For most of us, we live a lifestyle that is fully self-supporting in which we have money to cover the basics of life with enough left over to do the things that make life enjoyable. However, many across Kansas City and our nation struggle each week to pay their rent, utility bills, and to put food on the table. Our nation is the wealthiest in all of human history but we need solutions to these very real obstacles that affect millions.
Finding affordable housing is a lot harder than it sounds. For people who have poor credit, an eviction (or more) on their record, or work at low-wage jobs, it is nigh onto impossible. Many times, they are forced to pay rent that is higher than the fair market value because they represent a higher risk to the landlord. This causes even more stress on wallets that are already stretched to the limit. All it takes is an illness, a vehicle breakdown, or the loss of an income to put a family in crisis.
Some would cry foul and choose to ignore this problem under the false belief that government programs are available to help these family. It can take years for a family to be awarded Section 8 Housing assistance. When it does happen, the recipients still have no security in housing because a landlord can drop out of the program at any time resulting in mass evictions. It happens quite often and I have seen it in my office several times.
One solution that seems to work is providing tax breaks to landlords to encourage them to continue accepting housing vouchers. Likewise, we also need more income sensitive housing for those who do not qualify for Section 8 Housing. Again, tax incentives should be provided to encourage landlords to base rent on the income constraints of would be renters. This creates a win-win situation for the renter and the landlord.
Another obstacle to a fully self-supporting lifestyle is the lack of affordable (and dependable) transportation. Many families live at or below the poverty level and cannot afford to purchase a vehicle that costs more than $300 to $500. Tragically, the vehicle they can afford will be unreliable at best and at worst will stop running altogether in short order. I see it all-to-often. What are these people to do? They cannot afford to take a cab to work every day. Even as “affordable” as Uber and Lift are for single trips, it is still too expensive to sustain for long.
Many turn a blind eye to this struggle and declare that this is why we have the Kansas City Area Transit Authority where for just $3.00 anyone can ride the bus all day. On the surface, that sounds great but the devil is always in the details. The bus lines are limited. Nowhere is this truer than in Platte County. There is one bus route and that only goes as far North as the airport and is limited, more-or-less, to Prairie View Road!
What are people to do who live miles East, West, or North of the bus line because their “affordable” housing is nowhere near this KCATA approved route? None of these can get to higher wage jobs because they have no means of taking advantage of our severely limited mass transit system. Sadly, Platte County has been begging the Transit Authority for years to expand the bus line only to be told the KCATA cannot afford to expand the service it provides to Platte County.
One thing that can help these families is the donation of affordable and dependable vehicles. I know individuals that go to great pains to maintain their cars and trucks, not so they will retain value for a trade later but so they remain reliable year after year. The donation of such vehicles would be a blessing to low-income families. However, the donation of cars and trucks that are reliable is a very real problem. The unscrupulous donor of soon-to-breakdown vehicles gets a tax break while also passing their problem vehicle onto someone else. This is an issue of personal integrity and must not be tolerated as it causes great harm to low-income families.
To donate a reliable vehicle, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another obstacle to a fully self-supporting lifestyle for single mothers and many families with limited income is childcare. I recently had a family in my office where both parents are working full-time but who are paying $1500 a month in childcare for their two children. In many cases, it is more cost effective for mothers, whether single or married, to receive government assistance than to work and pay for childcare.
While it is true that childcare costs have increased as childcare workers have begun to earn more, the real problem has been stagnant wages for low-income families. In response to this, more and more churches have started to offer childcare that costs much less but, when one’s income is so low, that often makes little difference. On top of that, there are often long waiting lists to access this “affordable” childcare. We clearly need more affordable childcare options including private, neighborhood options.
One Pragmatic Solution
The greatest thing that we can do is to help low-income families earn higher wages. Many in low-income families earn so little due to a lack of education and training. While it is still legal for 16-year-olds to drop out of school, doing so negatively affects lifelong wages. Very few who did not complete high school earn more than minimum wage and many cannot find full-time work. Yes, we need to do more to promote affordable housing, affordable transportation, and affordable childcare, but raising wages through education and training should be at the top of the list as well because artificially setting wages leads not to a higher standard of living, but to higher unemployment.
We can make a difference in wages by changing the law so children are no longer allowed to quit school and by helping those who do quit to earn their high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, we need more affordable academic and vocational training programs. This can be done by expanding access to Pell Grants and scholarships based on both need and performance. The truth is that education and training do the most to help individuals move from low-paying jobs to well-paying careers. As voters, we need to make our elected and appointed officials recognize that we can no longer afford to ignore this reality.
Blog written by HPC’s Blessings Program Director, David Johnson