Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The housing burden

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Low to Moderate Income Survey for the 3rd quarter showed a slight decrease. Employment improved slightly, but the improvement was offset by the decline in the availability of affordable housing and credit.

Our homeless families, of course, fall into the low income segment the survey measures. We saw some of the same improvement in employment recently. The average wage for the adults who found jobs was hovering around $10/hour until September when it rose to $12.

At $12/hour, a single parent will earn about $25,000 per year. Housing costs will start to become a burden if rent and utilities climb together are above 30% of income = $7,500/year or $624/mo. Rent alone averages $784 for a two bedroom apartment in the Kansas City area, which means our families will remain financially fragile.

However, our families will not be alone. A study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, a record 20.2 million people spent more than 50% of their income on housing as far back as 2010. Most of these families will live in or on the brink of poverty, but the vast majority will not become homelessness.

If history prevails, 80% of our parents will not become homeless again. They may struggle, but they leave better equipped to provide for themselves and their children. And, the children leave knowing they have options that may break the cycle of poverty.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How important is a father in the life of a child?

In my life, and my son’s, the answer was easy - “he was crucial.”

But, how many of us realize that, for a poor child, a father’s involvement can be the difference between homelessness and stability?

The tenth research brief from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness highlights the characteristics of “fathers of poor and homeless children and examines the differences in fathers’ involvement, finding that unstably housed children have fathers who contribute less to their financial and developmental well-being.”

That’s what I would have guessed, too.

The parents don’t have to be married for the child to benefit. The father just has to be involved. “Children whose fathers are accessible and engaged display fewer behavioral problems, lower levels of delinquency, higher IQ scores, and less psychological distress than children with less-involved fathers.”

It’s interesting that the father benefits more if the parents are married. “Married men are healthier, happier, and engage in less risky behaviors than men who remain single.” The research shows that poor men who marry “experience greater income growth and are more strongly attached to the labor force than those who remain single.” Poor fathers who don’t marry the mother work and earn less.

Surprisingly, a lot of poor mothers choose not to marry the father, because they’re afraid they won’t be able to rely on the father in the long run, but will lose their benefits (TANF or food stamps) in the short run. Our young mothers often choose not to apply for TANF, because the State of Missouri will first go after the father for child support. Some don’t want to jeopardize the relationship with the father and others want to control the fathers’ involvement with the children. They reason, if they don’t collect child support formally, they can limit the father’s contact.

We have had more two parent families in the last few years than in all the previous years of our program.

One of the two parent families spoke to the current residents at our graduation ceremony last week. We couldn’t have asked for a better message from that father. He encouraged the current residents to see our program as an opportunity and to take responsibility for their lives and their children’s. He certainly has. This particular father found a good job and is buying a house using his VA benefits.

From our perspective, the odds are on the side of this family. 80% of the residents who find a permanent home keep it for at least 5 years. The data from this study tells us that his child has a good chance to live a stable life and never be homeless again.