Category Archives: Housing

Blog: Concluding the 114th Congress, Moving Right Along to the 115th

Concluding the 114th Congress, Moving Right Along to the 115th

Sister Marge Clark
December 20, 2016

The 114th Congress ground to a halt about 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 10 after just barely managing to not shut down the government.  A vote passed extending 2016 funding levels into the seventh month of fiscal year 2017. We strongly believe, however, that one temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) after another is no way to responsibly fund our government.

As we prepare to enter 2017, NETWORK continues work to support all at the margins of society due to unemployment or under-employment, immigration status, health issues, and many other concerns. Our 2020 Policy Vision guides our lobbying, outreach, and education to mend the access and wealth and income gaps that are rampant in our nation.  With this Continuing Resolution in place, the only means of increasing funding where absolutely necessary is through an anomaly.

NETWORK’s 2020 Vision did not fare well in the Continuing Resolution.  We focused our efforts on three items desperately needing increased funding and  advocated forincreased funding in each of the three following areas:

1. Census 2020

This is one area that did receive an increase from 2016 funding in the CR. The Census Bureau will be allowed to spend money earlier in the cycle, in an attempt to meet urgent planning needs.  This does not give the Census Bureau additional money, as had been requested. Instead, it leaves them with the same uncertainty about long-term funding for comprehensive planning in many areas, including: the census communications campaign, development of in-language materials, updating address lists, and adequate enumerator training, not to mention making progress on updating all census IT systems and cyber-security protocols. Using this money will also reduce the funds available to conduct the annual American Community Survey which provides important data on economic and healthcare status used by many departments.

2. Refugee Resettlement

Meeting this grave responsibility requires sufficient funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to welcome and support refugees as they strive to adapt and to thrive in the United States. In FY 2016, $1.67 billion in funding was calculated to serve 75,000 (and in the end assisted 85,000). The United States announced that, due to the global refugee crisis, we would accept 110,000. However, increased funding (a minimum of $2.18 million required to support the additional refugees, unaccompanied children and trafficking survivors) was not provided.

One allowance was made, if needed, for the housing and care of unaccompanied children, with the recognition that, due to the variability in the increased number of children coming into the country, it is possible that additional funds may be needed for this population.

3. Housing

Housing in the United States continues to be in short, and expensive, supply for households with low- or no-income. Federal rental assistance is critical for there to be available, affordable housing units. Thousands of public housing units are lost each year, from deterioration and lack of repair. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of families and individuals are homeless, living with others, in shelters, and even living on the streets. For many, they are unable to get rental assistance vouchers to help pay rent. NETWORK advocated for funding to at least be able to support the number of vouchers already in use, as well as funding to repair public housing. These requests, however, were not honored in the CR. The existing number of vouchers supported by the 2016 funds cannot be supported at 2017 costs. Additionally, owners’ costs will increase and those costs will be passed on to renters who are unable to cover that increase. This leaves federal housing assistance to cover the gap. Ultimately, with this CR, more households face homelessness.  A small increase was given for rural housing, in the Agriculture appropriation.

Our elected officials have left Washington for their winter break – to be with family, celebrate the holidays, and perhaps vacation. The same enjoyment is not available for members of our communities who rely on some government assistance to live a life with dignity. This may be a person sleeping on the street, a refugee stuck in a camp somewhere in the world, or those who will not be counted in the 2020 census, leading to inadequate funding for future years of “promoting the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  We hope all legislators take a moment during their time away from Washington to reflect on the needs of the common good.

Advent Reflection: When Will We Make Room?

Advent Reflection:
When Will We Make Room?

Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, DC
December 19, 2016

As the Advent season advances, we journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where they were met with insufficient housing. Consequently, when the time came, our Lord was born in a barn.  The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph were not lazy, unemployed or stupid (as some might say about those who are in need of shelter). On the contrary, they did precisely what they were asked to do at a very inconvenient time. And still, there was no room for them.

Today, many factors contribute to homelessness. Millions of families are one health diagnosis, one legislative action, one act of violence or one pay check away from homelessness. They, like the Holy Family, are responding to the many demands of life. And for some, it won’t matter. They will find no room at any inn.

Mr. McDermott lived on the same block as my mom for about 30 years with his wife and two sons. Mrs. McDermott was a nurse and he always worked, too. The kids went to the local Catholic school, grew up, married and moved away.  As the couple faced an empty nest, Mrs. McDermott was diagnosed with cancer. Toward the end of her battle, she was at the family home and Mr. McDermott was steadfastly present to her.

