By Sheila Crowley, President & CEO NLIHC
For those of us whose job it is to influence the U.S. Congress to help people who are poor and vulnerable, it’s hard not to be deeply cynical about our democracy. The legislative process is a shambles, and public discourse offends more than enlightens. Getting serious issues heard above the din of the toxic debate is nearly impossible. Well-honed advocacy tools are wasted defending the status quo at best, not advancing the cause.
But yesterday was different. Pope Francis spoke before a Joint Session of Congress; for 51 minutes, he appealed to our elected officials to get their act together and work for the common good. His delivery was gentle but firm. “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.” And the common good includes everyone, but “especially those in situations of greater vulnerability and risk.” Pope Francis made clear the imperative of elected officials. “Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”
While Pope Francis covered a wide range of important issues, he wove concern for others throughout the speech. When he reminded those assembled of the Golden Rule, Congress cheered. He was direct that the “fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes… It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.”
After addressing Congress, Pope Francis left the Capitol to have lunch with 300 homeless people at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown DC, where he declared: “Let me be clear. There is no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for the lack of housing.” Did the Pope mean to gives us a perfect tweet? Housing and homeless advocates sent the quote far and wide.
Despite working in Washington, I tend towards hopefulness and Pope Francis gave me reason to do so yesterday. His words offer me guidance on how to speak about what the National Low Income Housing Coalition is trying to do. We are asking Americans to “sacrifice particular interests in order to share.” Specifically, we are asking well-off people with expensive homes to sacrifice some of their tax benefits in order to share federal housing assistance with people who lack decent and affordable housing. We are asking those who make their living in the home buying business to give up just a little to be able to help a lot.
Let me be clear. There is no justification whatsoever for Congress to continue to subsidize higher income homeowners through the tax code while anyone in our country lacks decent and affordable housing.
Thank you, Pope Francis. Let’s hope Congress heeds your message.