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What: Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry’s Housing Assistance Fund to help pay for rent, security deposit, back rent. Administered by Western Maine Community Action.

How much: $200 once in five years.

Who: Low-income families.

Donations: Checks payable to FAEM (memo: Housing Assistance Fund or HAF) to FAEM, P.O. Box 147, Farmington, ME 04938 . Tax deductible. 

FARMINGTON – People gathered at noon Monday to remember Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and consider the need for justice in the world and local community.

The Rev. Susan Crane, pastor at Henderson Memorial Baptist Church, used King’s sermon in 1967 titled “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” to highlight the housing injustices many in the Farmington labor market area are currently struggling with.

King’s sermon, according to Crane, opened with “’As you know, we are involved in a difficult struggle. It was about 104 years ago that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, free the Negro from the bondage of physical slavery. And yet we stand here 104 years later, and the Negro is still isn’t free.’”

They were not free to live where they wanted to live, or to earn enough money to climb out of poverty, and 50 percent of them were forced to live in substandard housing, Crane said he preached.

King went on to preach a little good news to the poor, declaring that “’Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls – the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the city governments that may damn the soul – is a dry, dead do-nothing religion need of new blood,’” Crane said.

He also preached about rich landowners only caring about themselves and letting the means by which they lived to outdistance the ends for which God created people, she said.

Crane spoke of housing affordability in the Farmington area.

“We like to think that living in Maine is the way life should be, but here in Franklin County a lot of our housing stock is more than 50 years old, and most of it is substandard,” but it is all people have, she said.

Those who work at minimum wage jobs here often don’t even get the benefits of working full time, including health insurance and 40-hour a week job, she said.

If most people cannot get 40 hours a week of steady work, is it their fault they can’t pay their bills? Crane asked.

Today’s service economy is full of people who work hard, but never earn enough money to make ends meet, she said.

“People ‘who have’ depend on people ‘who have not’ to keep life running smoothly. Never forget that most of the unjust in life is not due to people’s unwillingness to work; most of it is due to our unwillingness to pay a living wage to every worker,” Crane said. “We tend to attach different levels of value to what a worker can earn, even if it means the people at the top of the food-chain get paid hundreds of times what the people at the bottom get paid. And then we wonder why a lot of folks can’t pay their bills or keep up with the cost of living.”

If you don’t earn enough to buy a house, then you need shelter you can rent, she said.

According to the Maine State Housing Authority website, based on most recent data from 2009, Farmington has an Affordability Index of 0.78, Crane said.

“Anything under one means the area is generally unaffordable,” she said.

The average cost of a two-bedroom rent, including utilities, is $784 a month. A household would need to earn $31,377 a year to rent housing in this area in order to use no more than 30 percent of its income on shelter, she said.

“Unfortunately, the median income level for renter households is 78 percent of that amount, or $24,513,” she said.

The affordability problem affects 2,116 renter households in the area who earn only 30 to 80 percent of what they need to live on, Crane said.

“These are our neighbors. Yes, some of them live on (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) or disability, but most of them work, they just can’t earn enough money to live here,” she said.

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