Last Christmas, on a cold, snowy afternoon, the ambulance came for Mrs. McDermott. The paramedics brought the dying woman out while her husband marched right beside them. His face was a billboard of numbing, incomparable sorrow. We pitifully looked on and offered our prayers as he trudged by us.

A couple months after the funeral, Mr. McDermott seemingly disappeared and the house was emptied of its contents. Subsequently, bank notices were posted on the front door and window. There were rumors, but I do not know whether he left the house due to foreclosure, taxes, or other reasons. I do know that Mr. McDermott was a good man who worked and did everything one could expect of him during a desperately painful time. In return, there was no longer room at his own inn.

Every day, people are responding to suffering and difficult situations with honor.  Can the same be said of our government?  As a community, we must call for the implementation of programs that enable families and individuals to live dignified lives. This includes ensuring access to affordable housing and healthcare, a living wage, and preventing domestic violence.

It is vital to increase the amount of subsidized housing that is clean, reasonably priced, and rodent-free.  Enhancing the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program will allow more families to move from areas that have been decimated by government-approved policies including redlining, forced urban development, and a lack of infrastructure maintenance.

It has been more than 2000 years since Jesus came into our struggling world, seeking shelter. He continues to come to us in our neighbors. This time, let us provide more than just a barn.

Sister Mary Ellen Lacy is a public housing attorney and a “Nun on the Bus”

Homeless in America

Homeless in America

Rev. LaTreviette Matthews 
November 21, 2016

Homelessness looks different for many people. The homeless are the two working parents with children, the veteran who fought for this country and came home to nothing, the single parent mother of two or an elderly person who has no family to take care of them. No one expects to be homeless. No one wakes up one day and says “Today is a good day to be homeless.” Through unfortunate circumstances, homelessness happens. We often take for granted that we will have a place to live every day, especially if you have always had a place to live every day.  As a single parent, educated African-American female, I certainly wasn’t expecting to be homeless. I was a manager of a program for the Department of Employment Services in Washington, DC making a salary comfortable enough to support me and my daughter. I lived in a nice three bedroom townhouse, in a safe neighborhood with decent schools.  My salary was so comfortable that I was able to afford a new car. Life was great.

One day, the grant for the program I was worked under was cut. My program ended and jobs were lost, including mine. I had been receiving survivor’s death benefits from my daughter’s father who had passed away and started receiving unemployment. Between those two means, meeting my ends became even more difficult. After the rent was paid, I juggled between paying the car note, car insurance and then deciding which household bill was not going to get paid that month.

I had applied to the Department of Social Services for assistance with my utilities and rent. Since I was receiving both survivor’s benefits and unemployment, I was overqualified for any assistance by $13. After my daughter turned eighteen I stopped receiving the survivor’s benefits. The only ends that were getting met were housing. My run with survivor’s benefits ended and I now qualified for public assistance. Applying for public assistance of any kind is humbling experience. I didn’t feel independent. I felt small. Each month I drove around to different churches and organizations that assisted with rent. I wasn’t able to apply to the same place twice within a 30 day period. I was at the point where my ends were not meeting at all. My daughter and I were evicted from our home of eight years.  I was devastated, ashamed and embarrassed. I applied to many shelters in the District, Maryland and Virginia area, but because I did not have school age children, I did not qualify. I was in a state of dysphoria. Not wanting to take on another expense, I reluctantly rented a very small storage unit for my big furniture items and stuffed the rest of my belongings in my small two door car.

All of my daughter’s life, it had been just she and I. I had prepared for her to leave for college as did she, but neither one of us was prepared for us to be ripped apart from each other. We scrambled around to find a secure living environment for her so that she could continue her education. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I wasn’t prepared for that. I cried leaving her. It was a different cry than leaving your child for college. It was so painful. Me on the other hand, I drove around for ten months with my belongings in my car, staying from house to house, floor to couch.

The difficulty that people who are homeless face is the uncertainty of the day. Not knowing where you will lay your head was stressful. It was a horrifying experience. Being homeless changed me. I saw people differently. The lens through which I saw the system had been radically tranformed. The United States of America is one of the richest countries and most powerful countries in the world and yet it failed me. A system that was put in place to prevent such adversity, has failed many. While I was blessed and was able to bounce back, for the millions of men, women, children, veterans and the elderly who were not so lucky, homelessness in America continues to be a huge crisis.

