices high. But the economy is not robust enough to employ everyone, and the low minimum wage keeps many working people in poverty and on the brink of homelessness, if not in it. McMansions continue to be built throughout the area, each one typically housing three or four people, while for the same amount of money apartments housing dozens could probably be built. But the profits are greater with the McMansions, so they get built and the apartments don't.

In general, throughout the country, the problem seems to be that most jobs are in high-rent districts, but the wages there can't pay the rent. So the workers live miles away, spending dollars they don't have on older cars or bus passes.