Third in a series by Cliff Lewis
According to Ken Marzinko, coordinator of the School District of Lancaster Homeless Students Project, the greatest challenge in serving Lancaster’s homeless students is a shortage of affordable housing in the area.
Kay Moshier McDivitt, Community Homeless Advisor for Lancaster County, told NewsLanc that the county’s lack of low-income housing is part of a national crisis. And, although Lancaster’s problems are less severe than in many other parts of the country, Moshier McDivitt said, the crisis could not be any more real to those Lancastrians affected.
All throughout the United States, McDivitt explained, lower working wages are not keeping up with the cost of fair market housing. According to a 2009 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a minimum wage worker in Lancaster would have to clock 83 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rates. This figure presupposes that 30% of one’s income should be spent on housing.
Section 8 housing vouchers, which can subsidize a portion of one’s rent payment, have lately been scarce, according to Anne Marie Theurer, Section 8 Program coordinator for the Lancaster City Housing Authority. Since early in this decade, when Congress stopped regularly granting new Section 8 vouchers, Theurer’s agency has only dispensed vouchers retrieved by attrition.
According to McDivitt, the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers is not even open at this time.
As Marzinko put it, “I don’t think the federal government, the state government, Lancaster County, or the city government can absorb [the need]. So it has to be the whole community pitching in and doing part of it.”
Marzinko has lately spent time speaking to “Rotary Clubs, church groups, anybody that would listen” with a call for these private organizations to begin independently ‘subsidizing’ apartments and homes for impoverished area families. For example, a club could jointly purchase an apartment complex, and charge a low rate for qualified families: “So instead of paying $600 a month,” Marzinko explained, “[The renter is] paying $300, and the club is paying the difference.”
On a smaller scale, Marzinko recommended that church groups could “adopt a family” by subsidizing their individual living arrangements.
However Lancaster’s problem of student and family homelessness is to be dealt with, Marzinko maintains that the effort will require all hands on deck: “I’m not waiting for Washington to send us millions of dollars…it ain’t coming. If we’re going to do something, it means that the whole Lancaster community has to be willing to get their hands dirty.”