Big Idea: Five steps to reducing poverty

Stop unnecessary foreclosures: In more than 80 percent of our foreclosure cases, Pisgah Legal Services is preventing foreclosures and saving homes. This success rate has convinced us that the vast majority of foreclosures can be prevented if homeowners have legal representation. Local, state and federal governments, foundations, the United Way and individuals should fund more assistance for people who can’t afford legal counsel. This is an investment in the stability of local families and neighborhoods.

Create construction jobs: In 2011, we saw record numbers of people who’d fallen out of the middle class. Many of them had worked in the construction industry. Investments in affordable housing would put them back to work while increasing the supply of decent, affordable housing. Many N.C. cities have issued bonds that make housing more affordable by reducing interest rates. This creates construction jobs while growing the local tax base — and ensuring that lower-income people don’t have to live in substandard, often dangerous housing.

Invest in programs that work: Local, state and federal governments should reinvest in effective social programs. Pisgah Legal Services, Homeward Bound and other nonprofits with a proven track record of solving poverty-related problems are a critical part of our community’s infrastructure, just as much as schools, roads and public utilities. In 2011, we helped 12,000 low-income people avoid homelessness, stop domestic violence and secure health care and other essential services. This produced more than $31 million in quantifiable benefits (such as preserving home equity and securing subsistence income) for our clients and our region.

Reduce domestic violence: The human and social costs of domestic violence in our country are incalculably high. We must support personal, institutional and government interventions to break the cycle of abuse. We handle more than 1,000 domestic-violence cases annually. Our staff and volunteer attorneys work closely with Helpmate and other local agencies to end abuse and help survivors rebuild their lives. National studies have shown that legal aid is one of the most critical and effective steps in ending domestic violence.

Weatherize to save money and help the environment: Most low-income people are losing precious resources because their homes leak heat. This is especially true in many of Buncombe County’s dozens of mobile-home parks, which are often the housing of last resort for people in poverty. At 125 percent of the federal poverty rate, a family of four is living on just $27,938 a year. Utility bills of $300 to $400 per month are economically devastating.

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