This is the third story in a series of four about the barriers people face when trying to get out of poverty. This installment introduces us to a grandfather looking for quality affordable housing.
Edward White cleans and handles inventory at the Interactive Resource Center in downtown Greensboro for 30 hours a week.
He couldn’t be happier with his job.
That’s because he’s now a free man after spending the last seven years and two months in prison. He was convicted for possession of stolen goods and larceny. Now, he’s trying to rebuild his life.
“I’m trying to save my money, get me a car and get all my stuff straightened out, pay all my fines and fees and try to get my own place and then give somebody a chance to move into the house, for the house to help them too, like it has helped me,” said White, 49.
White currently lives in a transitional halfway house, which he chose not to name. The house helps White and other men try to get readjusted to society after getting out of prison by offering them a place to live.
For his room, White pays $355 a month for rent, which also takes care of all utilities. All the tenants are responsible for daily chores and ensuring the house remains drug and alcohol free.
Even though he’s stable, White wants to live on his own and that’s hard to do while working part-time with a criminal record.
“It’s a whole lot of guys out here who want a second chance, but they don’t have nowhere to live and it’s hard to have a job when you don’t have the proper housing or the proper place to rest when you come home from work,” he said.
With the low-income housing market slowly disappearing, it’s difficult for people living in poverty to afford housing.
White has been out of prison for a year, but he was homeless for a while because the shelters in Greensboro were either full or wouldn’t accept him because he’s an ex-convict.
“It’s hard getting housing so I had to stay here, there, everywhere,” he said. “On the streets and everything because the shelters were full, nobody would help you with housing until I came here to the IRC and the IRC gave me a chance.”
White found work at the day center, which helps people at risk of becoming homeless or who are currently homeless by providing fundamental services like showers, laundry and the ability to check emails.
IRC Executive Director Michelle Kennedy said if a person spends more than 30 percent of his or her monthly income on housing, it’ll be that much harder to get out of poverty. She said it’s especially critical since the lack of low-income housing in the area plays a role in homelessness.
“We need to invest in housing,” she said. “We’re either going to invest in dealing with people’s lack of housing or we can invest in creating housing so the need for it isn’t as severe as it is now.”
A report by the North Carolina Housing Coalition says that 38 percent of households in Greensboro are cost burdened, which means they’re spending too much of their monthly income on housing costs. The majority of those are renters, with 49 percent of renters being cost burdened.
Greensboro Housing Coalition Executive Director Brett Byerly said aside from the cost advantages that creating low-income housing brings, there are plenty of health benefits as well.
“We see children going to the hospital less when they’re in houses that don’t have asthma triggers,” he said. “We see people who are on the street, not going to the hospital because now it’s not winter time and they can be safe and recover from an illness in the comfort of a house with heat.”
When White began working with the Interactive Resource Center, they paid for his deposit and his first month’s rent.
He said he understands the struggles of others who sometimes choose to go without everyday necessities.
“If a person is only averaging $700 or $800 a month and people’s rent is $500 or $600 a month, you got nothing to spend,” he said. “You hardly have anything for your food, clothes, the wash and you got to have food, clothing, everything.”
The livable wage to get affordable housing in Greensboro is calculated to be about $13.50. Kennedy, of the IRC, said most entry-level positions don’t even match that.
She adds that when that happens, people who live in substandard housing usually won’t speak up for fear of losing the roof over their heads.
“Often folks will just tolerate things that they absolutely a) don’t have to tolerate and b) shouldn’t tolerate from a human rights perspective,” she said.
White wants to have his own place in the future. The father of three and grandfather of two said his main motivation for doing well is to not return to prison and to make his family proud.
“I want to have a better life,” he said. “I’ve done wrong, but now I’m trying to do right. I’m trying to live in a better fashion. I’m trying to make my grandkids happy and make myself happy by bettering myself.”