The chicken or the egg?

Thursday, March 15, 2018


(Transcribed and edited from an interview with Joe Mauthe, Executive Director of the Housing Partnership, on WHBY's Fresh Take with Josh Dukelow. The interview was part of the Fox Cities LIFE Study's LIFE in Motion Series, a collaborative partnership with United Way Fox Cities, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, and the Fox Cities Chamber. Listen to the full interview online.)

When asked about the relationship between housing and poverty, Joe Mauthe says the answer can lead to a chicken-or-egg discussion. He explains: paying a high percentage of your income on housing does not give you the margin to pay for other everyday needs. This forces you to make difficult choices. These choices then put you back into the cycle of poverty and, once there, it is difficult to afford housing. Struggling families’ housing and poverty issues are so interrelated, it is hard to figure out where to start.

What is spending “too much” for housing? Low-income households that spend 30 percent or more of their income on rental or mortgage payments, plus utilities, are considered “cost-burdened.” Locally, 39% of renter households fall into this category and likely cannot afford other essentials. This includes food, clothing, medicine, transportation, and education. Obviously, Joe states, you have to pay for shelter first. If shelter takes most of your income, then you have to make sacrifices. These sacrifices can have a snowball effect. If your car breaks down because you were unable to afford the necessary repairs, you might not make it to your job. Missed days equals lower paychecks. This snowballs into not being able to pay rent – and the cycle starts.

The mission of the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities is to enhance the dignity and self-sufficiency of families. Along with affordable housing, the Housing Partnership provides intensive case management and comprehensive life-skills training to families desiring to transition from homelessness to stable housing. Joe and his team are helping people get the foundation (literally), under them, so they can fit the rest of the pieces together.

Working with the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities and other community partners, United Way Fox Cities aims to stabilize more working families by reducing the number of renters experiencing a housing cost-burden. By 2021, United Way Fox Cities’ goal is to help 960 households move into a stable financial situation that breaks the cycle of poverty.