Advocate: Low-income housing problem will worsen in the future

Eric Swanson

Cushing Dolbeare, a nationally renowned low-income-housing advocate, has worked to provide affordable homes in the United States for more than 50 years.

“Some call her the Rosa Parks of housing; others have called her the Cal Ripken on housing issues,” said Ann Ziebarth, a University housing studies professor.

Because of her stature in the national housing advocacy world, Dolbeare met with University students as the featured speaker in the College of Human Ecology’s fall 2003 housing colloquium Wednesday in McNeal Hall. She talked about low-income housing’s effects on Americans.

Dolbeare has spent most of her life trying to attract national attention and funds to build and renovate low-income housing projects.

“One problem with housing is that it is the only Great Society program that you can still see from the past,” Dolbeare said. “All health-care mistakes are dead and gone, but we can all see those low-income high-rise buildings.”

The government subsidizes low-income housing for people in the lowest fifth of the national income distribution, or poverty level, Dolbeare said.

She held an informal question-and-answer session Wednesday morning with Ziebarth and students. Later, she met with students and professors in a more formal setting to discuss her views on national housing issues.

She said the government must give the people who live in low-income housing a voice in where the housing money is spent.

However, she said, the federal government has no intention of spending money on housing now because of the poor national economy.

“We have not had a productive housing program capable of serving low-income people since 1983,” Dolbeare said. “Housing is simply not on the national agenda.”

In 1974, Dolbeare founded the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a group dedicated to ending low-income housing in the United States through public knowledge and government funding.

Since then, Dolbeare has spent years developing recommendations to Congress on how to end national housing problems.

“There are more than 94 million people that have housing problems in America,” Dolbeare said. “That is over twice the number of people without health care.”

On a local level, Minnesota’s average housing prices have constantly gone up while wealth has gone down, Ziebarth said.

Ziebarth said if this trend continues, there will be more renters than homeowners because increased spending by baby boomers adds to their debt and decreases the assets they can pass on to their children.

A home can be a family’s largest asset, Ziebarth said.

This is a big problem for housing in general, Dolbeare said.

“Baby boomers have been all too often taking out mortgages to pay for their debt,” Ziebarth said.

Dolbeare said people need to look toward the future to solve today’s housing problems.

She said she thinks the situation will get much worse before it gets better.

Dolbeare said in the future, society needs to look at the problems associated with low-income housing, including crime and school conditions.

Dolbeare will speak about housing issues with local lobbyists Thursday morning.