Xpress featured an array of ideas in the current issue, with more to come Jan. 11.
Putting a Dent in Poverty in 2012
By Pisgah Legal Services
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Buncombe County’s poverty rate reached 17.1 percent last year. The Buncombe County Department of Social Services reports that the number of people receiving food stamps has more than doubled to 37,000 today from about 18,000 in January of 2008. We at Pisgah Legal Services helped more than 12,000 low-income people in 2011 with serious problems related to domestic violence, housing, income, and health care.
Our federal, state and local governments are strapped for funds, and sometimes the public seems to prefer to rely on non-profit organizations to deliver services rather than the government. However, the increased numbers of people with low incomes and the decreased government funding for services are overwhelming non-profit programs.
Putting a dent in poverty in WNC means solving underlying problems that cause poverty such as domestic violence, poor health, substandard and unaffordable housing, job shortages. Here are several strategies or “big ideas” that our community could undertake to make a difference in 2012 and beyond.
Stop More Unnecessary Foreclosures: Pisgah Legal Services is preventing foreclosures and saving homes in more than 80% of our foreclosure cases. This success rate has convinced us that the vast majority of foreclosures can be prevented with legal representation for homeowners. Local, state and federal governments, foundations, United Ways, and individuals should fund more legal assistance for people who cannot afford legal counsel. This is an investment in the stability of local families and neighborhoods.
Create Construction Jobs: In 2011 PLS saw record numbers of people who had fallen out of the middle class. Many of these people had jobs connected to the construction industry. Investments in affordable housing would put them back to work and increase the supply of decent, affordable housing. Many cities in N.C. have passed multiple affordable housing bonds. This funding mechanism reduces interest rates to make housing more affordable. Construction jobs are created; the local tax base grows; and lower-income people don’t have to live in substandard and often dangerous housing.
Invest in Programs That Work: Local, state and federal governments should re-invest in social programs that work. Nonprofits, like Pisgah Legal Services, Homeward Bound, and others with a proven track record of resolving problems of poverty are a critical part of our community’s infrastructure, just as schools, roads and public utilities are. In 2011, PLS helped 12,000 low-income people avoid homelessness, stop domestic violence and secure health care and other essential services. This work produced more than $31 million in quantifiable benefits (such as preservation of home equity and securing subsistence income) for our clients and our region.
Reduce Domestic Violence: The human and social costs of domestic violence in our country are incalculably high. We must support personal, institutional, and government interventions to break the cycle of abuse. PLS handles more than 1,000 domestic violence cases annually. Our staff and volunteer attorneys work in close partnership with Helpmate and other domestic violence agencies to end abuse and help survivors rebuild their lives. National studies have shown that legal aid is one of the most critical and effective services to end domestic violence.
More Weatherization to Save Money and Help the Environment: Most low-income people are losing precious resources because their homes leak heat. This is especially true in many of the dozens of mobile home parks in Buncombe County, which are often housing of last resort for people in poverty. A family of four living at 125% of the federal poverty rate makes just $27,938. Utility bills of $300-$400 per month are economically devastating.