It's hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need.

Without reasonably priced housing, everything else in life seems to come apart at the seams. Affordable housing around New Bedford, Fall River and the rest of the SouthCoast is not so great. This week, United Interfaith Action of Southeastern Massachusetts (UIA) held a press conference to raise awareness and address the state of housing around here.

UIA Executive Director Andrea Sheppard Lomba said the organization clearly made its case by coming prepared with proposals and ideas of action, sharing data and listening to firsthand testimonials about their personal struggles and experiences with regional housing issues.

"We put forward our proposals and what we'd like the (City of New Bedford) to do, by primarily investing the American Rescue Plan funding around housing, as the city's No. 1 priority."

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The City of New Bedford is considering how to distribute the $80-plus million in ARPA federal COVID recovery funds.

Renee Ledbetter, President of the UIA Board and Director of the New Bedford Shannon Program, said an investment in housing is an investment in people.

"A lot of younger people don't have a stable place to live," she said. "The future of these young people and the future of New Bedford are both connected to housing, and that sustainability depends on investing in the rehabilitation and creation of affordable housing. That's how you put people first."

The federal government says housing is within your means if it doesn't exceed 30 percent of the household's income. That's to say, if you can find housing at that price, you'll still have money left over for other necessities like food, health care and transportation.

"In New Bedford, 47 percent of households are cost burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and 23 percent of households in New Bedford are severely cost burdened, spending more than 50 percent of income on housing," Sheppard Lomba said. "This is much more than other households statewide. Bristol County also has the highest eviction rate in the state, with New Bedford facing the third highest eviction rate in Massachusetts since 2020."

The huge waitlists for local housing include 4,131 people on New Bedford's Section 8 list, and over 4,087 on the New Bedford list for public housing.

"Th mayor's current ARPA proposal has more money going towards the arts, culture, hospitality and tourism at $18 million, while proposing only $13 million for housing and neighborhood stabilization," Ledbetter said.

"We need housing to be raised up as a priority for further funding," she said. "The City has a unique opportunity with the ARPA funds, and UIA would like to see $8 million of the remaining $50 million shifted towards housing. This would raise housing to around 25 percent of the total ARPA funding, signifying the importance of this issue."

For additional information call Andrea Sheppard Lomba at (617) 359-2680 or andrea.uia@mcan.us.

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