What happens when people don’t make enough money to live where they work? It’s a question hundreds of thousands of people in our own state of California face every day. It’s a growing reality for our neighbors in Pomona and certainly for people who live in adjacent communities. People are moving further east to afford housing. Results include more clogged freeways, increased pollution and a further decline in community as people lose the resource of time to be invested where they live.
We have been examining the housing crisis with our other ICON institutions for some time, and we are beginning to finally figure out some ways we might move the dial, so to speak. There is a decided lack of affordable housing. Now, before you think affordable housing is “the projects,” allow me to correct this misconception. Every city is required by the state to make plans for housing at all income levels. It’s called Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). The City of Pomona is supposed to have built an additional 12,000 units across the income needs from low to market rate by now. That hasn’t happened.
A city can’t build the housing; a city has to find developers or be a place developers will build. A city also has a responsibility to ensure housing for all its members are built. However, most cities have not done what their RHNA indicates that they are supposed to have done in terms of approving development. Affordable housing in LA County is based on median income. Median income for a family of 4 in LA County is $73,000. Median income for a family of 4 in Pomona is at least $15,000 less. Even so-called affordable housing in Pomona could price out people who live here now, many of whom are raising families.
We could simply watch as by-standers, shake our heads and assume the forces are just too big for us to make any difference. Gentrification is coming; what can we do about it? I think there is plenty we can do IF we develop the relational power with more people inside our institutions, among our institutions, and with potential allies. Gentrification is coming and the displacement of our neighbors can be mitigated with thoughtful planning. But that thoughtful planning will require a constituency of people who value what is called the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
The bottom line of profit is often the only consideration when making decisions about property and wages. The business entrepreneurs who work from the triple bottom line know that the planet and its people are also part of the equation that must be considered in a moral universe.
The assumptions of Jesus’ moral universe were challenged by an outsider. A woman from Syrophoenicia asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus refused. The woman was undeterred and retorted, “Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs under the table.” (Mark 7:24-30) The moral universe of Jesus expanded in this story. I wonder, could our own moral universe be expanded to include our neighbors who live with the threat of displacement, who are turned away from the tables of inclusion, healing and power today?
The main character, Dorthea, in Middlemarch, written by George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) asks, “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” If you would like to know more about how you can be part of the creative work of caring for all our neighbors as we face the housing crisis, give me call. I’d like to have a conversation.
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