The Responsibility and The Reward
I love public television, and enjoy a good Masterpiece Mystery or classic drama that gives the opportunity to time travel, sometimes with kings of old, but sometimes in a more recent setting, like Call the Midwife, set in the 1950’s-60’s in the East End of London, based on the memoirs of a real nurse, Jennifer Worth, who helped deliver babies in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Recently there was an episode that dealt with public housing that caught my attention.
The problems of affordable housing are nothing new, nor specific to our nation. We have all come a long way in providing what is now described as “safe, decent and affordable” housing for that segment of the population in need. The term has its roots in the Great Depression era, delivering a proper living environment with basic sanitation to millions of Americans who were living in tents or shacks or slums. This was an urgent public health cause. Today, the description of decent housing represents a much larger set of expectations.
In the television drama, a young malnourished woman gives birth in the squalor of a tenement. Appalled at the conditions, the attending nurse contacts the housing authority to see what can be done. She explains that it is not enough to provide shelter; the goal must be to provide a way for people to flourish and prosper.
A bit of history: In 1937, the US Congress passed the Housing Act, which created the US Housing Authority, and until 1959, with the creation of the Section 202 program, public housing authorities (PHA’s) had a monopoly on providing affordable housing. Direct loans were made to non-profit developers to assist with housing for the elderly. By the 1980’s, PHA’s became more entrepreneurial, and with the advent of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program in 1986, the public and private sectors could form partnerships to deliver the much-needed housing on a grander scale. LIHTC has proven tremendously successful, the program evolving and adapting over the years to include particular housing for handicapped, veterans, substance abuse, mental health, transitional, frail elderly.
And, we have come to understand and acknowledge that a shiny, new apartment in a poor and declining neighborhood is not enough; housing must be inclusive, set in good locations, with access for all, and opportunities for economic and social advancement.
The particular episode of Call the Midwife ends with the inadequate and outmoded housing coming down, and the family in question entering at their new home, their faces radiating joy with hope and gratitude. The narrator reminds us that “The world is not just made of bricks and mortar, but of minds. We can rebuild cities, paint beautiful facades, and invent new ways of living. We can protect all that we have. But, that place which we call home must be the place in which we are ourselves, with no façade, no foundations weak below us. Only then can we face outward, with our heads held high, playing the roles assigned to us, with open, honest hearts.”
As industry leaders, we all know the responsibility, but the reward of helping people see a brighter future is all the greater!