Increasing the Options

Just last year, the US Census Bureau estimated that Murfreesboro’s population was more than 130,000, which is a long way from the 26,000 who called this place home back when I was born here. We’ve seen a lot of growth and prosperity in recent decades and no one is expecting it to stop any time soon. As a result, we have plenty of choices when it comes to dining out and shopping. We also have options when it comes to which part of town we want to live in, where we want to work, and the schools our kids attend. There are so many possible outcomes for our future and those of our children.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that there is another Murfreesboro, a darker, harder place than the one most of us know. You’ll see it when you see someone asking for money on a busy street corner. You might see some mention of it on Facebook or in the newspaper. It may become all too clear when you take a wrong turn, go down an unfamiliar street and pass a derelict group of houses and instinctively lock the door. You might only have the vaguest sense of this other Murfreesboro and the people who live there.

In this other Murfreesboro, there are more than 20,000 people living below the poverty line. That’s one out of every 6 or 7 people you see at the checkout line at Wal-Mart, in the pickup line at school and at church on Sunday. This group includes seniors, the disabled and others who are on fixed incomes, legal immigrants and refugees, victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking and the homeless. This group also includes the working poor, people who are working and paying their bills, but have low-paying jobs perhaps because they have a lack of skills or education.

Just above the poverty line in Murfreesboro are 15,000 people who really can’t afford their current housing. These residents need to make a change in their housing situation, but probably can’t afford the costs associated with moving. We call them cost burdened, because their housing costs exceed 30% of their gross income. Imagine what your family’s budget would look like if 30% of your annual gross income went to housing and housing-related costs. Maybe you’re already in this group and you didn’t know it?

You’ve probably seen a number of hiring signs around town. They usually include the hourly wage new hires can expect, ranging from $10 to $15 an hour. This isn’t so bad, since the minimum wage in the US is $7.25, but to afford just the rent on a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rate for Murfreesboro ($959 a month) and not be cost burdened would mean that you’d need to make at least $18.44 an hour and work full-time year-round. If you earn minimum wage in Murfreesboro, you have very few options and most of the options you have aren’t very good.

Together these two groups total 35,000 Murfreesboro residents. That’s a lot of people, you may think to yourself. It’s one out of every four people who live here, and doesn’t include most MTSU students. This number also doesn’t include the 46,000 people who live paycheck to paycheck in Murfreesboro. These are the households that are one emergency room trip, one major car repair or some other $500 expense away from being homeless.

This may be where you chime in that there are programs out there for these people. Government programs. Nonprofit agency programs. Churches and civic clubs help these people too. Good point. There’s the Murfreesboro Housing Authority, the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, the Journey Home, the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Doors of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, Greenhouse Ministries, the United Way and the Mid Cumberland Community Action Agency, just to name a few. Even the City of Murfreesboro has programs that assist people in need. But even if we included every church benevolence program, every civic group and every individual who helps someone in need, we’d still only be scratching the surface of the problem.

There’s a huge need in our community and a large gap between the existing needs and the response to those needs. Too many families receive little help or no help at all. Most families have limited access to services, may not even know what is available in our community and may not qualify for assistance because they aren’t poor enough, which is cold comfort to those struggling to make ends meet.

These individuals and families probably don’t know that Murfreesboro only has one non-profit organization that is 100% focused on helping people with their housing and credit issues. Yes, that would be us. They also may not know that Murfreesboro doesn’t have a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved housing counseling agency to help them. If they need to see a housing counseling about a dispute with their landlord or to get assistance in avoiding foreclosure, they’ll need to drive to the closest agency, in Smyrna.

I started Affordable Housing Futures not to be that one non-profit agency that is 100% focused on housing and credit issues, but because I saw the great need for someone to work one-on-one with those who need help. We offer credit, housing and fair housing counseling, education, assistance, outreach, advocacy, coaching and mentoring. We don’t charge our clients fees for services and our one and only mission is to do whatever it takes to ensure that every person in our community has housing that is safe, decent and affordable.

It’s a big job, but together, we can provide individuals and families with an opportunity to envision a better future. Together, we can empower these individuals and families with education and help them take small steps toward their futures. Together, we can guide them, support them, cheer them on their way and then celebrate their accomplishments.

Won’t you join us?

Use the comments section to tell us what you think or visit us online at www.help-in-housing.org to find out more and see how you can get involved.