“I came to recognize that eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty in America. The lack of affordable housing is driving families to financial ruin and is one of the most important drivers of inequality in the nation today.”
The above quote is from an interview with Matthew Desmond from the Evicted website which begins to touch on the complex intersections of poverty, housing, household finances, and inequality in our country. More importantly, it also broaches nuanced dogmas that contribute to the perpetuation of such complexities.
As Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo (SPK) Coordinator, I am responsible for developing, planning, promoting, and coordinating short- and long-range specialized programs and activities related to ending generational poverty, youth development, and reducing barriers to employment. Such a tall order requires addressing not only tangible solutions such as quality and affordable housing but also intangible issues such as deeply entrenched beliefs regarding poverty, prosperity, and systems that support both. In a 1968 interview by Sander Vancour entitled Dream to a Nightmare, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commented that “there must be a revolution of values in our country…there must be a restructuring of the architecture of our society where values are concerned.” Such a restructuring commands our attention to collectively question how we value one another. Not just as a nation but as a local community as well. To reflect upon how we value the resourcefulness of families struggling, how we value people of color, how we value historically marginalized populations, how we value labor and wages, how we value power, and how we value our most vulnerable residents.
This reflection is required when addressing housing and consistent with the vision of SPK to have a community where no adult or child is isolated or left behind due to poverty and/or inequality of opportunity. Matthew Desmond cited that “We can’t fix poverty without fixing housing.” We also cannot fix poverty without collectively altering how we value people and how we value systems that provide the basic necessities for life. In Kalamazoo, we can build housing that addresses gaps but we must accompany those efforts with creating a feeling of home for those that inhabit such dwellings. When “the majority of poor families…and their children…are not getting enough food because the rent eats first” our community must seriously question revolutionizing our values and acting in a manner consistent with what we’ve chosen to eliminate such realities. The SPK initiative realizes that to make substantial progress over the long-term in achieving quality and affordable housing, it is necessary to make progress toward the achievement of systemic change simultaneously.
Kevin Ford, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo (SPK) Coordinator
On behalf of Reading Together Steering Committee member, Assistant City Manager Laura Lam