By Joan Blades, Founding Partner, Living Room Conversations & Rabbi Lavey Derby, Director of Jewish Life, PJCC
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing is considered affordable when a person pays no more than 30 percent of income toward housing costs, including utilities. When people pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing costs, they are considered “housing cost burdened,” and when they pay more than 50 percent, they are considered severely housing cost burdened. Unfortunately the population of housing burdened citizens has grown tremendously in the last 10 years.
On November 16, 2017, the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC) in Foster City, CA (San Francisco Bay Area) is gathering diverse residents for an evening of authentic conversation about affordable housing.
We will be among the conversationalists assembled at the PJCC and we will share our life experiences, and listen deeply to the experiences of those with whom we may share much, or very little. The conversation will be guided by the civil discourse methodology of Living Room Conversations – a structured framework that encourages and empowers meaningful discussions to bolster empathy and deepen connections.
Why will our conversation tomorrow night be significant you ask? Beyond the statistics about astronomical Bay Area housing costs, the fact that people with diverse perspectives will invest the time to talk with strangers about a very serious and personal issue is remarkable by our current conversational (low) standards of intolerance and argument. Moreover, these empathetic conversation groups are beginning to trend.
This national desire for purposeful, respect-focused dialogue is the objective of inspiring initiatives such as On the Table and The People’s Supper (dialogue-over-dinner gatherings), in addition to Living Room Conversations. All of these hope-filled gatherings are a unique new invitation to relationship within the American experience. Those of us engaging in meaningful dialogue with people -- with whom we may or may not agree -- are stepping into this brave communal space because we believe that our communities and our nation desperately need the bonds of caring and respectful connection.
For tomorrow night’s conversation at the PJCC, we will be two among a community of extraordinary diversity across broad demographics: ethnicity, culture, faith, age, sexual identification and orientation, physical capability, and financial resource. We will meet in small groups of five or six people, and we will share our unique experiences navigating life within a skyrocketing housing market. We will learn and practice how to balance self with other, and we will be part of the conversational transformation that can change distrust and discord into appreciation and understanding. We will take steps not only to understand the impacts of housing on our neighbors’ lives; we will become a part of their lives. And that has the power to make all the difference.
Joan Blades is cofounder of MomsRising.org and MoveOn.org, as well as coauthor of The Motherhood Manifesto and The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where and How to Work and Boost the Bottom Line. Trained as an attorney/mediator with ten years experience as a software entrepreneur, Joan is also an artist, mother and true believer in the power of citizens and the need to rebuild respectful civil discourse and embrace our core shared values.
Rabbi Lavey Derby joined the PJCC as Director of Jewish Life early in 2011, and brings with him a distinguished background as both a Wexner Heritage Foundation and Industrial Areas Foundation faculty member, Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and Founder and lead teacher of “The Idra: A Community for Jewish Spiritual Learning and Practice”. As the long-time rabbi of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon, California, he helped lead a countywide faith-based organizing effort to build a coalition addressing pressing local and state political, economic and social issues. Rabbi Derby comes from a family line of rabbis that traces back to the 16th century.