Michelle Singletary, a Washington Post syndicated columnist, personal finance author, and housing rights advocate, addressed attendees to kick off the conference. Ms. Singletary began with the story of a woman who received assistance to purchase her first home and how this home was where her brother, disabled with epilepsy and unable to get housing assistance of his own, died after a long struggle with his illness. “That woman was me,” Ms. Singletary said, describing how her personal experience inspired her passion for housing advocacy.
“There is no question that affordable housing is at a crisis level,” Ms. Singletary said. President Obama and House Republicans, she said, have stated that all items should be “on the table” for the deficit reduction discussion. “No, everything should not be on the table,” including affordable housing assistance, Ms. Singletary said.
Ms. Singletary quoted Cushing Niles Dolbeare extensively and described her as a brilliant woman. Cushing N. Dolbeare founded NLIHC in 1974 and is an icon of the low income housing movement.
“It is hard to exaggerate how big the shortage of affordable housing is,” Ms. Singletary said. During her speech, Ms. Singletary played video news pieces from East Point, GA, where, in 2010, more than 30,000 people showed up to get an application to get on the East Point Georgia’s waiting list for housing choice vouchers.
Quoting Dolbeare, Ms. Singletary said that the greatest challenge for advocates is that the housing debate on the Hill is never about reality, it is always about the crumbs. “We’ve got to get the dialogue to a real dimension, be bold about what we want: that affordable housing should be a fundamental right. You are fighting against a slew of politicians who have no idea what it’s like to be poor,” Ms. Singletary said.
“Do we damn [poor people] for their whole life because they’ve had setbacks, because they’ve made bad decisions,” Ms. Singletary asked.
Ms. Singletary said, “Don’t ask for the crumbs. Demand the whole loaf. Be bold. Ask for what you want. No more crumbs.”“No more crumbs! No more crumbs,” the crowd chanted, most rising to their feet, all clapping steadily. This refrain was repeated throughout the conference by attendees and presenters alike.