Keeping your head above water. Making the way best you can... I remember the first time that I heard that theme song and saw the introduction to the Good Times television show. I wondered how people could live in highrise concrete tombs surrounded by fences of iron and hopelessness. I have never been sure whether those fences were built to keep the world out or keep the residents in. Either way, the boundaries worked. The result was generations of people who had confined their lives and their minds to a three block radius. Later in my life, I got a chance to be a part of a team that got the opportunity to re-envision the community called Cabrini Green, which was the home of the Evans family in the Good Times series.
When you hear the words "affordable housing" what pictures come to your mind? A lot of us see very negative images of people who live in affordable housing. These first impressions tend to stay with us even after the facts make evident that we have an incorrect perception. Those first impressions impact our thinking, feelings and decision-making regarding a person, place, or thing far into the future. They also impact the neighbors that we serve and the neighbors that don't need our services.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of sitting across the kitchen tables and having long conversations with many wonderful men and women who happen to reside in affordable housing. Their faces were familiar because they represented people who served me and my family every day: nonprofit professionals, nurses, teachers, clergy, young underemployed college graduates, police officers, small business owners, retail employees, as well as childcare and senior care providers. They also were severely disabled young adults, mentally challenged individuals, seniors, recovering addicts, veterans, single moms, and others needing a supportive community, as well as a roof over their head. None of them fit an image of folk who just "didn't care" about themselves and others. Their stories were much more complex.
Here's what I know for sure... there should be diverse housing options so that no one has to choose between feeding their children and paying their rent or mortgage. People who work in a city should be able to live in that same city. We at the Virginia Beach CDC and Southeastern Virginia Housing Corporation are passionate thought leaders who work tirelessly to achieve the vision of affordable homes in nurturing neighborhoods for every member of our community. I invite each of you to take the time to get to know the neighbors that we serve. Your life, like mine, will be forever enriched.