Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Calling Orange County “Home”

We came to Orange County in the autumn of 1978. Though we lived in Durham for a few years, we moved back to Chapel Hill in the mid-80s and have called it home ever since. We made a choice to live in this community.

This year, I am proud to serve as the 2014 Chair of the Orange County Housing Authority, a relatively new community board appointed by the County Commissioners. We provide citizen oversight of the County’s Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly known as “Section 8.” Just under 600 families in this community are the direct beneficiaries of this rental subsidy, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The program brings about $3.5 million into our community every year.

That support is vital for those families, but did you know that you benefit from it too? The effect on you and your family or your business may be indirect, but it’s right in front of you. Keeping housing affordable leads directly to spending money in the Orange County economy.

Because their housing is affordable, voucher holders can spend their limited income in a more diverse, balanced way. They can shop for back-to-school clothes for the kids, go to a concert or eat in a restaurant occasionally and manage the cost of their healthcare.

If participants cannot locate housing that accepts an HCV voucher and they have to leave the program, they may remain in Orange County, they may live in the same apartment.  If they have to spend 50-60% of their income on their rent, it will not be spent in restaurants, in retail shops or entertainment venues. For elderly and disabled citizens, medicines may have to last longer, putting their health at risk.

Disproportionate rent burden for low income families has a negative ripple effect in the local economy – it hurts all of us in lost tax revenues and sales to local businesses.

Who are these people? They are people who work all over the county and serve you directly every day. They are hospital staff, restaurant workers, entrepreneurs, artists, first responders (police, fire and emergency response), bus drivers, home health aides, daycare workers, public school and University support staff.  Our community needs these people in order to thrive and we are losing our capacity to make housing affordable for them.

The Mayors of Carrboro and Chapel Hill have made clear that they are committed to supporting the stability of affordable housing and the awareness of the Housing Choice Voucher Program. We are grateful for their leadership in this effort.

That said, the local governments are limited in what they can do in holding down pricing in the rental housing market. Mayor Kleinschmidt correctly points to state laws that prohibit measures that would be considered “rent control.”  

There is direct action available to all of us. If you own a property that you’d like to make available to rent, you may be eligible to do so through the Housing Choice Voucher Program. We need more participation from local landlords, providing a strong portfolio of choices for voucher holders. We need local government incentives and new ideas. Speak up. Demand solutions to this long term problem.

We will be announcing information sessions (sponsored by the housing authority) for prospective landlords sometime in September. Meanwhile, keep your mind and your heart open to the knock on the door that comes from a voucher holder looking for a place for his or her family to live. These families choose to live here. They work here, spend their money here and they vote here. We depend on them for many vital services and they’re counting on us to keep Orange County an affordable place to call home.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Power Politics

A few days of no electricity restores the ability to think in complete sentences ... dare I suggest - even paragraphs?
My street - a mile-long cut-in near Camp New Hope- suffered a downed power line across the road. Very dangerous. Not only was the line down, the pole from whence it came was jutting out at about 45 degrees, as though it wanted to fall but lacked the nerve. It was falling not from ice, but from mud. The ground it sits on just off the road and up a few feet in elevation was giving way. Nerve wracking to drive under and scary to imagine it coming down. From Friday morning until yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, we watched and waited. Though Piedmont trucks were often nearby, we didn't see them in the neighborhood until yesterday afternoon. Not even to evaluate. No cones - nothing.
A couple of our neighbors (I don't know who, but they SHOULDN'T HAVE) freed the lines somewhat by cutting away trees that were laying on them. With the nice weather on Saturday and Sunday, we were outside here and their and encountering many of our neighbors, comparing notes.
Indeed, we had ALL called Piedmont Electric and reported the downed lines. I posted pictures on WTVD's website and then linked to that via Piedmont's Facebook page --- expressing my unhappiness. I can understand that we have to wait out turn and, compared to post-Fran, these were NOT the worst of times. What bothered me was Piedmont's lack of information systems both for managing incoming reports of outages and for updating the public on status. Their "outage viewer" online is a piece of crap on a smart phone - which is all many of us have (with gratitude) for getting information. I called at least twice and it seemed each time that the person I spoke to had no idea there was a pole about to fall onto the street.
And, of course, I saw no sign of good old Governor McNugget during any of this storm. Perhaps he was working on the coal ash problem, but I thought that even if I saw him on TV or heard him on the radio, what would he say that would help me in any way? Nothing. He, like Piedmont Electric at this point, doesn't have much credibility with many of us. That's an enormous problem during an emergency. I need to feel confident that my governor is on top of things on a simple human level -- looking out for us, whether we voted for him or not. Perhaps I'm sentimental, but that's the standard I look to and nearly never like what I see.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Women's History Month

The downside of observing under-appreciated achievements with Black and Women’s History month-long observances is they invariably miss something that was (for someone) very important. That makes something that was under-appreciated seem UNappreciated, which is probably not the case.

