Dear editor,

As a representative of the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign I hope to explain how mitigating poverty and inequality will mitigate the devastation of COVID-19. And to call on the Economic Development Committee and the (Wausau) City Council to adopt an action plan, including reformulation of CARES Act funding  and development of low-income housing.

COVID has laid bare the growing inequalities of our economic system . While 8 million more have  joined the ranks of 140 million poor and low income workers,  650 billionaires have added over $1 trillion to their overstuffed coffers.

Reviewing  a study by Washington University’s Social Policy Institute, between April and May they reported 15 percent increase reporting an  inability to pay rent or mortgages, 20 percent putting off other bills and a 29 percent increase in food insecurity. Income loss was experienced by between 29 percent and 20 percent from low- to high-income responders, respectively. My wife and I would be included. This was even before the  current unremitting surge, and with eviction moratoria in place.

The CDC Moratorium will end in 26 days. It is feared that up to 75,500 Wisconsinites will face housing instability, leading to worsening unemployment, homelessness and augmentation of COVID transmission.

Where does Wausau fare in its ability to withstand such a disaster? 

Pre-COVID we  started with a poverty rate 50 percent above the state average, surpassing that of Milwaukee across all racial groups. Median income was declining. Anecdotally, homelessness was increasing.

Yet, in the initial response by the  City Council, a meager 30 percent of previous CARES Act money was allocated to rent assistance.

How long has it been since the city dedicated itself to providing permanent housing for low-income Wausonians? Yet, upscale development has proceeded uninterrupted for years.

As our public servants, you are charged to address the needs of all Wausonians. And this mandates resolute action to mitigate the expense of poverty economically, physically and spiritually.

Wausau can’t afford to continue poverty and inequality at these current rates.

At a juncture when the threat to our basic needs for food, shelter and work are unequalled, it is not the time to commit resources into projects, such as the Thomas Street Phase 2 Parcel Housing project, accessible only to the privileged.

To meet the needs of the majority of owners and renters, whose median income is $53,500 and $26,300, respectively, the city must explore proven long-term, low-income housing options. Remember, the income of 50 percent of our people is under $42,000.

To meet the immediate basic needs of the majority of our citizens the city must:

1. Commit the majority of  future CARES Act money to COVID relief of individuals and families.

2. Commit to developing housing options for low-income Wausonians.  Community land trusts have consistently provided long term residence for very low income people, from  African American sharecroppers in the  South to U.S. cities such as Burlington, Vermont, Boston and Madison.

They have facilitated increased citizen participation and a sense of community by the most forgotten  in the social and economic life of an area.

They have mitigated the cost of poverty on many levels.

They are among the few best ways to mitigate the destruction of lives and livelihoods caused by this pandemic.

The Poor People’s Campaign urges this committee and City Council to make fighting poverty a powerful weapon to mitigating the devastation of COVID. This should include placing projects benefiting the privileged on hold; reformulating  the distribution of CARES Act money to favor the most needy; and proceeding with development of low-income housing, such as community land trusts.

Please come to the city’s Economic Development Committee meeting Jan. 5 at 5 p.m. and sign up to speak your mind. Thank you!

Bruce Grau of Wausau

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.