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

By Meg Olson
October 6, 2016

This past week, we traveled to Indianapolis and visited Southeast Community Services, an agency that provides GED preparation and job skills training. As Sister Simone spoke with 30 clients, we learned that there is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Indianapolis and that low wages are preventing parents and grandparents from adequately providing for their families. It was also clear many of the people sharing their stories didn’t feel like they should vote because they were poor or hadn’t graduated from high school, or because they felt like politics didn’t apply to them.

We showed two of our presidential candidate Side by Side videos, one that compared Clinton and Trump’s positions on affordable housing and one on living wages. Afterwards, Sister Simone asked, “So, what do you think?” Immediately, Thomasina raised her hand and said, “I’m going to vote! I wasn’t going to because I thought I was going to destroy something…but it’s important for my family! How do I vote?” Thomasina, who had just sold her car for $150 so she could buy her kids new school clothes, is going to vote for the first time in this election and add her voice to our democracy.

Travel Log: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Travel Log: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sister Erin Zubal, OSU
July 15, 2016

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”  ~ Desmond Tutu

Indiana brought both tears and laughter as we made our way from Terre Haute to Fort Wayne.  Being a part of Nuns on the Bus has presented us with the sacred opportunity to have our hearts broken open by the brave souls who are willing to share their stories of struggle, perseverance and hope with us. The site visits afford us the opportunity to hold space for the women, men and children who each day are faced with injustice, racism, poverty, and a broken system that continues to push them further to the margins of society instead of drawing them closer to community.  This sacred story telling fuels our work to Mend the Gaps and empower our elected officials to Reweave the Fabric of Society.

1ftwayneOur site visit began Friday at Vincent Village in Fort Wayne, IN.  We were greeted warmly by families and staff of Vincent Village who had crafted welcome banners for our arrival.

Vincent Village is a long range solution to family homelessness.  This organization offers one of the most comprehensive approaches to addressing homelessness that I have seen.  The mission of Vincent Village is to alleviate the problems of homelessness by providing shelter, care, advocacy, affordable housing and supportive services for homeless families as these families build strength and strive to become independent, productive members of the community.  Rooted in a belief in God and under the direction of the board, Vincent Village seeks to affirm the dignity of life and all served.  Vincent Village has ten full time employees and eight part time employees who seem to be doing the work of fifty full time employees.  In 2015, 302 clients were served and 91% of those families moved into permanent housing.  Vincent Village is most certainly living out its mission to providing a strategic and lasting solution to family homelessness.

During the site visit we heard the sacred stories of Jennifer, Wanita, Leila and Sonya.  They shared with us the journey of their lives and how they came to know Vincent Village.  These four women found themselves in the throws of homelessness due to multi-layered factors that left them with nothing but the clothes on their back.  These four strong and valiant women took life one day at a time and did all they could to survive moment to moment, day to day.  Jennifer, Wanita, Leila and Sonya are survivors because they knew they had no other choice if they were going to save their children from the world of racism, oppression and poverty.  These four women made an intentional choice to reach out to Vincent Village for the life of their families.  The love of their children and grandchildren gave them the courage, fortitude and perseverance to survive and eventually thrive.  Jennifer, Wannita, Leila and Sonya are a few of the success stories that come out of the over 250,000 people that are homeless in the United States on any given night.  We pray that our society creates the avenues and opportunities for many more to follow in these women’s footsteps.

2ftwayneIn the evening, we were greeted by Father Phil Widman and the community of St. Mary’s Catholic Church for the Caucus.  All who gathered for the Caucus were engaged and eager to discuss the gaps facing the people of Fort Wayne.  In equal measure they were visionary and hopeful in discussing what their neighborhoods and communities could look like if the inequalities were addressed and everyone had the opportunity to experience justice and peace.  We pray that our brothers and sisters in parishes and places of worship throughout the United States take their responsibility of faithful citizenship and living the Gospel as seriously as the Father Phil Widman and the faithful of St. Mary’s.

Nuns on the Bus has been an incredible journey.  It is a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with these women as we offer a living prayer with our feet and hands and hope to create the holy places for crucial conversations and transformation to take place.  We stand in solidarity with all of the faithful women, men and children who have signed the bus and ride with us, seeking inclusion, justice and peace for all.  May our elected officials and government structures hear this message and start working on policies that address the cries of the poor and needs of the world.

