Few communities have been as consciously designed for democratic equality as Columbia. But Howard County's development has not promoted affordability in housing for all income levels, and to restore the dream action must come bottom-up from the community, local activist Dave Bazell reports.
/By Dave Bazell/ I recently blogged about the vision for Progressive HoCo and the issues we want to address. Let me expand a bit on one of these issues, affordable housing in Howard County.
As I mentioned before, affordable housing is a personal issue for me because without the help of her family, my 22 year old daughter would not be able to afford a place to live in Howard County. Having a decent place to live should be a right not a privilege. Working a minimum wage job should not preclude you from being able to live in Howard County. And state and federal assistance for people who cannot work should be adequate to allow you to live here too.
Ironically, Columbia, where I live, was designed specifically to allow people of all income levels to live here, side-by-side, in any neighborhood. Yet this town has seen extensive development that is clearly focused on high end retail shops and expensive rental units. Columbia has inclusionary housing policies but they are clearly not enough to help the low-income population.
We need to begin to organize the low-income communities and residents of the county, many of whom are renters because they cannot afford to purchase a home. While there are probably many ways to do this, it logically begins with a voter registration effort. According to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), people who own their homes are roughly twice as likely to vote in a national election as are renters. And similar percentages hold for people who make under $20,000 a year as compared with those who make over $100,000 a year. Getting this lower income group registered to vote is the first step to an increase in civic activity.
Increasing the number of registered voters in this group means they begin to be empowered. By beginning to identify leaders in this community to help organize their neighbors, this group can start to speak out on fair and affordable housing issues and advocate for themselves on these and other issues.
Of course this is only a beginning. Affordable housing is only one issue that affects this community. A living wage, affordable health care, and environmental issues have a direct bearing on the quality of life for this community also. Furthermore, there are community organizations like People’s Action and state affiliate Progressive Maryland that address these issues and are looking for partners and collaborators to help push their national and state agendas.
This is the next step I see for Howard County. It gives us a clear focus on a single issue to begin with and a clear path to other issues in the future.
How can you help right now? We need volunteers to help with this effort. You can volunteer at http://www.progressiveHoCo.org/volunteer. We will be registering voters and canvassing in specific neighborhoods in the coming weeks and this requires people. We need help with outreach. We need to develop our positions and strategy as we move forward on this and other issues.
By volunteering you can make a difference in the community. Stay Involved!
Dave Bazell is a Progressive HoCo activist.