Letter: Housing and violence are twin challenges that must be addressed

Posted 4/27/23

The Northwest Summit is a collective of nonprofits, faith communities and individuals serving Germantown and Northwest Philadelphia.

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Letter: Housing and violence are twin challenges that must be addressed


The Northwest Summit is a collective of nonprofits, faith communities and individuals serving Germantown and Northwest Philadelphia. By promoting collaboration among those working with low-income, marginalized communities, we confront poverty’s obstacles. Our work is engaging those in need of food, shelter, physical and mental health services, and access to educational and employment opportunities. Our agencies vary but two pervasive challenges confront us all: toxic levels of violence and a crippling shortage of housing options. 

Most of our agencies are not specifically focused on violence prevention. Yet none can escape the devastating toll it takes, destroying families and leaving unfillable voids. The regularity of violence and the community-wide trauma that results are not normal and cannot be accepted. The long-term effects of this trauma on every aspect of peoples’ lives burden families continually. As generational wealth is transferred among families with financial means, so too is generational trauma passed on to the children and grandchildren of those who experience the scourge of violence.

As a city and state, we must do more to address the causes of violence and its inextricable link to poverty. 

  • Demand living wage employment. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25/hr. is unchanged since 2009. Philadelphia ranks fourth lowest nationally in minimum wage buying power. 
  • Address the role that mental health and chemical dependency play. Destigmatizing and investing in treatment resources is critical. 
  • Insist on a renewed legislative challenge regarding firearms. Last year, approximately 85% of Philadelphia’s homicides were committed with guns. Harrisburg’s indifference can no longer fuel the carnage in our city’s neighborhoods. 

For those we serve, “home” is an increasingly elusive concept. The disparity between income and housing costs presents a constant struggle. Many neighbors are working low-wage jobs, others are on fixed incomes that are not enough to cover most available housing. Any kind of disruption – a lost job, or illness – jeopardizes their ability to pay rent or a mortgage. With eviction moratoriums over, landlords are increasing rents. Many fail to keep units in a reasonable, safe condition. Yet because of the lack of supply, residents are forced to stay. Those with government housing vouchers can find only meager options. The City’s limited resources for permanent housing are a particularly acute problem because there is an increased need for housing for seniors and those who are disabled. 

Supporting home ownership in low-income neighborhoods is an issue of social and racial equity. We need to increase subsidies for repairs and maintenance of homes owned privately by low-income residents. Homes are often the primary asset for families of color, and more needs to be done to support home ownership – both to provide a safe and stable living situation and also to support the intergenerational transfer of family wealth. 

Because of the lack of affordable rental properties, we must increase and expand the availability of housing vouchers – a need borne out by the overwhelming response to the recent Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) voucher lottery. We must increase the supply by using and maximizing abandoned PHA and other public housing units.

We call on elected officials, businesses, institutions of higher education and medicine, faith communities, nonprofit agencies, and everyday citizens to address these two critical issues. Amidst a mayoral and city council election, we ask every candidate to articulate their plans for addressing the issues of ongoing violence and lack of quality housing for lower-income families in our city.

Mary Kay Meeks-Hank, Face to Face

Tobi Downing, Northwest Victim Services

Stefanie F. Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia

Eileen A. Jones, Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry

Bethany Flood, Foundation for Health Equity

Ami Yares, Build a Bridge

Sara Popkin, UUH Outreach Program

Sylvia T. Spivey, Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, Inc.

Robert Byrne, Family Promise of Philadelphia

Jeff S. Williamson, My Place Germantown

Marianne A. Fray, Maternity Care Coalition

Reneé C. Cunningham, Center in the Park

Emaleigh Doley, Germantown United CDC

Joseph Waldo, Urban Resources Development Corporation

Reverend Michelle Simmons, Why Not Prosper

Casey O’Donnell, Impact Services

Heather Rice, Whosoever Gospel Mission

Elizabeth Eagles, St. Martin-in-the-Fields