Speakers look at local housing insecurity
Housing in Waltham has become increasingly unaffordable, said students and local organizers in a ’DEIS Impact event on Sunday.
At one end of Usdan International Lounge, a sign asked in red marker: “What is a home?” Another read, “Define ‘inner city.’” The event prodded students with further questions over the next hour and a half, including “What does it cost to have a home?” and “What does it mean to lose one?”
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a home is deemed unaffordable if the owner pays 30 percent or more of their monthly income for rent. However, this is the reality for many Americans, as Sofia Lavrentyeva ’17 and Rachel Lederer ’19 pointed out in a slideshow.
“A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States,” read one slide, which cited HUD. In Massachusetts, 229,600 low-income renters spend over 50 percent of their monthly income on housing alone.
Rent prices have skyrocketed since January 2010, according to data students drew from real estate website Redfin. This is especially true in the inner cities, where the price of housing had risen by 52 percent by August 2016, as compared with the surrounding metro areas, where that number was 34 percent.
In Waltham, a one-bedroom apartment can go for upwards of $2,200 per month, presenters noted. To live comfortably, a household would have to make over $7,300 per month, or $87,600 per year, which is unattainable for most American households.
The focus soon shifted to a presentation by the Waltham Alliance to Create Housing, an organization which focuses on affordable housing development.
“Enough was said about the statistics,” said community organizer Genoveva Tavera. “Enough was said about what is going on in our country, but especially in our city.” Two WATCH clients, Marina and Michelle, told their own stories about the struggle to make ends meet.
Marina lost her job, and eventually her home, after being diagnosed with cancer.
This, Tavera pointed out, is all too common a problem for people who suddenly fall ill.
“‘It’s very difficult to [get] a place to rest,’” said Tavera, translating Marina’s words from Spanish. “‘Especially the days of chemo, when they are very difficult. There’s days I don’t want to get up from bed. I’m weak in my legs.’”
Even when coping with homelessness and cancer treatments, Marina is still trying to find work.
Michelle, another client, left an abusive relationship several years ago and now works two jobs to support her two children. Though her income is too high for her to qualify for food stamps, she has had to go to the food pantry to supplement her family’s meals.
“It looks on paper like it can be done,” said Michelle. “It is very difficult. At the end of the month, I have, between all my expenses, probably about fifty dollars to deal with.”
Recently, WATCH has opened its Waltham Rental Voucher Program, which will give low-income applicants a rental subsidy.
The event, “Housing Insecurity in Waltham: Building Understanding,” was sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, Hunger and Homelessness, and the Social Justice and Social Policy Program as part of ’DEIS Impact, a series of events that celebrate and examine social justice issues.