As several hundred signatures would bear out, Southern Tier Catholics stand strongly behind the diocesan Public Policy Committee’s focus on affordable housing.
Petitions were recently circulated among diocesan parishes to support this year’s public-policy advocacy goal of safe, suitable, affordable housing as a basic human right. Most parishes issued these petitions on Public Policy Weekend, Feb. 5-6.
Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County garnered an impressive total of 437 signatures — including 168 alone from the St. James, Waverly, worship site. “We were very pleased. I thought that was great,” said Glenna Wickline, who serves as Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s social-justice committee secretary.
At St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo in Elmira, approximately 100 people signed and returned letters that were prepared and left in pews by the cluster’s social-ministry committee, according to Maureen Tuite, committee chair. And, although All Saints Parish in Corning was not holding its petition weekend until Feb. 26-27, strong participation was expected by Linda Crowe, peace-and-justice committee chair, based on the nearly 200 signatures collected for last year’s public-policy theme of migrant farm workers’ rights.
Currently the diocesan Public Policy Committee is calling upon Gov. George Pataki and the state legislature to appropriate funding in 2005-06 to create 5,000 additional units of affordable housing in New York state through new construction; continuation of subsidized projects; and additional state funding toward the federal Section 8 voucher program.
Petitions are being brought by Catholic Charities and parish representatives to the state capitol in Albany on Tuesday, March 8, as part of a statewide lobbying day sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference. To prepare for this event as well as Public Policy Weekend, a video teleconference took place Jan. 10 at St. Mary Our Mother Parish, Horseheads, as well as three other sites in the diocese.
Wickline said her parishes’ strong petition response reflects a public-policy issue that “strikes home with people” in the Tioga County region. “People don’t think about it being in the rural area because we’re hidden. But there are pockets of people that are really living in substandard housing,” she remarked.
Tuite noted that such issues as rising utility costs affect housing not only for families, but also for people on fixed incomes. “It’s not just younger people,” she said.
Crowe said that although homelessness is a lesser problem in the Southern Tier than in larger urban areas, it does exist — and many more folks are just a step or two away from being homeless.
“If you’re getting subsidized housing and making minimum wage, the majority of your wage is going to go toward housing,” Crowe said. Conversely, the diocesan Public Policy Committee states that rent or mortgage expenses should not exceed 30 percent of a family’s monthly income in order to be deemed affordable.
Affordable housing is a daily issue for the First Time Homebuyer Program, an initiative of Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier in conjunction with the City of Elmira. This service helps people with modest or fixed incomes to purchase homes that usually range in value from $45,000 to $55,000. Marilyn Terkoski, coordinator, noted that First Time Homebuyer operates on federal community development block funding — but those monies are being reduced in President George W. Bush’s proposed budget, potentially threatening the Catholic Charities program. Therefore, Terkoski is paying particular attention to how state legislators will treat people who struggle with housing costs.
“It looks like things are drying up on both sides (of federal and state funding). People who can’t access our program might try to access a state-funded program — and if there’s not support there, where are they going to go?” Terkoski remarked. “So many of our home buyers have reinvested in this community because they’ve been able to buy a home here.”
Getting the general public to share such concerns via petitions is not always an easy task, Crowe said. “My experience is, it’s easier for them to reach into their pockets and give you something than to stop and sign their names. They don’t want to get involved,” she said.
On the other hand, Crowe was quite happy that 197 All Saints parishioners signed last year’s Public Policy Sunday petition. She said educational efforts by the Public Policy Committee and parish leaders have made a significant difference.
“I have seen increased support when the topic is mentioned in the homily and connected to the Scripture for the day and to principles of Catholic social teaching,” she observed.