Tackling T.I.N.A. is not your average reading group. The group, which is run by Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, a grad student at Lehigh University, focuses on imagining alternatives to capitalism. The title of the group points toward their aim of “tackling” the belief that “there is no alternative” to our current economic system. Although this may seem like a difficult topic, group leaders choose books for a popular audience that address some of the more urgent issues that our communities face, such as homelessness and poverty.
The September meeting was the first of a three-part series on poverty running Fall 2018. At this meeting, people gathered in a cafeteria at New Bethany Ministries to talk about selections from Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted (2016). Participants in the September discussion included students and teachers from area schools, past and current recipients of New Bethany’s hospitality services, and residents of the Lehigh Valley. There were also numerous attendees who work to address poverty, including employees of New Bethany Ministries and Community Action Corporation of the Lehigh Valley.
The meeting was facilitated by Diane Elliot, Executive Director of New Bethany Ministries, and Marc Rittle, Vice President of Impact, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Their expertise provided a crucial framework for the discussion; they used their own experience and knowledge of local public policy and homelessness in the Lehigh Valley to pose engaging questions.
Desmond’s Evicted follows the struggles of Milwaukee residents as they face eviction. It explores the causes of eviction, such as rising rent prices, gentrification, and unemployment. Desmond also explores the impacts of eviction, like the creation of concentrated low-income areas and cycles of poverty. The groundbreaking book narrates the rise of eviction as a part of the landscape of working class life across America and proposes concrete solutions to the problem.
While the discussion was generated from the reading, conversation focused heavily on eviction within south Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. Eviction is on the rise in the Lehigh Valley as it is everywhere in America. Griffin Schoenbaum’s post “Eviction’s Impact in the Lehigh Valley” in the North Penn Legal Service’s blog offers an analysis of eviction rates and poverty rates for Lehigh County. According to him, in 2016, the eviction filing rates for Bethlehem, Lehigh County, Easton and Allentown all exceeded the national average. Rates in Allentown doubling the national average at 13.3% as compared to the national average of 6.12%. To look at eviction statistics across the U.S., check out The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, a national database of evictions complete with maps and a year-by-year analysis.
An Enduring Conversation
Participants discussed eviction broadly but also offered specific ideas for how to get more people out of tenuous living situations and into secure housing. One man who has worked on this issue said that policy focused on creating mixed-income neighborhoods is a way to create dynamic and prosperous local economies. Another man argued adamantly for tiny homes as a mobile solution both to housing and transportation problems. Others see increased government housing subsidies as a solution. Desmond supports this argument in the conclusion to Evicted. Making use of the principle that one’s housing shouldn’t cost more than a third of one’s income, Desmond argues for a housing voucher system in which the government would cover housing costs minus what one is considered able to cover, that is, a third of one’s income. These were just some of the many positions and ideas present in the discussion.
Attendees agreed that it’s been difficult to make positive change in the Lehigh Valley because of the high number of municipalities and zoning regulations and the fact that there is no designated housing court in the area. Because of this evictions clog up the courts. Judges who have little expertise in the area of eviction end up making life-altering decisions without giving the matter proper consideration (and, the general consensus is, almost always supporting the landlords’ claims). A low minimum wage and increasing property rates are also, obviously, huge factors. Elliot and Rittle provided statistics which indicate that, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the Lehigh Valley on minimum wage, one would have to work 119.79 hours a week.
There are a lot of barriers to fixing the problem of eviction, and the statistics are discouraging. However there are a lot of people in the Lehigh Valley who really care about these issues and are working to fix them.
Tackling the Future
The power of the Tackling T.I.N.A. discussions is that they bring people together who might not otherwise cross paths, allowing participants to engage with renowned thinkers addressing these issues in their communities. Then they renew a sense of hope and solidarity as participants discuss the ramifications of these issues for the Bethlehem area in particular.
Tackling T.I.N.A. events are open to everyone, and readings can be found here. The next meeting, titled “Alternative Financial Institutions,” will focus on “alternative financial and housing models.” The meeting will take place on November 15th at 4 PM, at the Lehigh Valley Social Impact Center (321 E 4th St. in South Bethlehem).
*Featured image courtesy of Tackling T.I.N.A. site*