See also:
Slideshow: Vincent Village
Slideshow: Fort Wayne Caucus

Travel Log: Saint Louis

Travel Log: Saint Louis

Sister Clare Lawlor, CSA
July 14, 2016

“The wheels on the bus go round and round” was the music on the bus as we entered the Forest Park Southeast area of St. Louis. Our site visit brought us to Southside Housing Coalition’s Midtown Center where we met with the women from Voices of Women.

NetworkBobbyMet by Ms. Bobbie Sykes, chairperson of VOW (Voices of Women), the sisters participated in a tour of the local neighborhood.  We saw a very mixed neighborhood with houses in varying stages of redevelopment. Ms. Bobbie explained that the area is undergoing gentrification where houses that previously were affordable were now out of the economic range of the local population. Her organization helps families stay in their homes.

Ms. Sykes gathered a group of VOW members (clients, board members, elected officials) for a discussion about the Work of VOW at their community center. Their vision affirms women, particularly mothers, are decision-makers. VOW also holds the belief that all people bring diverse experience and knowledge to our efforts and that everyone has efforts, ideas and hopes to contribute.

In order to assist women as heads of households, Ms. Sykes and her Board of Directors have embodied this mission in a project called the “Unbanked Program”.  Instead of using Payday Loans, the Board set up the “Unbanked Project”. Women can make take out small, interest free, loans. As Bobbie Sykes says, “We don’t do background checks, we do face checks!” Women repay the loans and contribute to the services of the program. Another microfinance project, Women’s Helping Hands and Tiny Hands for children, allows women and children to make and save money, amounts of which are matched by a generous donor.

See also:
Reflection on Day 4: Crafting Community
Slideshow: Southside Housing Coalition, Midtown Center

Blog: 10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

June 7, 2016

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice welcomes anyone, any time, to the conversation about how to make sure no one in the United States lives in poverty. But we strongly dispute the claim that this is a deeply complicated problem requiring a brand new agenda, such as the one likely to be presented by Speaker Paul Ryan in the coming days. The fact is Congress knows, and has always known, how to end poverty. It is simply not that difficult, in the richest country the world has ever known, to create an inclusive economy where everyone has the resources to live with dignity.

In fact, we could do much of it as early as tomorrow.

Toward that end, we offer Speaker Ryan, the driving force behind the Republican “anti-poverty” agenda, 10 things he could bring to the House Floor tomorrow that would actually work. This is not everything that has to be done to mend the gaps in the fabric of our society, but it’s a darn good start.

