Michelle Davis sits in the family room of Dayspring Center homeless shelter, trying to hush the cries of her infant daughter. The baby girl is clearly upset, but her mother is not much happier. Davis and her two daughters are homeless, and their search for a place to stay is not going well. Private landlords want to charge Davis more for rent than her total monthly income. Affordable housing is so scarce that the local public housing agency won"t even place her on a waiting list for a subsidized apartment. "Things are not too good right now," Davis says softly. "With my low income, all the rent prices I see are too steep."
Too many people in Indianapolis share Davis" predicament, say City-County Councilors Lonnell "King Ro" Conley and Monroe Gray. Along with leaders of the civil rights organization Concerned Clergy, Councilors Conley and Gray last week called for Indianapolis property owners to help fill the county"s low-income housing trust fund. As part of the "Just a Penny Will Help So Many" campaign, Conley will propose a targeted local property tax increase of 1 cent per $1,000 in assessed value. Proponents estimate this change would provide approximately $3 million annually for the Marion County Housing Trust Fund, which provides financial assistance for housing programs that serve low-income Indianapolis residents.
"Today"s affordable housing crisis is the result of both market failure and government disinvestments in housing assistance for low income families," says state Rep. Bill Crawford, public policy chair of the Concerned Clergy. "An investment of "just a penny" will assist thousands of Indianapolis residents in securing a safe, decent and affordable home."
Several studies of the area"s housing needs, including Mayor Bart Peterson"s "Blueprint to End Homelessness," show that thousands of local families do not have enough income to afford market-rate rent. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Marion County worker earning the federal minimum wage must work 86 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area"s estimated fair market rent.
For the families who can not afford the going rental prices, there is little chance to obtain subsidized housing. The Indianapolis Housing Agency reports that 2,200 people are on its waiting list for Section 8 subsidized housing, and another 12,000 people unsuccessfully applied for a June 2001 lottery to be put on that list.
That waiting list is again closed, as Davis has learned. Her family is now staying at their second homeless shelter after losing their previous housing because she couldn"t pay the rent. Davis wants to move with her girls to the Westside of town, but has not found a place she can afford. "It"s hard," she admits.
Davis and her daughters are some of the "many" that supporters of the "Just a Penny" campaign want to help. They say if a property tax increase successfully fills up the coffers of the housing trust, Davis and her daughters would likely qualify for assistance from the fund. "The time has come for us all to recognize that the problem is real and that real people are suffering," Crawford says.