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Monthly Archives: December 2011
By Ann Pannier
The concept of the common good is found in many places in our culture, our history, and in our faith traditions. For example, consider Thomas Jefferson’s eloquent words in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. At a minimum the pursuit of happiness requires food, a place to live, education, work (or basic care for those unable to work due to physical or mental illness), and health care.
In the Hebrew Bible the prophets preached justice as God’s will for all believers. What the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God. (Micah 6:8) By acts of tzedaka (doing justice), the people act in accordance with God’s will and fulfill their obligations to the covenant. There is also the concept of tikkun olam which means repairing the world. Abraham Heschel, the Jewish theologian, warned of the tyranny of “needs” that plagued and still plagues the United States. He suggested considering God’s demands as a way of distinguishing objectively genuine needs from merely subjective wants. Heschel’s admonition leads us to reflect on the huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. How much is enough for those with extreme wealth? How far below the poverty line must some fall?
In the Gospels Jesus continues the prophets’ exhortations, commanding us to love God and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22: 36-40). Love is not just a warm compassionate feeling; it is action on behalf of someone in genuine need. In Catholic social teaching the concept of the common good is related to the belief in the dignity of the human person: These demands concern…..the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004). Catholic teaching is based upon the natural law tradition originally formulated by Plato and Aristotle and further developed by Thomas Aquinas and others. Natural law teaches that the most basic reason for doing good for others is that at the deepest personal level we want to work to benefit others. It coincides with our deepest needs. The phrase, “Virtue is its own reward,” captures the idea of natural law.
In Protestant traditions the concept of the common good rests on beliefs similar to those of Jewish and Roman Catholic traditions such as universal human dignity and shared responsibility for the welfare of all. New Testament reminders that “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 22:40) exemplify religious commands to work for the common good. The contemporary Evangelical ethicist Ronald J. Sider argues that there is a positive role for government to play–to be what Paul calls “God’s servant.” (“For the Common Good,” Sojourners Magazine, April 2007)
One of the five pillars of Islam is zakat (almsgiving). Also in the Islamic tradition is the idea of maslaha (translated as either “public interest” or “common good”). This concept is invoked to prohibit or permit something on the basis of whether it serves the public’s benefit. There is an ethic of mutual support and a strong sense that government also has a responsibility to help the poor and needy.
Unitarian Universalists are well known for their participation in social justice advocacy.
Among their beliefs are these:
~the inherent worth and dignity of every person
~justice, equity and compassion in human relations
~the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all (Emersonsermons.com)
Finally, John Donne masterfully sums up the concept of the common good: No man is an island entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
IMMEDIATE ACTION: Use your civic voice to contact Governor Dayton this week to fund affordable housing
The Message: Include $40 Million in the bonding bill proposal for affordable housing development.
Whom to Contact:
Toll Free: 800-657-3717
Minnesota Relay 800-627-3529
Contact the Governor’s Office
- Approximately 450-600 housing units will be constructed or rehabilitated with this funding, which will provide needed jobs for Minnesotans.
- Funding is needed for Affordable Housing to address the gaps in the community for housing people with very low incomes.
Proposal by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to use the $40 million appropriation from the bonding bill:
- $30 million to address affordable housing infrastructure needs in communities throughout the state. Funds will be used to:
- $10 million for public housing preservation.
- Housing must be affordable to and occupied by low-and moderate income households.
- preserve existing federally subsidized rental housing,
- stabilize communities impacted by the foreclosure crisis by creating new affordable housing opportunities through rental units and community land trusts, and
- construct or acquire and rehabilitate permanent supportive housing, particularly for persons experiencing or at risk of experiencing long-term homelessness.
- In the next 5 years an estimated 30% of the 31,000 privately owned, federally assisted Section 8 housing units are at risk of opting out of the program and will no longer be affordable housing. Tenants in Section 8 housing pay only 30% of their income towards the rent; the federal government makes up the difference.
