Don Oglesby is the president and CEO of Homes of Hope, a Greenville-based nonprofit organization providing affordable housing for low-income families while also providing job training and mentoring for men overcoming addictions. An ordained minister, he earned his master’s degree in theology in 2000. Contact him.
Better housing leads to better businesses and better communities
When I was in high school I remember having certain classes where I seemed to not fit in with my classmates. Not because I was a poor student, but because I wasn’t.
For 30-plus years the federal government made a huge mistake that they’ve only recently begun to correct. I’m referring specifically to programs for affordable housing. Their mistake was to congregate all of the housing in one place, with everyone housed there in similar economic situations. I call them “poverty clusters.”
In the high school classes I mentioned, I remember doing poorly because I was made fun of if I seemed to be interested in doing well. In “poverty clusters,” this same dynamic exists.
At Homes of Hope, we are very strategic and intentional about developing affordable housing that is mixed in with existing neighborhoods inhabited by families of all income ranges. Neighborhoods already successful, or headed in that direction, because most of the neighbors are interested in being a part of a community.
We employ multiple approaches to execute this strategy, but the main two are this:
–Single family homes – market-quality – that are energy-efficient
–Rental first, then homeownership
We hear distressing stories almost every day, from families who are working, trying to do well, but can only afford to live in “affordable housing apartment complexes.” They face the obstacles of apartment living – like worrying about their children coming home from school having to walk past the “drug guys” or the bullies. Or maybe their kids don’t do well in school because they can’t sleep at night due to the late-night noise.
And these same families think that their only option beyond apartment living is to somehow qualify for homeownership in order to get a single-family home.
We say, “Let’s house you first in an affordable and energy-efficient single-family rental home, and work with you from there. If you want to be a homeowner, let’s work together and prepare you through stabilizing your budget, building some savings and providing education about the demands of homeownership.”
The result of this strategy doesn’t simply stop at the benefit to the family, either. It also results in the stabilization of the neighborhood that may need some new investment. Making sure that the rental housing is managed well is crucial, and we’ve found that this results in safer streets and healthier communities. In West Greenville, for example, this strategy has reduced the crime rate by 30 percent.
Who said that all low-income workforce housing has to be apartments? We believe everyone should have a front yard, a backyard and a front porch to proudly sit on and interact with their neighbors, and the opportunity to be good neighbors.
After all, if everyone has a home and is active in being a good neighbor, does it matter whether they pay a mortgage company or a landlord? Aren’t we all just renters on Earth anyway?
Let me close with a story to illustrate how this benefits our community.
Imagine a middle school child living in an apartment that is poorly constructed, or maybe a dilapidated rental house. He’s made fun of at school during the winter months because his clothes smell like kerosene, because the home doesn’t have adequate heat. He falls asleep in class, too, having lost sleep the previous night because of the cold or maybe because it was noisy from the partying down the hall.
Imagine his parents who spend 50 percent of their income for this supposedly affordable housing. Imagine their frustration at never being able to save because of their housing burden, never being able to move forward with hopes and dreams.
Now imagine this family paying only 30 percent of its income for both housing and energy, in a market-quality single-family home, in a neighborhood that’s improving. The child doesn’t fall asleep in class anymore, and now he’s inviting his friends home after school to do homework together because he’s proud of his home. And his parents now have something that they’ve never had before: It’s called “disposable income.” Now they can save up for a better education, or to start that business they always dreamed about, or to have a down payment on a home they can own.
Further, now the businessperson who had considered locating near the neighborhood before, but decided against it, looks again. Now he sees neighborhood stability, now he sees the area statistics about this magic phrase – disposable income – that drives his decision to locate there.
The community wins. Business is boosted, and a student does better in school. Maybe he goes on to college and stays in the community after graduation and gives back. His parents invest in savings at the local bank, and spend some of their money in the local stores that they never could afford before.
Poverty clusters don’t work. They never will. They’re like those high school classes I attended.