Catholic Charities group heading to D.C. to fight affordable housing cuts

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton staffers and clients will join more than 350 advocates in Washington, D.C., tomorrow to urge New Jersey’s congressional delegation to fight proposed funding cuts that endanger residents’ access to affordable housing.

Wilson Bagley, who heads Catholic Charities’ Partners in Recovery in Trenton, counselor Johannah Russell, employment specialist Denise Higgins, and Lisa Lawson, supervisor of the partial care program at Delaware House in Burlington County, will accompany about 20 Catholic Charities clients on the 170-mile trip to the nation’s capital, along with advocates from about 35 area nonprofits.

Robert Brooks, a Partners in Recovery client (pictured at left), will be a keynote speaker at the Congressional Reception in the Dirksen Senate Auditorium. Brooks broke a longtime cycle of drug addiction and incarceration through his Partners in Recovery counseling, while also learning to manage symptoms related to his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He inspired the creation of a new men’s trauma support group at Catholic Charities and wrote a book about his journey. The Trenton Monitor chronicled his journey in this 2017 news story.

Affordable housing “crisis”

Brooks, Bagley and the rest of the advocates aim to deliver two key messages to our lawmakers: “No Housing Cuts” and “Opportunity Starts at Home.” Opportunity Starts at Home is a national affordable housing campaign; learn more here.

“No state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the poorest households,” said Mike Koprowski, the campaign’s national director. “When people can’t access safe, decent, affordable housing, it negatively impacts their health outcomes, educational attainment, and economic opportunity.”

Cranford-based Monarch Housing Associates led local planning of the lobbying effort.

“Opportunity Starts at Home for all of us,” said Richard Brown, Monarch’s CEO. “With the acute affordable homes crisis in New Jersey, we will be in Washington on July 25 to not only to advocate for no housing cuts but to let our members of Congress know that we need to ensure that everyone has a place to call home so that they can have the opportunity to achieve their unalienable rights, of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Advocates from the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey will be on the trip too.

“New Jersey has one of the highest housing costs in the nation, ranking the sixth most expensive state for renters,” said Renee Koubiadis, the network’s executive director. “With more than a third of our residents renting and 41 percent of people earning too little to afford all their family’s basic necessities, housing cuts at the federal level would increase housing insecurity and homelessness . New Jersey is one of the most segregated states in the U.S., with poor people and people of color pushed to specific communities and neighborhoods. Federal housing programs and tax credits are key to ensuring safe, sustainable, and affordable homes are available across our state for all people.”

Housing cuts, explained

Here’s the nitty-gritty on what the advocates are up against, according to Monarch:

“The funding levels for affordable housing in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives bills are significantly higher, $11-$12 billion, than the funding levels in President Trump’s budget. Both budgets maintain the 18 percent increase obtained in the fiscal year 2018 budget. The Senate bill, the better of the two bills, fully funds federal housing voucher programs, whereas the House bill does not fully fund renewal levels for all vouchers.

“Failure to renew voucher funding will not ensure that every household in New Jersey currently receiving housing assistance remains in their homes. The Senate bill continues to fund affordable housing programs at increased levels that New Jersey relies on for critical affordable housing resources that rebuild the lives of extremely low income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, and other vulnerable populations.”

For Bagley, helping people who live on society’s margins is now his professional career. But it was once his personal experience. Bagley was homeless in 2006 and decided to reach out to Catholic Charities for help.

“I know firsthand the disadvantages they’re experiencing,” Bagley said, of his clients. “We need to maintain affordable housing, because if you’re low-income and have to spend more on housing, you have less money to spend on food and other basic life necessities.”

Follow news of the Congressional Reception on Twitter and Facebook under the hashtags #NJHillDay and #NoHousingCuts. Check back on our Facebook and Twitter pages tomorrow, too, for updates as the day unfolds.

For help: Partners in Recovery supports adults who have a mental health diagnosis and a co-occurring substance abuse disorder to build their skills and resources through recovery planning, group therapy, and pre-vocational services. Information and contact numbers are here.

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