My Turn: ‘We are talking about much more than four walls and a roof’

  • mactrunk

Published: 4/28/2021 8:52:30 AM

I am amazed at how Jasper Lapienski managed to be both supportive and disdainful of the unhoused at the same time, but he did it in his April 24 My Turn [“Housing is not our of control”]. His definition of housing leaves out one crucial word — home. Those of us who worked on the Housing Forum understand that our goals do not involve warehousing people in unacceptable abandoned buildings to move the unhoused out of sight. We want all of our neighbors to have homes that meet their needs, not just have a cold and drafty abandoned building to sleep in. Yes, Mr. Lapienski, we are talking about much more than four walls and a roof.

We want to develop a wide range of affordable housing in the region that will meet residents’ needs. That includes supportive housing for those dealing with mental health or substance abuse challenges who can have counseling or other services easily available where they live. It includes larger homes for families with four or more children and smaller ones for others. We seek to meet the needs defined by the residents, not determine what they can do without because they have lower incomes or require additional services.

You seem to have had difficulties dealing with building codes and building inspectors. It is good that you have worked through those issues and will be moving into your home in Greenfield. Yes, there are some codes that are antiquated and need to be changed. Most, however, are there to support a community standard of what a reasonable living situation looks like. People should not live with mold or without adequate heat or running water. While homes are different for everyone, no home should threaten health and safety.

In regard to how much space we take up — your comment about how more people should live together as roommates, etc. — there are many people who share homes out of economic necessity. There are people without homes who “couch surf” with friends until those friends ask them to leave. Forcing people to live together out of economic necessity is not an answer to the lack of affordable housing. People should be able to choose whom they want to live with and when.

Regarding your comments on the impact of divorce, the reason that housing prices are high is not because some families need two dwelling units where the children can sleep in comfort. Housing prices soar because there is not enough housing to go around, so those with houses to sell or rent can charge a premium. Housing prices soar because speculators, like those whom you mentioned, hold houses off the market until they can get twice or three times the value of that house because housing is in short supply. Housing prices soar because our society treats housing as a commodity to be bought and sold at will rather than a home where people will live for significant parts of their lives.

Mr. Lapienski, the bottom line is not that people who are unhoused do not care about the conditions in which they live. Quite the opposite. Some unhoused people live in tents because it gives them more personal control than living in a shelter or because this allows them to know where they are going to rest their heads each night rather than spend their days worrying about where they will sleep, or because they choose not to live with mold and vermin. The difference between an unhoused person and you who are moving into your dream home, is that they do not have the funds or the support to become part of the bidding war for those homes that are available. That bidding war takes place because there are not enough accessible, safe, and affordable homes.

The 300+ people who have spent some part of their lives in our forum workshops, are not interested in forcing their unhoused neighbors into substandard situations. They understand that a decent society means that everyone should have the opportunity to live in a decent way. It would be good if you could understand that, too.

Susan Worgaftik lives in Greenfield, is a member of Greening Greenfield and Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution and for the last two years has chaired the development of the Housing is a Human Right: We Can Make It Happen Forum. Visit housingishumanright.com.




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