Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker has a plan to help people living in public housing. He would evict them after seven years.
Baker says this seven-year time limit is a good idea because “no one should be made to feel that permanent dependency is the best they can expect for themselves and their family. Public housing should be transitional and help individuals and families transition to independent living.”
As it happens, the Worcester Housing Authority has already instituted a voluntary program along these lines, called “A Better Life.” Families choosing to participate in the program get a Family Life Coach, who helps them create a plan for self-sufficiency that involves budgeting and saving. At least one of the adults in the family works or enrolls in school. If the family’s income goes up, they are allowed to keep the money that would otherwise be paid as a rent increase. There are life skills courses and financial literacy workshops. At the end of the program, the Housing Authority says, participants have reached “economic independence and self-sufficiency through hard work and consistent support.”
Very few people have volunteered for the program, however. So Baker, who says he never met anybody who’s been in public housing who wanted to be there, would like to make the program mandatory in order to demonstrate its many advantages. People who enter the program, even if under duress, he believes, will end up appreciating it. “Tough love,” his running mate Karyn Polito calls it.
Because rental costs are lower in Worcester than in some areas, notably Boston, Baker thinks that city would be a good testing ground for his plan. So let’s run some numbers for Worcester.
We’ll start with a parent who has two school age children and a minimum wage job working 40 hours a week. (There are about 600,000 minimum wage earners in the state — one in five of us.) We’ll use the $9 per hour minimum wage that takes effect in January. In 2015, that family will earn $18,000. With the additional minimum wage increases that go into effect in 2016 and 2017, the family will earn $20,000 and $22,000 in those years.
Now let’s look at what it takes for the family to achieve economic independence. According to the calculator that the Crittenton Women’s Union has developed, $55,068 would be necessary for this family to live in Worcester. With three of the seven years available to the family prior to eviction having been used up (and with a raise in each of those three years, which can’t be counted on in the future) the family still has not attained even half of the resources required.
All the life skills courses in the world are not going to scale that $55,000 mountain soon. And only four years remain before this family faces eviction.
Charlie Baker’s public housing agenda reflects his party’s world view in pretty stark relief. Here it is: what’s missing from the lives of the poor is hard work. Hard work can magically create economic independence, and tough love and evictions are necessary to prove the point. Tick-tock.