CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A spot check of four organizations participating in the "Our Children, Our Future" coalition to fight child poverty reveals that some are honing specific proposals while others are working on long-range goals.
Representatives of more than 30 organizations gathered in Beckley and Bridgeport in August to work on 18 initiatives ranging from a proposal to prohibit federal food stamp recipients from using benefits to buy soft drinks to an effort aimed at increasing the state minimum wage.
Proposals were further refined in late September at a symposium at the state Capitol, where members of the House and Senate Joint Committee on Children and Families were briefed.
Since the Charleston symposium, coalition participants have been figuring out exactly what they want to ask for when they meet Dec. 13. That's when the 18 original proposals will be whittled down to about five. All of the participants will be asked to push for those five when the Legislature convenes in January.
The group advocating affordable housing reform is working on a detailed package of proposals under the "Quality Homes, Quality Jobs Act" banner, said Brandon Dennison, executive director of the Coalfield Development Corp., which is based in Wayne.
"We've been working to get the proposal more and more specific," Dennison said. "We will have a community meeting in Wayne in late November. .<!p>.<!p>.We will make a presentation before the Joint Committee on Children and Families on housing and workforce development issues."
Dennison said his group's position is that "a home is the foundation to a good quality of life, and the research backs us up on that. Students don't perform well in school when they don't have a safe, warm place to go home to at night. Employees don't perform well in the workplace if they don't have a safe, warm, affordable place to go home to at night.
"Housing is really important and yet it's been left out of the conversation in West Virginia for a little while now. That's our philosophical argument for why, of the 18 issues, we feel housing should be the top one.
"We want to support community-based entities that know the people, know the community, and therefore put realistic, broadly supported projects together in our communities," he said.
Affordable housing reform advocates want increased funding for the West Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Created by the Legislature in 2001, the fund gets a $20 fee levied on every real estate transfer in the state. The fund's website says that over the years it has provided a total of $2.2 million to 45 organizations -- including the Coalfield Development Corp. -- which has resulted in 250 housing units.
"The fund exists solely for the purpose of promoting affordable housing for lower income families," Dennison said. "It's been very successful. But it only has one staff person running a statewide program so it could be doing so much more."
Asked if housing advocates should be pushing for an increase in the $20 real estate transfer fee, Dennison said, "I don't know if that's winnable. We do want to see the trust fund's profile raised.
"In the foreclosure crisis, when banks were doing inappropriate things with housing consumers, the state Attorney General and a bunch of other attorney generals sued the big banks and won. It makes a lot of sense to me that that money would go into something like the housing trust fund because that's a housing related case and the trust fund would address housing related issues."
Another proposal: Put interest earned on renters' security deposits in the trust fund.
The housing group is also looking at ways to increase the ability of municipalities to create land banks and at tying housing development in with workforce training.
"We have a fantastic on-the-job training program," Dennison said of the Coalfield Development Corp. "As we're developing units of affordable housing we're developing the skills of lower-income individuals on the job. And we're partnering with the local community college so the individuals get college credits for that. We do some life coaching as well.
"A good housing strategy can be a good jobs strategy," he said. "I think that's very attractive."
Jim McKay, state director of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, is leading an effort to expand in-home family education programs, which provide voluntary parenting education and support. They often begin before the birth of a child. Services are provided in families' homes by trained home visitors that use research-based curriculum. They help families succeed and get off to a smart, healthy start.