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — Even as the economic recovery has brought lower unemployment, too many people working full-time jobs (or even two or three of them) don’t make enough to get by. A study by the National Employment Law Project found that $15/hour was the lowest wage that would still allow a single worker to meet the basic cost of living just about everywhere in the United States. Speaker Ryan could help lift thousands of workers out of poverty by passing H.R. 3164, the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act introduced in Congress last year.
  2. Guarantee paid sick leave — 49% of workers in America still lack paid sick leave and are forced to choose between losing the salary they desperately need and jeopardizing their health and the health of those around them. After passing a comprehensive paid sick leave policy New York City found not only that it improved the health and financial security of workers, but also that unemployment dropped and businesses grew.The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932) was introduced in Congress more than a year ago. There’s no excuse not to pass this legislation today.
  3. Guarantee paid family leave — In addition to ensuring that everyone has the ability to take a sick day to care for themselves or their family, we must also guarantee paid leave for new parents and those who have to take extended time to care for a sick family member. Only 5% of workers in the lowest 25% wage category have access to paid family leave, compared to 22% of workers in the highest 10% wage category. The FAMILY Act (H.R. 1439), introduced in Congress last year, builds on successful legislation passed by cities and states around the country to create an insurance program that provides workers with the family leave they need.
  4. Expand and protect the Earned Income Tax Credit — The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of our most effective anti-poverty programs. It provides tax relief to low-income workers to ensure that no one who labors to earn a basic wage is taxed back into poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the EITC helped lift 6.2 million people out of poverty in 2013. But the current law overlooks too many workers in need, including those low income workers without children and workers under 25 or over 65. Speaker Ryan himself discussed his support for addressing these gaps when he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee, now he has the means and the opportunity to make those changes today.
  5. Expand childcare subsidies — The high cost of quality childcare takes a dramatic toll on low-income families across the country. A report from theEconomic Policy Institute found that in every state, quality childcare cost more than 30% of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. Access to high quality childcare allows parents to support their families and better prepares children to learn and grow into healthy adults. We shouldn’t ask people to choose between their kids and their paychecks — H.R. 4524, the Child CARE Act, is one way that Speaker Ryan could solve that problem.
  6. Ban the box — It’s no secret that admitting to having a criminal record is the kiss of death for job applicants. Conviction records are likely to reduce the prospect of a job offer or interview by almost 50%. There are currently 70 million people in America with arrest or conviction records, we are only just beginning to realize the massive economic implications of discriminating against the people who are reentering society and the workforce. Passing the Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470) would allow people seeking to reenter the workforce the opportunity to apply based on merit, without facing discrimination.
  7. Pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship — For the millions of people who live in the U.S. without documentation or with only temporary permission to work, finding stable employment can be nearly impossible. Many more immigrants are barred from accessing the social programs they need because of decades of anti-immigrant legislation. By allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows and fully participate in society, immigration reform would benefit individual families and our community; the CBO estimated that immigration reform would reduce our federal budget deficit by $200 billion over ten years. H.R. 13, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, had the votes to become law in 2014 and is a viable solution to fixing our broken immigration system. Speaker Ryan should work with his fellow members of Congress to pass real immigration reform now.
  8. Expand eligibility and opportunity for low-income housing units — There is a significant shortage of affordable housing units across the country. Bipartisan legislation in the Senate rumored to be introduced in the House of Representatives (The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act) would incentivize the building and preservation of almost 1.3 million homes. Speaker Ryan can move forward with his commitment to end poverty by developing a housing plan that focuses on ensuring that everyone has a home.
  9. Continue to make healthcare more affordable — The Affordable Care Act was a critical step toward making sure that all Americans can access the healthcare they need, but it stopped short of realizing the goal of universal healthcare. H.R.3241, the State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015, would allow states more flexibility and freedom to work toward universal healthcare. Speaker Ryan can move forward today to ensure that no one lives in the healthcare gap and take a powerful step toward alleviating the economic uncertainty and financial burden of families still left without health insurance.
  10. Reauthorize and improve the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act — The landmark legislation that helps feed children in schools across the country has been under attack by congressional Republicans. Congress has sought to cut the number of schools eligible to feed all of their students and increase the amount of time and effort schools must put into qualifying for the program. Beyond these initial changes that will kick thousands of students out of the program, Republicans in Congress want to replace the entire program with ‘block grants’ that will seriously jeopardize our ability to feed children in need. Congress has an opportunity to improve child nutrition programs to feed more children who are hungry. If Speaker Ryan wants to lead on poverty, he can start by leading his party away from policies that take food from children.

As NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus reminded Congressman Ryan in 2012, to implement programs that work to eliminate poverty, Congress must have the political will to raise reasonable revenue for these responsible programs. We can pay for these programs by closing tax loopholes and having the courage to fix our broken tax system. Right now, a loophole in tax law allows hedge fund managers to call a portion of their earnings a ‘capital gain’ instead of ‘income’ and that small difference costs the nation billions in tax revenue every year. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) is one such piece of legislation that promotes tax fairness in the United States.

Creative solutions to solving poverty are necessary, but we don’t need to look far to find the answers. What if — instead of giving the billionaires another break — we took that money and used it to expand Section 8, the federal program that helps low-income families find affordable housing? NETWORK Lobby judges all legislation by how it would affect people experiencing poverty. If Speaker Ryan is serious about this issue, we encourage him to use the same criteria.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Sister Janet standing with residents of Providence House

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ
May 12, 2016

As the Executive Director of Providence House – a Brooklyn nonprofit providing transitional and supportive housing to formerly incarcerated women and homeless women and their children – I hear every day the heart wrenching stories of women struggling to make ends meet, and their searches for suitable employment that will help them care for their children and get back on their feet. Each of them desperately wants to return to the mainstream of life, living in their own apartments. Time and again the frustrations they express are very real – because the wages they receive for the hours they work, just don’t match up to the cost of living here in New York City.

