Sunday, May 6, 2007

First Year's Progress, Part 2

Following on my last post, here are some positive steps that City Council has taken in the last year in another key issue area: Poverty & Race.


* I've long maintained that the best anti-poverty program in the world is a job. But if you're working full-time and still living at or below the poverty line, you're experiencing a constant state of economic insecurity. To lift a family of three above the federal poverty line, a worker today has to earn a minimum of $8.26/hour, or $17,170/year (source: 2007 U.S. HHS Poverty Guidelines). To be "self-sufficient" in Charlottesville and get by without having to rely on any kind of taxpayer-funded public benefits, that same employee has to earn at least $12.12/hour, or $25,595/year (source: 2006 Virginia DSS Self-Sufficiency Standards). And to actually afford a basic two-bedroom apartment in Charlottesville, she has to earn at least $15.23/hour, or $31,678/year (source: Out of Reach 2006, National Low Income Housing Coalition). For all of these reasons, I am a strong supporter of the Living Wage movement and am pleased to report that City Council recently increased the base wage for full-time City employees to $11.00/hour. While it's not high enough, it's significantly higher than what UVa or Albemarle County pays, and will help to put pressure on these and other area employers (and their contractors) to raise their base wages, too.

* One of the components envisioned for our new Charlottesville Affordable Housing Investment Program is the creation of a dedicated funding stream to begin the process of revitalizing public housing in Charlottesville. By moving from a model of economic/racial segregation in housing (i.e., large congregations of very low-income families living side-by-side in deteriorating and neglected housing) to a model of economic/racial integration in housing (i.e., mixed-income neighborhoods with a higher-quality housing stock and better community amenities), we will not just be changing the dynamics of housing development in Charlottesville, but the very dynamics of poverty in Charlottesville -- for the benefit of us all. Making sure that the low-income residents of public housing have a leading role in this process will be essential to its success.

* In our FY2008 Budget, Council agreed to increase funds for child-care scholarships for the working poor, in the face of federal and state cuts in such funding. Without these scholarships, many families would actually be better off (financially speaking) quitting their jobs and going back on public assistance. What a perverse disincentive to achieving self-sufficiency.

* As mentioned earlier, Council also increased the size of our summer youth employment program for FY08, and is strongly supporting the school system's efforts to promote academic achievement and reduce the dropout rate so that more of our students graduate with marketable skills.

* We know that family composition is directly related to poverty. In addition to stagnant or declining wages and poor educational attainment, the authors of "Ending Poverty in America: Using Carrots and Sticks" (The American Prospect, May 2007) argue that the decline of two-parent families is one of the three biggest contributors to the poverty problem in our country today:

The poverty rate for mother-headed families is usually four or five times the rate for married-couple families. So, other things being equal, any rise in the share of children living in female-headed families will increase poverty. Beginning in the 1960s, Americans perfected every known method of casting children into single-parent families. Marriage rates fell, divorce rates increased until the 1980s, and non-marital birth rates exploded until a third of all babies (and nearly 70 percent of black babies) were born outside marriage. As a result, between 1970 and 2004, the percentage of children living in a
female-headed family increased from 12 percent to 28 percent. It's hard to fight poverty when more and more children are in families of the type that are most likely to be poor.
Unfortunately, this is largely a societal problem, and as such it does not make for an easy governmental solution. In order to more proactively address this challenge on the local level, however, Council agreed to fund a pilot program for FY08 through which Children, Youth and Family Services would expand its existing Home Visiting Program, which primarily works with low-income mothers, to include a new focus on mentoring and engagement with low-income fathers. It won't always be easy to accomplish, but getting more men to take responsibility for the children they've sired would reap major benefits for all involved.


* City Council has recently taken some significant steps forward with regard to the preservation and restoration of Jefferson School, an important historical structure for our whole community and a future home of the African American Heritage and Cultural Center. In March 2007, the City announced that an impressive line-up of community and business leaders had been selected to form the Jefferson School General Partnership, which will now proceed with the building's transformation. A group of African-American Jefferson School alumni has already pledged to raise $1 million toward this project.

* In response to community leaders (particularly John Gaines, past president of the Charlottesville NAACP) who presented petitions containing hundreds of signatures from the 10th & Page and Fifeville neighborhoods, Council agreed last fall to re-name the "9th-10th Street Connector" in honor of Charlottesville native and NFL football great Roosevelt Brown. "Roosevelt Brown Boulevard" is now one of the very few public spaces named for an African-American in all of Charlottesville.

* Gentrification is threatening the cultural and historical fabric of many older neighborhoods in Charlottesville, particularly African-American neighborhoods like 10th & Page and Fifeville/Castle Hill. One of the proposed provisions in the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Investment Program is a set of guidelines that aims to ensure that publicly-funded neighborhood development projects target existing neighborhood residents with homeownership, job creation and business development opportunities created through the redevelopment process, thereby minimizing the displacement of long-time residents.

* This April, Police Chief Tim Longo presented a status report to Council on the commendable efforts that he and his department have made to be more proactive, solutions-oriented and technologically-savvy in fighting crime in Charlottesville. Following his report, several Councilors urged Chief Longo to expand his department's community policing initiative and incorporate more foot patrols in their work so as to build better relationships with the neighborhoods they serve. This, combined with a more aggressive recruitment of African-American police officers and a continuation of Chief Longo's work to eliminate bias-based policing in Charlottesville, will hopefully go a long way toward reducing some of the disconnect that exists in the way that blacks and whites view the police here in our community.

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