Here’s an example of that problem. Last February (at month’s end), there was a documentary called “Makers: Women Who Make America” on PBS, kicking off Women’s History Month. It was about the evolving image of working women and their roles within families. The film was narrated by Meryl Streep, an indisputable giant in film and champion of strong women being portrayed in three dimensions. Imperfect. Struggling. Growing.

The film featured various iconic milestones and talked a fair amount about how the image of women in television and films can help us imagine ourselves differently. We saw Marlo Thomas and Mary Tyler Moore as independent professionals on “That Girl” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” We saw “Maude” talk about abortion on television for the first time. Not mentioned on the program was “The West Wing”, where we saw Glenn Close portray a judge being vetted for the Supreme Court disclosing that she’d had an abortion. In that episode (admittedly on a program that is a liberal fantasy) she becomes Chief Justice of the United States.

That omission didn’t bother me. Here’s the one that did – in this program that was narrated by Streep, there was no mention at all of one of her first films, Kramer vs. Kramer. In the movie, thought to be quite a breakthrough at the time, Ted and Joanna Kramer are fighting over custody of their son and the court rules, wrongly, that Joanna Kramer will get full custody. It’s Hollywood, though, so the Kramers work it out in the end (as they never could in the beginning) and they informally arrange to share custody.

Presumably the filmmakers didn’t want to distract from the focus on women – women being great, courageous leaders. I get that. Sometimes, and especially in complicated situations, being a leader is mostly about seeing more than one possible right answer and (in rare occurrences) it’s about letting go of some power to get the best solution for everyone involved.  “Joanna Kramer” was a leader of women, ahead of her time. She taught the hard lesson of humility, the need for partnership and the integrity of objectively seeing and admitting when you’ve been wrong. If America’s investment banks had taken that lesson, our economy would be in much better shape right now.

So, to look at women’s history with some integrity and through today’s perspective, it’s not a good time to take a victory lap. To wit:
    • We still have an embarrassing level of representation in the Congress (both houses).
    • We are still fighting for reproductive rights.
    • We carry most of the load in caring for our aging parents (and in-laws).
    • We comprise the bulk of minimum wage workers.
    • We are most of the population living in poverty.
For all the attention that an openly gay defensive lineman gets for possible “distractions” to his NFL team, there is almost no possibility that a professional football, basketball or baseball player would be “distracted by” a player raping or beating the shit out of a woman.

As I watch Wendy Davis running for governor in Texas, I am hopeful that we might be getting to the next level of our struggle, largely because she is providing clear evidence that we are in a struggle. It’s not up to her to carry this burden, though, it is up to each and every one of US.

Happy Women’s History Month. Now, let’s get back to work.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Mission Control

The first visit to the gym went great. The treadmill .. Wow. It's not a workout, it's mission control. Built-in fans and cupholders, constant readout of your heart rate, a chart telling me the sweet spot (target heart rate) to focus on. How appropriate - for a mission that's never really accomplished.

Easy to see how people get into this and overdo it. There's a lot to try and it's not all torture. I wanted to be sure and leave still able to walk and have a desire to come back. So on that, FIRST DOWN!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Football and Fitness

Happy new year.  We all have our resolutions, I suppose. Published or not, there's a cleansing feeling in seeing a blank January. We can try again. We can turn a page. It's more than a new month. It's a new beginning.

I've been watching a LOT of football and you have to admire one genius thing about the game. You go on the field knowing you need to score, but the game is structured to break that big goal into smaller ones. First downs. Take four plays. Get at least ten yards and you can keep the ball. Move the chains. Smart.

I think it's the often welcome disruption of routine that the holidays deliver unto us. By January, we are yearning for the daily grind to come back - resetting the calendar resets the alarm, the promised diet and exercise commitment. I usually go through that "miscellaneous" pile on my desk and discover something I started looking for during the previous Easter weekend.

This year, it's time to deploy stage two of the getting into shape plan. The first stage was fixing a lifetime of bad news in the knees department and boy oh boy did THAT turn out to be more complicated than planned. Bilateral knee replacement (2 knees on same day) is never going to be a picnic but my experience added some ugly setbacks including a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis during my recovery - cause, yeah, I relish challenge.

Ok fine. I have this. I'm living with it. I've beaten it into remission now, so ... What's next?

One thing is, this year must feature regular visits to a gym to work on machines. I told myself I'd get enough physical activity without doing this. I was wrong. Way wrong. So new year, new opportunities. Off to the gym we go, hubby and I.

It sounds like way more fun than cleaning the house. Unfortunately, gotta do that too. But we're joining and doing this stuff together.

