Marjorie Decker, a Massachusetts state representative.
Miles Toussaint, granted a full scholarship to Harvard University.
Karen Forte, a respected teacher.
Tiffany Lee, a single mother and business analyst.
What do these four strangers have in common? They grew up or lived in public and affordable housing; more importantly, they overcame the stereotypical expectations society has held them to for far too long.
When you hear “public housing,” what do you think of? Many people to this day firmly believe that a majority of public housing residents are single, unemployed mothers with several children, people receiving and abusing welfare, and that these communities are crime-ridden and dangerous.
There are many more of these negative stereotypes associated with public and affordable housing, but the “ReThink: Why Housing Matters” initiative is here to change that by inspiring Americans to rethink their preconceived notions about individuals, families, and their own communities. To do so, ReThink wants to give you a glimpse into real people telling real stories about their real experiences in public and affordable housing.
With a new PSA, ReThink takes you into the homes and lives of Miles Toussaint, who worked hard to earn his full scholarship to Harvard University, Marjorie Decker, who paved her own way to become a Massachusetts state representative, Karen Forte, who overcame her circumstances to become a well-respected teacher, and Tiffany Lee, a single mom and business analyst, to dispel the misconceptions many people have about public and affordable housing and its residents.
Beyond these four individuals, public and affordable housing provide homes and services to approximately 13 million people in the U.S.; however, the need is much greater than that with 27.8 million still in need of assistance. Given current economic and federal budget conditions, public and affordable housing availability continues to decrease, while the need for it continues to grow. In fact, according to a recent study by the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC), just 53 out of 100 renters across the U.S. live in a unit they can comfortably afford, and only one-in-three families that qualify for housing assistance receives it, leaving very little wiggle room for other expenses.
What’s even more frustrating is that Americans are aware of these issues, and even sympathize with these families and individuals — just not enough to do something about it themselves. According to the 2016 ReThink: Why Housing Matters Survey, the majority of Americans (84 percent) believe U.S. citizens deserve a safe and decent place to live, yet most (65 percent) do not support public and affordable housing communities in their own neighborhoods.
At the same time, two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans see the urgency in the need for cities and towns to provide additional public and affordable housing.
What most people likely don’t realize is that the issue of public and affordable housing doesn’t just affect residents — it affects the entire country. If we were to provide all cost-burdened, low-income renter households in the U.S. with rental assistance, the country could reallocate $48.8 billion in rent savings into local businesses and industries beyond the rental market and increase family savings. That means the disposable income available for necessities like food and healthcare would increase $321 per month, on average, for everyone.
But it’s not just public housing communities and rental assistance this country needs. We need more affordable housing options, or we need to significantly raise the average salaries to accurately reflect the cost of living. In fact, the affordable housing crisis has gotten so bad that average wages for people that make up the fabric of communities, like EMTs, hospital technicians and teaching assistants, price them out of housing in the communities where they work. For instance, the average rent in San Francisco for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,500; the average teacher salary is in the range of $60,000 to $70,000. This means 83 percent of homes in San Francisco are out of reach for teachers. What’s more, considering local variation in cost of living, there is still no metropolitan area in the U.S. where a household can afford to rent an average two bedroom apartment at minimum wage.
The bottom line is that everyone deserves a place to call home. Hopefully these videos inspire you to not just rethink your perceptions, but to speak up for those in need of assistance in your own backyard. Don’t just watch this video — share it with your family, friends, co-workers and social networks. Help us with our mission to spread awareness by taking a moment to consider if you and the people you’re closest to have any preconceived notions about public housing, and why that might be. Once we’re aware, that’s when the real change begins.