- This housing is approaching 30 years old; many of the properties do not generate sufficient income to pay for needed maintenance.
- $1 in state funding for gap financing can leverage $2 in private funding: $1 from amortizing debt paid by the owner and $1 in private equity from housing tax credit investors.
- 26,000 residential mortgages were foreclosed in 2010.
- A “shadow” inventory exists of homes that banks own but have not yet put on the market for sale.
- An estimated 15.9% of all mortgages in Minnesota are underwater – the amount of the mortgage exceeds the current value of the property.
- Communities become less stable, have a difficult time attracting new residents and businesses and the remaining residents’ homes lose value when significant portions of a community’s residential properties are vacant and/or foreclosed.
- An estimated 46,400 persons were homeless at least once during 2009, the last year for which the Wilder Research Center made estimates based on their statewide survey. 13,100 persons were homeless on any given night.
- Children comprise one-third (1/3) of the homeless population. The number of youth ages 12-21 who were homeless increased between 2006 and 2009.
- Persons experiencing homelessness face serious barriers to stable housing. Sixty percent (60%) of the persons experiencing long-term homelessness suffer from a serious mental illness. One-half of all persons experiencing long-term homelessness suffer from at least one chronic health condition. Thirty percent (30%) are women fleeing domestic abuse.
- Permanent supportive housing is proving to be a successful strategy to end long-term homelessness. Persons housed in permanent supportive housing are maintaining housing stability: 86% of the households served in permanent supportive housing in Minnesota were still housed at the end of the reporting year. Emergency expenditures are reduced due to reduced usage of jails, emergency rooms, and detox facilities.
- Minnesota has achieved 90% of its goal of 4000 permanent supportive housing opportunities as part of the Business Plan to End Long Term Homelessness.
IMMEDIATE ACTION: Contact Minneapolis City Council Members about the Affordable Housing Trust Fund!
The Message: Fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) at $9.2 Million as identified in the Budget Proposal.
Last week, the Minneapolis City Council held their first public hearing about the 2012 budget. A small group of supporters of the AHTF attended the hearing and testified in support of the Mayor’s proposed allocation. In addition, supporters have been contacting their City Council members to advocate for the Mayor’s budget proposal.
The Minneapolis City Council is still working on the 2012 budget and need to hear from you in support of the proposed AHTF allocation. The Ways & Means committee will be working on the budget during the month of December. The budget will have its final hearing at a city council meeting and be adopted Dec. 14th.
Please email council members and the mayor supporting the mayor’s proposed funding of the AHTF before Dec 14th.
Remember, the Twin Cities area has an extremely low vacancy rate of 2.4%, and over half of Minneapolis renters are paying more than 30% of their incomes toward housing. We also have 5,500 homeless children in the Minneapolis Public Schools. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund creates jobs, builds needed affordable housing, leverages millions in additional investments and increases the tax base.
Click here for city council member contact information.
Investing in the AHTF makes sense for Minneapolis. Support the 2012 budget proposal to fund the AHTF at $9.2 million.
Whom to Contact: Your City Council Member
- The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has created over 4000 housing opportunities in Minneapolis since 2003.
- Every dollar from the housing trust funds leverages $6 from other public and private sources.
Need for housing grows:
- The vacancy rate for any apartment is 2.4%, making the search for affordable housing even harder for those with low incomes.
- 54% of renters in the metro area pay more than 30% of their income on housing.
- 5500 children in Minneapolis Public Schools are homeless.
- Only 22% of low income households in Minneapolis have affordable housing.
- Emergency shelter costs $2700 per month for a family
- On average it costs $650 to prevent a family from becoming homeless in Minneapolis.
- 10,000 people waiting since 2008 for federal Section 8 housing vouchers in Minneapolis to help make their rent affordable.
- The average monthly rent rose to $921, compared to $902 a year ago. Low vacancy rates signal likely future rent increases.
Statistics from Star Tribune, Minnesota Housing Partnership Quarterly Report