Erin Boggs, Executive Director, Open Communities Alliance
Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million [poor] people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, March 31, 1968, Washington, DC
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his last major speech just a few days before his assassination. The speech was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, which was, according to King, the “new phase” of the civil rights movement focusing on economic justice, including housing and homelessness issues. In his speech King emphasized the invisibility of the poor fostered by our racial and economic separation and challenged us to make use of innovative tools to address the “monstrous octopus” of poverty.
Although almost 50 years have passed, we still strive to find and implement strategies that address both the cycle of poverty and the physical division between rich and poor, and White and non-White that has made it so easy for poverty to become invisible to many.
Today, we have the chance to embrace a pioneering strategy called mobility counseling. It is a strategy successfully used in Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, and elsewhere to help families find housing outside of poverty-concentrated under-resourced areas. Without such assistance, we know (from national research) that for most families using housing subsidies like Housing Choice Vouchers there is only one option - remaining in struggling areas. In Connecticut, 79% of Housing Choice Voucher holders live in the 11% of the state that has a poverty rate above the state average (9.2%). Part of this is caused by a lack of affordable housing in thriving communities, but another link in the lifeline is the availability of counseling helping voucher-holders find housing in higher opportunity areas.
While there is a host of research demonstrating that mobility counseling meaningfully improves educational, employment, and health outcomes for families, the real experiences of families capture the essence of mobility counseling better than anything else:
Marie, a mobility counseling participant in Maryland reports, “When we first moved, the children didn’t like it because it was so quiet…and then one of the children woke up and said, ‘We slept good. We don’t hear the ambulance, we don’t hear the police cars.’”
Lola, another mother involved in the same mobility counseling program reported about her son, “He was happy to go to school, he was excited; came home to do his homework; wasn’t getting in no trouble; cried to go to school. . . Everything was great when we moved here. The move was just like a breakthrough for everybody; a change for everybody.”
Mobility moves are not for every family. Many people living in disinvested areas are committed to staying in their neighborhoods and revitalizing them – and they need support to do so. But a great number of families are ready for a choice that will help them break out of poverty. We should make sure the innovative tools are right there to help them do it. Along they way, families choosing to make mobility moves will be voluntarily participating in another movement that realizes the dream – creating the more diverse and integrated Connecticut that is the key to the state’s long-term success.
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Partnership for Strong Communities' January 28 IForum on Housing Mobility has been cancelled due to snow and will be rescheduled at a later date.