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The Cost Of Living
Is Driving Us Out!

By Judith Moriarty 

Being in CT, I thought this would interest you - Stamford, my old home. They tore down all the old neighborhoods (gentrification) and built a mammoth windowless mall in the center of town. It's really a bedroom community of Wall Street ( a short train trip to NYC). But this is happening (rising rents) all over the country, as landlords passing rising taxes onto people making barely livable wages (not employed in government or related jobs that taxpayers fund in yearly raises/ medical insurance. In my town, seniors are working as janitors, Home Depot Associates, Wal-Mart greeters (with oxygen bottles), baggers, clerks at grocery stores, etc, unable to keep abreast of the rising costs.
A few women (late 60s) working at a grocery store told me how their (due to rising property taxes - amongst highest in the state) rent had gone up $80.00 (and them on fixed incomes). During the 'surprise' tax increase here people were naturally upset with increases in the hundreds - some $900. Other towns throughout the state had set up town meetings, etc, to alert people - that didn't happen here. People were left to call on the Dept of Revenue Administration (a futile exercise). One councilor stated that if people had a problem 'they could move!' Many of our seniors now frequent the soup kitchen due to having to choose between cost of medicine and food.
Meantime, the church which owns the convent where this soup kitchen is located (so much for 'I was hungry, I was sick, I was a stranger' etc) - has determined in these economic times of crisis for many that they want this unique building demolished to (sit down) build a memorial and garden!! Jaded me doesn't buy this at all - I am convinced that this area is needed for additional parking for condos being built, etc. I know I'm RIGHT. They are too insistent - I suggested (it went nowhere) that they sell the place to the soup kitchen board for one dollar (the Christ-like thing to do, so thought I). Nope - they want it down! Meantime, we are (the city) granting all kinds of tax exemptions, low rents, loans, grants etc, to supposed investors
(to be repaid, mind you at low interest rates!)
The citizens really have little input in these expenditures or other life-altering actions (settlements - contracts - etc). You can attempt (once at month) to voice your concern for FIVE minutes at city council meetings - write a letter (many officals brag that they don't read the paper) to the editor, or trek down to Concord and be told (at the end of the day, after industry and lobbyists have testified and gone home - with most of the representatives also gone) 'can we cut this short'. In the end, the people are powerless to effect change - as more and more costs are put upon them due to drastic cuts (due to funding war at $200,000 a minute) to the state in funding for various social programs, etc.
It's not just here - it's happening all over. In Detroit, many schools have closed - in other places, hospitals and clinics. Since we have little to no idea of what is happening around our own states - there is NO information being given of the crisis across the nation. By the way, the minister referred to in this article is the one who due to his holier-than-thou hypocrisy was responsible for Teresa's death (the article the Rolling Stone did on my work with the homeless and her subsequent murder) -- also, I testified against him in court a few years later. A young woman, who had twins, and whose husband was killed in Gulf War I was staying at his church shelter. No cribs were supplied to mothers with babies. The kitchen to heat milk was on the other side of this complex. This young mother put one two week old twin on the middle of her bed, (we know they don't roll over at this age) surrounded by pillows, and took the other one with her to prepare the formula. When she got back she found the baby dead - bitten and beaten by some kid (age 5) who opened her door and killed the baby. The court case was in the papers (a lawsuit against his facility).
It didn't look good for her - he LIED and said cribs were available yada . Being a reverend, his word was thought to come straight from God's mouth. The only thing is, the good Rev didn't know that I had visited this mother the morning of the baby's death to receive her request on a crib (when people couldn't get help they'd call me) - which I wrote up. I called her attorney and he had me testify against the lying Rev. She won. I see the shyster is still in business. I've lost all respect for any of these churchmen - JM
From: LINDA GALE NOLEN lraigel@yahoo.com
Renters Squeezed By Housing Shortage
On 2 Coasts, Renters Squeezed by Lack of Affordable Housing
September 14, 2007
By David Crary 
The Associated Press
STAMFORD, CT -- This isn't how Simon and Jennifer Morris envisioned married life sharing a charity-subsidized suite with four other hard-up families, abiding by a curfew and other rules that make them feel they are back in high school.
