Affordable housing a must

Published 10:08 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

By KIMBERLY BARRETT / Community Columnist

I was recently invited to take a tour of some areas in and around Montevallo that I don’t usually see. I drove around rent controlled apartment complexes, trailer parks, government housing and a well-kept neighborhood built as part of the Habitat for Humanity program.

I also drove through neighborhoods whose homes were probably the pride and joy of their owners when built but have fallen into various degrees of disrepair, some abandoned by would-be inheritors.

At times, living in Alabama’s most affluent county, it’s easy to become blind to the many signs of poverty that surround us, one of these being a lack of affordable housing.

As I took my tour and reflected on how difficult it must be for those who live in inadequate housing, just one bad break away from homelessness, I began to ask myself (and my tour guide) what we might do to help more people in our community have affordable, adequately appointed homes in which they could live with dignity.

I was heartened to hear efforts are under way on the part of Montevallo’s City Council in partnership with Habitat for Humanity to work in collaboration with residents of one of these neighborhoods to improve their living conditions.

Shelby Emergency Assistance has also offered workshops to help stem the cycle of eviction and homelessness that exists for the inhabitants of some low-income housing. But much more needs to be done.

With one in six Alabamians living below the poverty line, which, for a family of four, means earning less than $21,954 for the household, many people are unable to afford adequate housing.

The Low Income Housing Coalition reports that Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Alabama is $664. A person making minimum wage would have to work 70 hours per week year round to afford this apartment.

In addition, a person in Alabama who lives solely on Supplemental Security Income would have to pay 81 percent of their income on rent for a one-bedroom FMR apartment, leaving little for food, medicine or other necessities, not to mention any other expenses related to recreation or personal improvement such as education.

This financial equation leaves many overworked, at the mercy of slum landlords and/or living in dangerous structures they can’t afford to maintain. We can do better. For some ideas about how, visit the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama’s website or contact a Montevallo City Councilperson to get involved.

Kimberly Barrett is the vice president of student affairs at the University of Montevallo.