WisCAP Community Action News

Grace Jones Receives Housing Excellence Award

Grace Jones, Executive Director of Couleecap, the Community Action Agency serving La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon and Crawford Counties in western Wisconsin, was awarded the prestigiGraceous Charles M. Hill, Sr. Award for Housing Excellence at the 2016 A Home for Everyone statewideaffordable housing conference.

The Charles M. Hill, Sr. Award for Housing Excellence is given to an individual who has displayed a long-term commitment to the provision of affordable housing and had a lasting influence on the advancement of affordable housing in Wisconsin. Ms. Jones was honored for her tireless efforts to fight poverty and promote self-sufficiency; for leading innovative efforts to provide housing for those most in need; for her passionate commitment to develop programs to serve the homeless in her community; and for her collaborative spirit in addressing community challenges.

“It is such an honor to be selected for an award named after one of my housing heroes, Chuck Hill” said Ms. Jones. “This work is so important and makes such a fundamental and lasting impact on the families we help.”

The Wisconsin Collaborative for Affordable Housing consists of community-based organizations, private concerns, government agencies and advocates committed to promoting the development and preservation of affordable housing throughout Wisconsin. The Collaborative organizes the annual A Home for Everyone conference to provide a public forum for the purpose of focusing on these issues for low-income families and individuals. This year’s conference was the Collaborative’s 20th such effort.

For more information about Couleecap and its programs, visit www.couleecap.org.

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$15.92 per hour

$15.92 per hour.

That is how much a Wisconsin household must earn in Wisconsin to afford a 2-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) annual Out of Reach report for 2016.

Each year the federal Housing and Urban Development calculates the fair market rent for housing based on a number of factors including economic conditions and housing demand. The calculations are used to determine eligibility for housing subsidies. This year the statewide fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment was pegged at $848, placing Wisconsin 29th highest among all 50 states.

The NLIHC’s report then translates those rates to determine the wages needed to afford housing and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income for housing. According to the Coalition, there is no state in the country where a person earning the prevailing minimum wage and working full-time can afford a one-bedroom apartment.  In Wisconsin a minimum wage earner meeting the 30% standard could afford just $377 in rent.

Renters make up about 32% of all wage earners, or more than 740,000, in the state and have an average hourly wage of $12.07. The largest number of renting households is in Milwaukee County, with more than 243,000.

The Fair Market rents in Wisconsin range from $658 per month to $1,027.

NLIHC points out that the affordable housing problems are really two-fold, stagnant or inadequate wages and the rising rents and availability of affordable housing.

“The declining inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage contributes to wage inequality and the housing affordability challenges faced by low wage workers,” according to the NILHC. Even though 22 local jurisdictions have minimum wages above prevailing state federal norms, “(They} all fall short of the one-bedroom and two-bedroom Housing Wage.” Two separate pieces of legislation before Congress aimed at increasing the minimum wage would still fall short of Wisconsin’s Housing Wage by almost $2.00 per hour.

The demand for rental housing is also at its highest level since the 1960s. In the last 10 years the U.S. has added 9 million renter households while adding just 8.2 million rentals units. The Coalition notes that “vacancy rates are at their lowest levels since 1985 and rents have risen at an annual rate of 3.5%, the fastest pace in three decades.” Because of high development costs, developers target new rental units to the upper end of the rental market where rents are higher.  The NLIHC report notes that nearly three-quarters of the rental housing is occupied by households in the bottom three-fifths of the U.S. income distribution.

The NLIHC’s Out of Reach study can be found at www.nlihc.org. For further information, please contact Bob Jones, WISCAP’s Executive Director, at bjones@wiscap.org.

$1.5 Million Awarded to Address Behavioral Health in Southwestern Wisconsin

The Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, working with a multi-sector network of community partners, has been awarded funding through the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin (AHW) Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). The AHW Endowment has announced funding for 10 Community Coalitions through its Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP) and its initiative focused on community-based behavioral health. This project will focus on Iowa, Grant, Green Lafayette and Richland counties and will collaborate with several local community partners including all seven region hospitals, all five health departments, many other social service, health care and other agencies and in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Continue Reading

Innovative Southwest CAP Program Helps Overcome Language Barriers to Self-Sufficiency

An innovative program operated by the Southwest Community Action Program is having impressive results helping local residents learn English as a second language.

The Southwest Wisconsin Multicultural Outreach Program run by Southwest CAP is helping individuals who can’t speak English overcome barriers keeping them from achieving economic self-sufficiency. Southwest CAP is the designated Community Action Agency serving Richland, Grant, Iowa, Lafayette and Green Counties.

Instruction is primarily done one-on- one in homes, but it also occurs in bigger groups at community churches, libraries and the like. The privately-funded program was launched in Iowa County five years ago as the Hispanic population continued to increase in the area. The program now includes Grant, Lafayette and Richland Counties. Continue Reading

Wisconsin’s FoodShare Work Rules: We Can Do Better

Last week’s report from the Department of Health Services announcing that over 41,000 able-bodied single adults lost access to food stamps in the past 12 months, while nearly 12,000 individuals found jobs through the program, brings into stark focus a fundamental question of what kind of a state do we want to be and what kind of a people we are.

Since April of 2015, all able-bodied adults without children living at home have been required to work at least 80 hours a month – or look for work or participate in training programs – as a condition of receiving food stamps under the FoodShare program. Since July, more than one-half of the eligible FoodShare recipients have been dropped from the program for failing to meet these requirements, according to DHS data, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

We would be the last to speak in opposition to those 12,000 individuals who found work. We feel strongly that the best tool to fighting poverty is a good paying job and this is good news. Walker Administration officials and legislators who supported this work requirement, understandably, were outspoken in their praise for this job component of FoodShare, calling the program a true success.

But it needs to be asked: Do we really want to praise a program when 3 times the number of individuals who found jobs are going more hungry tonight as a result of that very same program? Is that something we really want to call a success?

It is easy to stereotype people in poverty and we would not be surprised if there were many who are saying “If people aren’t willing to work, then they shouldn’t be getting assistance.” In reality, however, the issue is not even close to being that simple. Many of those 41,000 live in areas of the state where jobs are either not available or accessible or for which they lack qualifications. Many may not have understood the rules. Based on our network’s collective fifty year history working with this population, we believe that the vast majority of those successful in obtaining jobs through the program would have done so even without the threat of losing their FoodShare benefits. It has been our experience that the vast majority of low-income individuals do not voluntarily choose to be in poverty. None of us would voluntarily choose that life; why would we think those actually afflicted by poverty would be any different?

As a result of these new work requirements for FoodShare, the lives of 12,000 individuals are demonstrably better – but the lives of 41,000 individuals are demonstrably worse. Isn’t there a better way to reach the goal of good paying jobs we all profess to seek, one that doesn’t create this level of distress?

One mark of a civilized society – and of the decency of its governments – is its commitment to ensuring the basics of life: food, shelter and clothing. When we use access to food as a cudgel for other outcomes (no matter how noble those outcome may be) and when, just as importantly, we take pride in doing so, something is amiss.
We can do better.

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WHAT IS WISCAP?

The Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) is the statewide association for Wisconsin’s sixteen (16) Community Action Agencies and three single-purpose agencies with statewide focus. Read more

UPCOMING EVENTS

WISCAP Board of Directors Retreat

Aug 3 - 4, 2016

Poverty Matters! Conference

Sep 14 - 15, 2016

COMMUNITY ACTION WORKS

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Edwina’s Success Story
I had been homeless for three years. I called Ms. Donna at the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, Inc., and asked if she could help. I was so excited to know someone wanted to...
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