Thursday, December 25, 2008

'It's A Wonderful Life' is more than a sweet story; it's about affordable housing and social justice

It is easy to get caught up in the sweet ending of "It's a Wonderful Life" at this time of year and the belief that every angel gets his or her wings every time a bell rings.

There is much more to this Frank Capra classic and Jimmy Stewart tour-de-force.

It's about suicide and personal frustration and anger.

It is about dreams too long deferred.

It's about bigtory toward immigrants -- in this movie it is about Italians.

But more than these points, it is about social justice and what creates a progressive city and better people. The Bailey Building and Loan had the mission of building affordable, clean and safe housing for the people who did most of the living and dying in Bedford Falls. It was that mission that kept the city from becoming Pottersville, with all corruption and cancer at its core.

But during the Bush administration, this nation completely abandoned the cause of affordable housing. And during the same years in Nashville -- a supposedly progressive city -- leaders here have been about building and maintaining new homes for pro sports teams and symphonies. Working people in need be damned.

Yet Nashville or any city can't wait any longer on George Bailey's quest. Working Americans are being thrown out of their homes as more home mortgages are foreclosed upon. And they really have no place affordable, safe and clean to go.

Here, the Rev. Bill Barnes, long-time crusader for affordable housing and social justice, has been asking for $15,000 to fund research about the depth and breadth of the affordable housing problem. It is enormous. But city leaders don't want to fund the research because then they'll have to do something about it. They're not good at addressing the needs of the people doing most of the living and dying here. The schools are about to be taken over by the state under authority provided by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The only affordable housing plan here is Habitat for Humanity. While nice, it does not begin to address the need. And Habitat will only build in poor neighborhoods, already beset by enormous social problems including traffic.

Good, clean and affordable housing affects everything in a city for most of the people. It sure does affect a child's ability to learn in the classroom. Ask any teacher.

I've spent nights in housing projects where gunfire breaks up the stillness of the night, and can break through brick into a child's bedroom. That's why no child sleeps against the outside in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. That's why few of these children get enough rest, along with their good mommas.

While Nashville and other U.S. cities could not be moved by the needs of the poor and the supposed morality of their leadership, the problem of a lack of affordable housing now has reached higher up the economic ladder to the middle class. If you don't do something now, it will cost you at the ballot box ... finally.

So the challenge for us is to challenge our leaders to finally come up with affordable housing plans for our communities, and if needed, fund research first to determine the depth and breadth of the problem.

Further failure to act will only raise the stakes. And there won't be a George Bailey and an angel named Clarence to save the day and the future of your community.

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