Jerry Williams, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology, Stephen F. Austin State University
Welcome to this forum on housing in Nacogdoches hosted by the Organization for Faith Education and Community, an interfaith organization whose goal it is to bring people of faith together to address important public issues and to promote research about the intersection of faith and well-being. It is our sincere conviction that disagreements between different faith traditions become insignificant when we focus on our shared concern about important things like the needs of the poor, of children, immigrants, and those abused by power in its various forms. This is not to deny that on the level of religious practice differences exist between us, rather for the sake of making a better world we refuse to let those differences matter.
Over the years, the Organization for Faith, Education, and Community has sponsored research conferences and other actives aimed at our shared goals. We also publish The Journal of Faith Education and Community and recently a book titled Faith and Loss: Light in Darkness. If these activities and the organization’s goals sound appealing to, we encourage you to join our efforts. Please consider leaving your contact information on our signup sheet.
Before introducing our guests and beginning our program, I would like to say a few words about this series of forums the organization has sponsored.
Basic Human Needs
Prior to tonight’s forum, our organization has hosted similar discussions about hunger and health care. Taken together we can think of these issues as “basic human needs.” What is more central to the human experience than having enough to eat, being healthy, and having a place to live? It is for perhaps this reason that the worlds religious traditions categorically believe that addressing the needs of the poor is a central responsibility of believers. But there is a paradox here.
In modern nations like our own, the provisioning of basic human needs is largely a function of the economic system. In our own case this is the capitalist marketplace. Food, healthcare, and housing are distributed by the same market forces that also give us smartphones, movies, and makeup. No doubt the capitalist marketplace has done good things for us. It has given us personal liberty in the form of democracy and a quality of life undreamed of in human history. This is not to deny the excesses of capitalism represented as extreme economic inequality and grinding poverty, but we should give credit where credit is due.
For people of faith in regard to the provisioning of basic human needs like housing, our present economic system presents a challenge that can be summed up in one question – does our economic system provide the opportunity for people to meet their basic human needs through work?
To answer this question, it is necessary to see that our economy is characterized by two contradictory trends.
1) First, over the last forty years, our economy has produced stagnant or declining wages for most U.S. workers. In fact, about 25% of American workers work for minimum wage and most will do so their entire working lives. Additionally, American workers are much less likely to be covered by sick leave and retirement plans than 40 years ago. Downward pressure on wages is a fact of life in the United States. Here are a few facts about the economy we don’t often talk about:
a. 44% of American families do not earn enough to pay federal income taxes.
b. 19% of American families earn so little they qualify for the EITC
c. The percentage of poor people receiving cash welfare (TANF) has declined dramatically (82% in 1979, 23% in 2014). At the same time, poverty has slightly increased. In 1979 it was about 11%, and in 2014 it was 13%.
d. All of this while there has been a tremendous accumulation of wealth and income at the top. (The richest 3 Americans have more wealth combined than the bottom 50%)
2) Second, concurrent with declining wages, the cost of meeting basic human needs (housing, health care, and food) has skyrocketed because these needs are treated as commodities in the marketplace. For example, the unaffordability of housing in the United States calculated as the median home price compared to median wages is at a record high. Food, while still problematic, is less so because the agriculture system is heavily tax supported.
Pope Francis puts these contradictory trends in perspective in an address to the people of Sardinia in 2013. Suggesting that the economy has lost its focus on people he states:
“The world has become an idolator of this god called money.” Later he goes on…
“It is not a problem of Italy and Europe … It is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its center an idol which is called money.”
It seems to me, the provisioning of basic human needs is one of the central concerns for people of faith. For this reason, we wish to understand the problem of housing in Nacogdoches better.
Larissa Philpot, NEDCO President and CEO and past Director of Planning & Zoning for City of Nacogdoches
Roy Boldon, Nacogdoches City Council Southeast Ward
Robert Crow, Nacogdoches Housing Authority Executive Director
Mary Mocniak, Pinewoods Apartment Owners Association Director
Patty Goodum, Love, Inc. Executive Director
1) Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do and how it related to housing in Nacogdoches.
2) Based on your experience as a community what part of housing do we do well?
3) What local housing needs currently require the community’s attention?
4) If you were to speak directly to local lawmakers (city and county) about housing in Nacogdoches, what would you ask them to do to make things better?
5) If you were to speak directly to state and national lawmakers about housing in Nacogdoches, what would you ask them to do to make things better?