Affordable means more than money. It means the ability to sustain the place, to maintain it as a shelter from chaos or threat. It means the capacity to nurture those other beings who share it with us. This is a basic need we worked out centuries ago. No civilized society believes it’s okay for some to be left to live in the forest or storefront doorways because they can’t afford a home, so why would anyone think we don’t need affordable housing?
What cleavage in our common sense would lead anyone to be against affordable housing? Who benefits from the lack of it?
In the public domain of conversation, ‘affordable housing’ has come to mean housing for those who, for some reason of luck, health or happenstance, have less income than the price of a home. If you can’t afford a home then you can’t afford peace or self-esteem, and in the process you lose community support. Friends and family that most of us take for granted, become distant, lost even, because the desperation felt by those who are homeless is heartbreaking and difficult to endure. Loved ones want to rescue, help, advise, even take control sometimes, but as long as a person is homeless nothing seems to help. We all grieve and squabble to fix it.
The state none of us can afford for long is to see others suffer. Those who suffer are marginalised, placed out of sight and out of mind. I know this because I was homeless when I was twelve. My parents split up. They were not bad or irresponsible, but through a series of events they could not control, found the emotional cost of living together was unaffordable.
Suddenly my mother, brother, sister, and I found ourselves living in the homes of our relatives. Suddenly we were a burden. Then we followed our mother to a house where she would clean for a widower and his children. Soon after arriving, my mother feared the home-owner expected her services in bed too. Furthermore we felt the resentment of the children whose home we had invaded, so we lived in one bedroom as quietly as possible.
Now we were the recipients of freely given advice from self-appointed experts, indicating the many ways in which we were to blame for the predicament we found ourselves in. Our world held us in judgement, and wherever we went we carried the marks of failure, and entered a new landscape of pot holes and opportunists.
However, we were lucky. With the help of others, we found a temporary home above the local clinic, and didn’t need the numbing effects of alcohol and drugs to survive the chill of storefront doorways.
When we have food and shelter, when we are not worried where the next mortgage payment, meal, or couch will be found, we have the capacity to explore who we are within our community. Sure there are some who can do this in dangerous and dire conditions, but most communities are built on the civil engagement of people who are not heroes, but who have found compassion and creativity because their own pain is manageable.