But for a working-class couple with two small children, trying to stick it out in their pricey hometown, housing options are few.
They abandoned their previous one-bedroom apartment when the rent rose from $1,200 to $1,425.
Public housing has long waiting lists, so they moved into a shelter for dislocated families in a converted YMCA.
The goal: Save enough money to move south and buy a home where costs are lower.
Around them, southwestern Connecticut's Fairfield County is booming, due partly to  an influx of investment banks. New housing projects routinely cater to the affluent.
"But everybody forgets the poor guy...the one ----who pumps your gas, ----who builds your hotel, ----who bags your groceries," said Simon Morris, a 35-year-old carpenter.
"The cost of living is driving us out."
On both coasts of the United States, and many cities in between, hundreds of thousands of renters face  comparable plights.
The home mortgage crisis has received far more notice, but experts say the ranks of renters with dire housing problems are growing faster than the ranks of defaulting homeowners.
The Center for Housing Policy reports that the number of working-family renters paying more than half their income for housing has soared from 1 million to 2.1 million since 1997.
Overall, advocacy groups say there are 9 million low-income renter households and only 6.2 million units they can reasonably afford.
"These people spend huge portions of their income on their housing," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
"They don't do things that we all would like to do save money to buy a house, or for college or retirement.
It's a very day-to-day existence."
In the Stamford area, a breadwinner needs to earn more than $30 an hour to afford the rent of a typical two-bedroom apartment, the highest figure in the nation.
San Francisco ranks a close second placing immense burdens on residents such as schoolteacher Meagan Devine and retiree Jose Morales.
Devine, 30, lives with her sister, who is eight months pregnant, and brother-in-law in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco's Sunset district.
She sleeps on the couch and spends weekends at her parents' house in a distant suburb, where she keeps her clothes and books.
In October, she'll begin housesitting for family friends in Berkeley, who will be on sabbatical until Jan. 1.
After that? She isn't sure.
Devine isn't an itinerant hippie or recent college grad trying to map a career path.
She's a professional with a master's degree in math, and could likely command a six-figure salary at a Silicon Valley engineering firm.
But since college, she has yearned to be a teacher.
After getting her master's, she taught the children of crop pickers.
Since 2002, she's been a math instructor at Balboa High School, once a hardscrabble school on the city's south side.
Test scores and morale are on the rise, and Devine feels she's making a big difference by teaching pre-calculus and algebra to the diverse student body.
"I don't ever want to leave Balboa I'd love to retire from here," Devine said as she stacked papers following the afternoon bell.
"The only problem is I can't afford to live here on a teacher's salary."
After taxes and a $350 deposit into a retirement fund, she takes home about $2,500 per month.
One-bedroom apartments in desirable neighborhoods near friends and public transit start around $2,000 per month.
Studios start around $1,500.
Devine said she'll likely settle for roommates a fate she didn't envision for herself after college, and a far cry from her dream of home ownership.
Technically, she could afford her own modest apartment but she wants to heed the standard advice and not spend more than a third of her income on housing.
That's not easy;
experts say nearly a quarter of San Francisco renters spend more than 50 percent of their household earnings on rent, and the market has grown tighter as the mortgage crisis deters some young adults from home-buying.
Devine rarely goes out to eat or buys new clothes, but despite a frugal lifestyle has been unable to whittle down $3,000 in credit card debt.
"You have to make big sacrifices not just whether to buy a house or not," said Devine.
"I want to have kids but what would I do with them?
I can't even afford my own place."
Devine works at least 50 hours a week, including several hours each weekend grading quizzes.
Some of her colleagues moonlight as waitresses, bartenders and weekend nannies.
One option would be moving to a suburban school district, where pay scales range up to $10,000 higher than in San Francisco. A public school teacher in the city starts at $43,000.
Losing teachers like Devine should be a top concern for residents, said Matthew Hardy of the United Educators San Francisco.
