By Scott Alessi
With record numbers of American families facing the possibility of foreclosure and many more struggling to keep a roof above their heads, those who do have a safe and secure home certainly have a reason to be thankful.
That’s the premise behind the new website ThankfulHome.tv, a project of the Dayton, Ohio-based St. Mary Development Corporation. The site offers families around the country a forum where they can tell their own housing stories, either in print or on video. Since its launch June 4, the website has begun compiling a listing of resources for individuals facing housing difficulties and is collecting stories from people around the country, whether they have special housing needs or just want to give thanks for the blessing of their home.
The project is the creation of Tim Bete, communication director for St. Mary Development, an organization that helps seniors and economically disadvantaged families obtain affordable housing. He told Our Sunday Visitor that the idea for ThankfulHome.tv came to him after the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” filmed an episode near Dayton.
Hearing the situations of the families picked for the program got Bete thinking about all the people he had seen in his work with St. Mary Development who weren’t getting a chance to tell their stories.
“It just kind of hit me all of a sudden that for every family that you hear about in the news, there are probably thousands of families out there who have a story to tell. And my thought was that if we could get to the point (with our website) where we could have people being thankful for their homes, and other people telling stories about their bad housing situations and connect the two, solutions will come out of it,” he said.
“We’re hoping through the site to tell all of those different stories, both the positive ones and the negative ones, because I think people will come out of the woodwork to help.”
Founded 21 years ago by Sister of the Precious Blood Rose Wildenhaus and Dick McBride, St. Mary Development operates housing units for more than 500 seniors, builds rent-to-own single family homes and has helped more than 700 families avoid foreclosure through their programs in the Dayton area.
Although local housing concerns have long been a problem, Sister Rose told OSV, a spike in unemployment has made the situation much more severe in recent years.
“We have lost a lot of big factory jobs here, so that has really impinged on the economy,” she said. “We have whole neighborhoods where there are more than 1,000 boarded-up homes. There is an overabundance of housing in the city, but so much of it is boarded up and deteriorating.”
But the problem extends far beyond the city of Dayton. RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure listing company, reports that foreclosures in the United States reached a record-high 2.8 million in 2009, with the most instances occurring in California, Florida, Arizona and Illinois. Although rates have begun to level off in 2010, recently released data for May shows that foreclosure filings topped 300,000 properties for the 15th consecutive month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2008 that 1.6 million Americans turned to emergency homeless shelters over a 12-month period. And among those who continue to own or rent a home, HUD estimates that 12 million households now spend upward of 50 percent of their total annual income on housing, making it difficult to cover the cost of other basic necessities such as food and health care.
While there is a perception that high foreclosure rates have caused a drop in overly inflated housing prices that now makes housing more affordable, the Center for Housing Policy, research arm of the nonprofit National Housing Conference, has found that actual month-to-month costs for homeowners are on the rise. Although some buyers may now find lower market prices, Keith Wardrip, senior research associate for the center, told OSV that there are many families who still can’t afford the costs.
“For first-time homebuyers prices have come down, so if you’ve got a job, if you can get a loan and you’re in the market, buying a house today is more affordable. But even in those situations there is still a significant share of working households that make wages where they still can’t afford a medium price home,” Wardrip said.
And as families lose their homes to foreclosure, it further crowds the already difficult rental market, he added.
“There’s always been a pervasive shortage of rental units affordable to those with the lowest incomes, and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “In fact, it has probably gotten worse because you have a greater demand for rental housing today.”
Even though many have read the bad news on the housing situation, Bete said, the message becomes much more personal and is conveyed more strongly when one hears it directly from the source, which he sees as the key to the Thankful Home concept.
“The real problem is oftentimes, depending on where we live, we don’t see what is going on and we don’t feel connected to it,” Bete said. “If you can hear it from the people who are going through it, in their own words, I think what you will realize is ‘That could have been me.’
“It is something that when you see it, it is very powerful. It kind of gets you in the gut and makes you want to do something.”
And for the many families around the country who have not had to deal with the potential loss of their homes, Sister Rose added, the site provides an opportunity to reflect on their own good fortune and become more aware of the needs of others.
“A lot of times those of us who aren’t pressed into poverty, we don’t always show our appreciation or our thankfulness for what we have,” she said. “But we should all express our thankfulness for having a good home and a good place to live.
“Our big push was to get this site up and running so that we could say we helped people reflect on the blessings they have with a good home,” Sister Rose told OSV. “And it also tells us that there’s still so many families who can’t say that, and so we’ve still got lots of work to do.”
Scott Alessi writes from New Jersey.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing is considered “affordable” if its costs do not exceed 30 percent of a family’s total income. But a recent report released by the Center for Housing Policy finds that of the 113.1 million American households in 2008, 34 percent were burdened by excessive housing costs.
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