Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry: Examining public policy changes for affordable housing

Published 3:17 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 7th Annual Poverty Forum featuring Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Matthew Desmond, the author of “Evicted – Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The guest of Pisgah Legal Services, he was in town to discuss the affordable housing crisis in American cities such as Asheville.

While researching for the book, he spent years developing case studies on eight families, all the while surveying thousands of tenants and landlords. He was interested to find out why evictions have been on the rise and why rent takes an increasing amount of poor families’ incomes.

What he found by following one tenant was that, after the first eviction, there was a “spiraling down” of future opportunities. It became harder to find affordable housing and what could be found, was increasingly in poor repair. So this client had to spend more of her income on less reputable housing, further from necessary amenities. His book goes into deeper detail about the causes and effects of the lack of affordable housing on the low income population and I highly recommend giving it a read.

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What his recent success has brought him is a platform to influence public policy on a national scale and he is using this platform to advocate for a housing voucher system. The program could be run like the SNAP program, where qualified individuals would be required to pay 30 percent of their income for housing and any remaining balance between that amount and the market value for rent could be covered by a housing voucher.

It sounds expensive, but let me ask you this – would you be willing to forego the mortgage interest deduction on your federal tax return to help your neighbor live in a decent home? 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, that tax break cost the federal government $70 billion in 2013, and most of the benefit goes to the middle and upper class. It will be interesting to see if this idea gets any traction.

To learn more about how Dr. Desmond is trying to “raise awareness of the human cost of the lack of affordable housing in America” both locally and nationally, visit

To learn more about how Pisgah Legal Services helps our citizens fight eviction locally, visit