My View with Heather Peeler: Celebrating home, generosity and neighbors

My View with Heather Peeler: Celebrating home, generosity and neighbors
Heather Peeler

Happy holidays! Although the holiday season can feel rather hectic, I want to take time to reflect on what makes this time of year truly special. These days it’s almost impossible not to think about what home and generosity mean to us. Home is a place to gather, celebrate and feel safe. Generosity is a way for us to show how much we care.

Almost anyone you talk to in Alexandria knows that living here is getting more and more expensive. Basic needs and housing costs continue to rise. Unfortunately, hundreds of families in our community are facing evictions. Imagine receiving notice that you and your family must leave your home just when you are preparing to celebrate the holiday season. The loss of a home disrupts your employment, your children’s education and your overall health and well-being.

COVID-19 exposed the harsh truth about the inequities in our community. Low-wage workers, the people we rely on to keep our society functioning, cannot afford to call Alexandria home. Eviction notices are multiplying because many neighbors owe thousands of dollars of back rent that have been building over the past two years. COVID-19 relief policies like rental assistance and eviction moratoriums provided crucial, near-term aid; however, those short-term remedies masked a deeper, more systemic issue that we must address.

That’s why ARISE, the City of Alexandria’s guaranteed income pilot, gives me hope. Last month, more than 4,000 Alexandrians completed applications for the chance to be one of the 170 households selected to receive $500 per month in supplemental financial assistance. While receiving four thousand applications is a dramatic reminder of how much need we have in our city, Alexandria’s investment in this program and our neighbors is something to celebrate.

Our community’s investment in guaranteed income means that the narrative is changing. It means that Alexandrians understand that poverty is a systemic failure, not a personal one. It means that we as a community understand that our neighbors who qualify for ARISE – households that make at or below 50% of the area median income – are important members of our community.

Alexandrians understand that “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” can’t happen when you can’t afford boots despite working one or more jobs. If we want to see all Alexandrians flourish, we must address the drivers of systemic inequality. With ARISE, we are working together to change the system.

We’ve seen the data from other programs like this around the country, and the results are clear. We’re shedding the misguided thinking that poor people can’t be trusted with money. Other guaranteed income programs have proven that when low-income people have freedom and agency with their spending, they focus on household priorities that advance their family’s health and wellbeing. Recipients secure better jobs because they can afford more reliable transportation, childcare or employment credentials. Recipients also have better health and less stress.

Our community’s investment in our neighbors through the ARISE guaranteed income pilot is a true reflection of our giving spirit. I’m so grateful for the city’s willingness to trust and empower its community members, and I can’t wait to tell you more as ARISE participants begin receiving payments in February 2023 and have the opportunity to put this investment into action for their families.

Happy holidays, and thank you for your generous, giving spirit.

The writer is president and CEO of Act for Alexandria.