Stories like Marisa’s, a 35-year-old Hispanic woman with a three-year-old daughter who entered the New York City shelter system in September 2015 due to domestic violence abuse. Prior to moving to Providence House she had been working for five years in a bookstore as a barista. In those five years her wage crept up to a mere $9.50/hour. Before taxes this would equate to an income of $1,520/month: barely enough rent for a one bedroom apartment. Add utility costs, food costs, and general living expenses, it was clear that as a single wage earner she needed to either find higher paying employment, take on a second part-time job, or do a combination of the two. Because Marisa did not have a high school diploma her options were limited. She received training as a Home Health Care Aide, and was able to add 15-25 hours of health care work at $10/hour, though the hours are inconsistent: a worry for Marisa as she tries to save while juggling these two jobs.

Then there is Thomasine, a 31-year-old African-American woman with an eight-year-old son. Thomasine is already working two jobs – one as a security guard and the other as a waitress in a restaurant. Her combined income from these two jobs barely hits $1,500/month before taxes. She has now resided in our shelter for two years.

Mary Lou, age 34, a white woman with two children has lived at Providence House just over a year. She is a delivery supervisor at a restaurant, earning $11.25/hour, with a before taxes monthly income of $1,800. Mary Lou is working hard to save her money for the security deposit and first month’s rent of a two bedroom apartment – which range from $1,500-$1,800/month – but again, it is an upward battle.

The economic divide here in New York crosses racial lines, although people of color are disproportionately affected. In New York the minimum wage has just been raised to $9.00/hour and both the mayor and governor are challenging the legislature to adopt a $15.00/hour minimum wage phased in over three years. Across the country, the federal minimum wage is even lower, only $7.25/hour.

Fighting for a living wage is more complicated than simply raising the hourly minimum wage. Workers today face multiple challenges, such as employers increasing part time and contract work, receiving different wages for tipped work, and decreasing benefits.

Living wages also depend on having access to affordable housing and maintaining savings. There was a time when ‘the norm’ was an individual or family dedicating 30 percent of their income to rent, which allowed them to not only pay for other living costs (food, utilities, clothing, medical, transportation) but also contribute to a savings account or pursue further education. The women I work with will be lucky if two-thirds (67 percent) of their income is dedicated to rent. Savings become difficult, if not impossible, so even when one of our group of women can earn enough to afford her own apartment, without savings, she lives on the precipice of future homelessness if any part of her fragile income stream falters.

Living wages ensure workers can care for themselves and their families and meet their housing, nutrition, health, and other needs regardless of where they live. A minimum wage is not enough; we must have living wages.

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ is the Executive Director of Providence House in Brooklyn, New York,

This story originally appeared in NETWORK’s Connection magazine. See the full issue here.

Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

Commentary: Pope Francis’ Impact on the Catholic vote in 2016

By Simone Campbell, SSS
May 5, 2016

When the Bernie Sanders campaign announced plans to visit the Vatican, more than one journalist asked me for comment on the oddity of a progressive candidate seeking to associate himself with an institution whose views are antithetical to much of what he espouses. This, I believe, is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the majority of Catholics in America view the role of their faith in their political and civic life. Call it the Pope Francis effect. It is real and, because Catholics are the preeminent swing voters, it will matter a great deal.

In this, the first presidential election in the era of Pope Francis, attempts to control the “Catholic vote” through issues of personal sexuality – often nothing more than a crass political calculation – will no longer work as well, if at all. Instead, those who seek to divide our nation will find themselves up against a spiritual leader who has taken the teachings of our faith that have resided for many in the dusty tomes of Catholic scholarship and philosophy and made them breathing realities in our daily lives. In doing so, he has energized Catholics to embody the center of our faith – active concern for the common good and attention to the needs of those around us.

And then he has taken this sacred work a step further. The pope has reminded our elected leaders and all of us that individuals, churches, and communities, while vital to the work of taking care of each other, cannot be expected to do it all alone. The work of ending the vast disparities of wealth and opportunity in America and around the world can only be accomplished by implementation of policies on a grand scale, a political scale – a tax policy under which everyone and every corporation pays its fair share and all employers pay their workers a living wage; policies that encourage a “family-friendly workplace,” recognizing that the economy is at the service of workers, not the other way around.

This call has not been the least bit coy or veiled. In his speech before Congress in 2015, Francis told our elected officials, “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all of its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”

The pope’s words have clearly broken through to the professional political class, though whether it is through their hearts as well as their talking points, I leave to others to decide. For proof, look at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s public apology for his past rhetoric blaming the poor for their own poverty. Were Ryan to also publicly recognize, for example, that his mea culpa did not go far enough, and that the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid to those who are most vulnerable is a pro-life position, perhaps the transformation would be more believable.

