VOICES: A home should be a place to live in peace, security, and dignity

May 27 will be the fifth anniversary of the 2019 Memorial Day tornado that tore through Trotwood, where it reached speeds of 165 MPH as it traveled to Riverside Drive, and then on to the Stillwater River. Eventually it was classified as an EF4 tornado. More than 800 properties were destroyed, forcing thousands to find temporary housing. While a number of the rental units in the damaged area were eventually replaced, too many of the new units are no longer affordable to low-to-moderate income residents. The temporary and permanent loss of affordable housing in the parts of Dayton impacted by the tornado, offers us an opportunity to reflect on the larger issue confronting the region.

A recent column on March 8 by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Stivers outlined the details of the income versus housing cost challenge. Many low-to-moderate income Ohioans exist in a “housing-cost- burden” status. Only 3 out of the 10 most common jobs in Ohio pay an hourly rate that would allow for the rent of a modest two-bedroom apartment. While the debate over affordable housing policy alternatives continues across the nation, the general reduction in the lower cost segment of the housing market persists.

The issue of affordable housing is a worldwide concern. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights Special report on the right to adequate housing (renewed in 2023) stated “Housing is the basis of stability and security for an individual or family. The center of our social, emotional, and sometimes economic lives, a home should be a sanctuary — a place to live in peace, security, and dignity. Increasingly viewed as a commodity, housing is most importantly a human right.”

In Catholic Social Teaching and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find principles that opt for the poor and vulnerable. These teachings compel us to work toward a more just and truly human housing system. The Church’s teachings support the right to private property, but recognize that communities and the government have an obligation to ensure that affordable access to the housing needs of all are met, especially people and their families who are vulnerable and experiencing poverty. In a time of rising homelessness, when many workers’ wages are stagnant and living expenses are rising, it is important to ensure housing security.

In a pastoral response to the Housing crisis in 1975, The US Catholic Conference of Bishops wrote “decent housing must be within the means of each family. The cost of such a home or apartment should not deprive the family of other essentials. …The lack of safe, affordable housing requires a renewed commitment to increase the supply of quality housing and to preserve, maintain, and improve existing housing through public/private partnerships, especially with religious groups and community organizations.”

On this anniversary of the Memorial Day tornado, please take a moment to consider how central the home is to achieving a stable, dignified, and secure life for our neighbors. We call upon all members of our local community to address this issue within our civic discourse and in the policies we advocate for at the local and national level. We ask that we all recognize that adequate housing is fundamental, indeed crucial, for a healthy and flourishing society.

Dr. John Malas and Dr. Sue Sack are members of the Weavers of Justice, a collaborative of parishioners of greater Dayton Catholic parishes and organizations dedicated to cultivating a vibrant social ministry within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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