First down, ten yards to go.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Affording Care

I completed my enrollment via Healthcare.gov on Sunday afternoon (12/1). On Monday, BCBSNC generated a letter and payment coupon. On Tuesday, They mailed it. Today, (Thursday, Dec 5) I got it. When they process my payment, I should expect my welcome kit and insurance card. I'm guessing that'll take a week.

So, THAT happened.  

No screaming headlines, just the government doing what it promised, the health insurance provider responding efficiently and now I can expect to be insured on New Year's day for LESS than I paid for my previous coverage.

Also, this ... the word "Obama" did not and will not appear anywhere on my  insurance materials, because the government is not providing my insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield is doing that.

The fact is, though, that without the Affordable Care Act I would have to remain as I am now - without health insurance (my COBRA has expired). So, for all my friends and relatives (and you know who you are) who berate the president and embrace the "repeal Obamacare" chant from the GOP citing nonsense about "the government takeover of healthcare", you can now continue expressing yourself knowing that you are advocating for me to be uninsured and unable to pay for my insulin and the many medicines I take daily to manage other conditions. Not that much of a stretch to call that a death panel, is it? 

If it sounds like I take it personally, I do. A misinformed electorate could cost me my life.


Finally, if you're inclined to tell me about young healthy people getting into the insurance pool, please save your breath. I know that, probably better than most people. I'm an insurance baby, born in Hartford, Connecticut. It's the family business. I'm grateful for the ACA. I mourn for people who have suffered and died due to its lack in the last 30 years. As a nation, we should be ashamed that this has taken so long.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

McCrory's Dog Whistle

I call our Governor "McNugget" because he offers only empty, unhealthy calories.

If it's my paranoia, please tell me, but I read Gov. McNugget's outrageous editorial explaining his signature on North Carolina's new "Voter ID" bill and thought this was a cannonball headed for NorthEast Central Neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina. In his third paragraph the Governor writes:
Even if the instances of misidentified people casting votes are low, that shouldn’t prevent us from putting this non-burdensome safeguard in place. Just because you haven’t been robbed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night or when you’re away from home.
He says that a law to stop/prevent in-person voting fraud didn't have to wait for the actual problem to exist, but I think it's it something else and much more sinister.

I think the governor is not accidental in his language. He's not a lawyer (neither am I), so maybe he doesn't know that if someone breaks into your house when you're not home, it's a burglary, not a robbery. He does know, with certainty, that those most affected by his reduction in access to voting are African American, elderly, disabled and/or poor. Northeast Central Durham, a democratic party stronghold, and it's ground zero for this law. There's a bullseye on the Bull City. The GOP has a storied history of disrupting voting in Durham to win elections. We hear the dog whistle.

In explaining his reasons for reducing access to voting for low income, vulnerable people, McNugget wants to reminds us about scary crime - specifically home invasion.

I find no coincidence in it - just as I didn't think he was tone deaf at all when he brought cookies out to women who were protesting to keep the keys to their own wombs. One should know when one is being arrogantly insulted. He wasn't clueless, he was showing the extreme right that he knows where women belong.

The one good thing about what the GOP is up to in Raleigh is that they have abandoned all sense of subtlety or appearance of interest in the public good or responsible governance. They are nakedly pursuing the agenda that the national GOP is grasping for with manifest desperation:
Restore Us To Power Because We Should Be In Power. We have money and connections and we'll know what to do. 
ALL of their strategies for accomplishing their return to power are predicated on one thing - NOT THEM (Democrats). NOT THEM because they're non-white. NOT THEM because they're women. NOT THEM because they're gay, poor, disabled. Just NOT THEM.

They have no real platform or cohesion to what they are doing or why (in terms of an actual philosophy or policy). It's almost literally as through the left hand doesn't know that the right hand already robbed that bank.

A moment after state employees demonstrate their displeasure at going yet another year with raises, the Department of Health and Human Services gives raises in excess of $20,000 each to two "leadership team" members who are obviously patronage appointees from the McNugget campaign.

Ricky Diaz and Matthew McKillop, both 24 years old, were bumped up to annual salaries of more than $80,000.  Without an amazing fastball or a .380 batting average, you cannot justify those numbers.

And they have no intention of justifying those numbers, because elderly, disabled, poor African Americans or teachers or families that won't be covered under a passed-up Medicaid expansion are too busy struggling to figure out the political action that's necessary to slow the process of the rich getting richer.

And the governor wants us to equate making it easy for low income, elderly, disabled citizens to vote with the careless practice of leaving your house unlocked when you go out - an invitation to violation and theft.  Governor, you're as subtle as a sticky doorknob, with half the charm.

It's not paranoia when they're really after you.




Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/08/12/3102124/gov-pat-mccrory-why-i-signed-the.html#storylink=cpy