Teachers who stay have to be either "crazy or dedicated," he said.
Jose Morales, now 78, moved into a modest Victorian house in San Francisco's working-class Mission District in 1965, shortly after emigrating from Peru.
The rent was $80 a month, and he used leftover earnings to travel, buy nice clothes and eat well.
The rent is now $864 a bargain by local standards but an unmanageable fortune for Morales.
A former tennis instructor, he hurt his back last year and now relies entirely on a Social Security payment of $900 per month.
After paying the rent, he has $36 a month for expenses, including food and medications.
He eats at city-sponsored senior centers, which charge $1.50 per meal, buys cut-rate produce from local bodegas and takes freebies from friends.
He never travels. He doesn't own a television or radio.
Among his few new clothes are tennis sweat shirts that pro shops sell him at a discount.
"I'm skin and bones it's a miracle I'm still here," said Morales, who's lost 20 pounds since last year and developed osteoporosis.
Stooped but sinewy, with wavy white hair and vintage Wilson sneakers, Morales has received numerous eviction notices from a landlord hoping to convert the two-unit flat into a luxury house.
Morales refuses to leave; a court showdown is imminent.
"If more people don't try to fight for their rights, then only rich people would live in this city," he says.
Morales' apartment is ramshackle.
Door frames lean at improbable angles. Paint peels from walls, and a gaping crack splits the kitchen ceiling.
But the beautifully restored Victorian next door has golden cornices and fresh paint, and other nearby homes are getting high-end renovations.
The neighborhood is rife with homeless people and illegal immigrants, but white-collar workers are moving in to commute to lucrative jobs in Silicon Valley or downtown.
Morales knows he might live better in Peru, where relatives could help and the cost of living is a fraction of California's.
But that would end his quest for American citizenship.
"I came here because the U.S. was a great country," Morales said.
"But housing has become a big injustice. ... The story of my apartment is the story of my block and the story of my city and the story of all of California and the United States.
You have to fight for it, and that's what I will do all the way to the end."
Back in Stamford, Simon and Jennifer Morris have seen the city's economic boom firsthand but, like many working- class families, haven't shared its fruits.
Simon has irregular earnings as a carpenter; he can make $1,000 in a good week but often has no work at all.
Jennifer, 27, worked in the past at local pet stores, but took time off this year following the birth of Layla, who's now 7 months old.
Their other child, Ethan, is 3.
Since February, they've been living in a "family emergency" shelter on the edge of downtown, part of a multipurpose social-service center run by St. Luke's LifeWorks.
They have two bedrooms of their own, but share bathrooms and a combination kitchen-common room with four other families in a setup resembling a college dorm.
There's an 11 p.m. curfew on weeknights, no drinking or smoking in the unit, and a rotation of chores for each family.
"After living on your own, where you can come and go, you can feel a little claustrophobic,"
Jennifer said.
"You've got to coexist with everyone. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in high school."
For Simon, the biggest downside is lack of privacy.
"There's good days and bad days," he said.
"People notice when I'm grumpy, and sometimes I just want to be left alone."
But overall, the Morrises are grateful. They can stay up to two years at the shelter, far longer than at many similar facilities, and they expect to be able to save money for the first time in their married life due to a cost-sharing formula which leaves them paying St. Luke's about $250 a month.
If the savings materialize, they plan to head south, seeking a community where homes are within reach of a family like theirs.
"Stamford forgot about the poor people," said Simon, who, like his wife, grew up here.
"All these new apartments are great for the city, but some of the one-bedrooms are $3,000 a month. ... It's a businessman's town now."
The executive director of St. Luke's LifeWorks, the Rev. Dick Schuster, says Stamford and boomtowns like it should tackle the housing crisis out of self-interest.
"The people who are working in your restaurants, your fire and police departments, are all of a sudden finding they can no longer afford to live in the community where they work," he said.
"And those who do choose to live in the community become the true working poor, hanging on by their thumbs."
David Crary reported from Stamford and Rachel Konrad from San Francisco.
Copyright 2007  The Associated Press. Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures


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