Ultimately, though, Francis recognizes that politicians are essentially stand-ins for the rest of us. It is the electorate who must heed the call to become politically active. It is up to us to recognize that in the wealthiest nation the world has ever known, the fact that there is still a vast difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is a collective wrong that we have a moral obligation to make right.

Hence the pope’s repeated calls for Catholics to “meddle in politics,” his repeated calls to, yes, feed and house and meet basic human needs from our parishes, but also to go out into the world and call for, vote for, big change – a reformed immigration policy that recognizes and embraces the dignity of our brothers and sisters, regardless of where they happened to be born; national spending priorities that recognize the need for safe, affordable housing as greater than the excitement over a newer, faster, deadlier weapon of war.

While Catholics do not vote as a single bloc, they are nonetheless a renowned bellwether in the political world, having voted for the winner of the popular vote, with one exception, in every presidential election since Roosevelt.

This year will not be different. When the chattering class analyzes the “Catholic vote,” as it will inevitably do – both before and after the primary and general elections – it will find that in this year of mercy, our votes stretched far beyond our self-interest and to the common good, that we turned out and voted for the needs of those who are most often left out of our care. We will be called the “Pope Francis voters.”

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Blog: Housing Bill H.R.3700 Passes Unanimously!

Housing Bill H.R.3700 Passes Unanimously!

Bethan Johnson
February 5, 2016

On Tuesday, February 2, 2016 the House of Representatives did something it hasn’t done in recent memory: passed a bill unanimously. While a significant event in and of itself, this vote is particularly important because it meant the passage of a sweeping piece of bipartisan legislation that will help millions of families and individuals live in dignity by increasing the availability of safe and affordable housing.

The unmitigated support of H.R. 3700, The Housing Opportunities through Modernization Act, is a key step for the House of Representatives and our nation because it brings America one step closer to guaranteeing people’s essential right to housing and lays the groundwork for future cooperation in the House.

H.R. 3700 is a piece of common-sense legislation that specifically addresses the current crisis in the affordable housing market. Key features of the legislation and its approved amendments include:

  • Shortening extremely long waiting-lists for public housing by limiting housing assistance for those with incomes above 120% of the poverty line.
  • Reducing wait times for public housing units by expediting inspections on voucher-rented units, while guaranteeing the same safe and decent standards previously required.
  • Making more housing vouchers available to those in need by allowing conditional approvals on units in which non-life threatening deficiencies have been found, mandating their repair within one month.
  • Working to end our nation’s homelessness crisis, particularly as it relates to veterans, by streamlining homelessness and housing assistance programs, as well as requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs to give Congress annual reports on homelessness and the housing assistance needs of veterans.
  • Addressing the often under-discussed issue of rural housing instability and creating the Multifamily Housing Revitalization Program to provide affordable rural housing and alter regulations around loans programs to allow more families in rural areas to be home owners.

In addition, the bill addresses the specific needs of our nation’s most vulnerable: improving the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, preserving public housing assistance standards for persons living with disabilities, and protecting laws for dependent and child care income deductions.

The passage of H.R. 3700 is a success for advocates not just because of the bill itself, but also because of the creation and discussion around it. This bill exemplifies what positive changes Congress can make when it sets aside dogma in favor of common-sense legislation.

Bipartisan almost from its inception, the bill united both parties toward a common goal: promoting the common good. The discussions on the floor of the House were respectful and filled with praise for the bipartisan efforts of members; even when amendments failed or disagreements cropped up, representatives refused to close themselves off to debate or hold the entire bill hostage.

In essence, the House of Representatives chose to govern, and we will all benefit from that decision. This is the behavior we need and expect from Congress, and we hope that this bill will set them along a better path this year.

While advocates should look at the events of Tuesday night with excitement, the work is not complete. The Senate has yet to take up this issue or put forth a companion bill. Without such a bill, the great attempts at progress made by House will never have the opportunity to help millions. It is critical that we build on the momentum of the House and push the Senate to draft and pass its own version of this bill so that these vital reforms to our nation’s housing policies take effect as soon as possible. In doing so, we will ensure the comfort and stability of a safe, affordable and decent home for millions of people, which, as Pope Francis tells us, “represents the most precious human treasures….a crucial place in life, where life grows and can be fulfilled, because it is a place in which every person learns to receive love and to give love.”