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Goliath – Poverty Housing

March 14, 2012

Row Houses, Philadelphia, PA, Photo by Davidt8

“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin.  But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…’ ” (1 Sam. 17:45-46).

Like many other older cities, Philadelphia has large areas of poverty, particularly in the north and west.  Housing is at a premium in these areas.  Row upon row of homes sag with age and disrepair, kindling awaiting the match.

Leaking roofs and broken windows are common.  At times, raw sewage spills into occupied homes when pipes collapse, but the city has no funds to replace them, and the landlord declines to do so.  Tenants behind on rent bear with unbearable circumstances.

Rats and roaches are prevalent.  With little other defense, tenants stamp their feet, so that vibrations in the floorboards briefly scatter the vermin.  Heat and/or electricity may be absent for long periods, particularly since a missed bill may trigger a penalty that the tenant is unable to pay in order to restore service.

The government subsidized Section 8 Housing Program is currently accepting new applicants in Philadelphia for the first time in years.  Waiting lists, for those fortunate enough to be on them, can be years long regardless of destitute circumstances.

Private houses are often passed informally from one generation to the next, with overdue taxes mounting all the while.  Once-palatial homes are subdivided, and rented to individuals by the room. Hotplates are an ongoing fire hazard in such rooms, since their occupants often lack access to kitchen facilities.  Bathrooms are generally shared with fellow tenants.

Rents are unregulated, so as high as the market will bear.  This makes single mothers with young children among the most vulnerable to eviction.  However, rent control (in those locations around the country where it does still exist) has its own flaws.  Gentrification, while it may increase property values, frequently displaces existing residents (particularly renters), and can disrupt entire neighborhoods.

The homeless with psychiatric problems are in desperate need of supervised group homes.  They may occupy condemned housing for lack of any other alternative.

As if these difficult economic times were not sufficiently stressful, predatory practices abound. Landlords commonly seek pre-payment of three months’ rent, more if tenants have suffered a prior eviction.  They may then refuse to return escrow funds on the tenants’ departure.  Thieves shamelessly represent themselves as property “owners” to elicit deposits from potential tenants when, in fact, these frauds bear no relation to the property at all.

Evicted tenants, already facing financial hardship, may be unable to secure the funds necessary for a move within sufficient time to remove their furniture to a new location — let alone the deposit for a new place.  They lose their belongings, along with the roof over their heads.

This is part of our America, much as we might prefer to deny it.

Have we abandoned our cities and those condemned to them?  Or are there greater things yet to come?  We can sing dirges and sadly shake our heads at the size of the problem or take up the gauntlet and fight this giant.  Fight with every fiber of our being.

Goliath is waiting.  No less than the future of our nation is at stake.


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