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Austin homeless advocate publishes book promoting living wage

Friday, October 8, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

All in all, it was a good couple of weeks for Richard Troxell.


With Troxell’s backing, changes to the city’s Downtown No Sit/No Lie Ordinance that would allow for more medical exemptions to the law were recommended on Sept. 22 by the Council’s Health and Human Services Subcommittee. A week later, on Oct. 1, his book, Looking up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage, was released on and ranking in the Top 100 of three of that site’s sales categories.


Troxell, founder and president of the advocacy group House the Homeless, was himself homeless once after returning from the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago. He told In Fact Daily recently that he wrote Looking up at the Bottom Line to get politicians, landlords, unions, nonprofit and faith-based groups, and others behind his solution for solving the national homelessness crisis: a Universal Living Wage.


According to Troxell, the federal minimum wage – currently $7.25 per hour – is not enough to enable a person working 40 hours a week to afford an average  one-bedroom apartment. “There are 3.5 million homeless in America annually,” he said. “Forty-eight percent of those  — extrapolating from what we’ve learned in Austin – are incapable of working. But for those who are capable of working, you can work a full 40 hours a week and not be able to put a roof over your head other than a bridge. For those who can work, we want to get them into living-wage jobs.”


To do that, Troxell has devised a national formula that, according to his Web site , “can ensure that anyone working 40 hours a week would be able to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter anywhere in the United States.”


The ULW formula is based on three premises. One, that the person looking for housing works a minimum 40-hour week. Two, that he or she spends no more than 30 percent of income on housing. Three, that the wage in each geographic area is indexed to the local cost of housing as set each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In other words, the Universal Living Wage will be different in every part of the county.


In Austin, for example, the hourly living wage for a person living in a one-bedroom apartment is currently set at $15.06.


Troxell believes a national Universal Living Wage would end homelessness for more than 1 million minimum-wage workers and prevent economic homelessness for all 10 million minimum-wage workers.


“Right now, there’s no pathway. There’s no way out for these people, ” he said. “We’re going to put the difference between the minimum wage and whatever the living wage turns out to be in an area into the pockets of the people that need it.” In Austin, he said, establishment of the Universal Living Wage formula could help more than 3,000 homeless people into good living situations.


As to what those good living situations might be, Troxell believes the free-market would respond to the implementation of a Universal Living Wage with new, affordable apartment buildings. “The buildings don’t exist today because there’s no one to move into them,” he said. “But if all these people suddenly have the money to rent, contractors will build the buildings. It will be free- or open-market affordable housing.” Right now, he said, affordable housing is primarily government-sponsored.


Thanks in large part to the efforts of Troxell and his colleagues, both the city of Austin and Travis County have endorsed the living wage campaign, and the city of Austin currently pays its full-time regular employees a living wage.

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