By Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH — As part of its quest to push for more affordable housing in Volusia County, the FAITH group will hold an online rally Monday night to highlight where County Council candidates stand on the issue.

It will be a virtual forum on Zoom, and anyone can listen in.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m., and there will also be discussion of criminal justice, education and mental health prior to a vote by FAITH members to choose a priority for 2021.

FAITH is a multi-denominational social justice coalition made up of members of 30 local houses of worship. The 20-year-old nonprofit group’s name is an acronym for Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony.

FAITH confronts what it deems to be systemic injustice by using the weight of an organized group to hold local decision makers accountable for their actions. In the last two decades, FAITH has been involved in the creation of a new Daytona Beach homeless shelter, a health clinic for the uninsured in Daytona Beach, the expansion of VOTRAN bus service for late shift workers, and the establishment of a substance abuse treatment program in the Volusia County Branch Jail.

FAITH started making the case in 2019 for the Volusia County Council to establish a fund for affordable housing that would have $7 million in it every year. FAITH wants the fund to be locally controlled.

“A minimum wage worker would have to work 79 hours a week to afford a standard one-bedroom apartment at the fair market value,” the Rev. Phil Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach and a FAITH member, told County Council members earlier this year.

According to Harvard University’s Joint Center on Housing Studies, more than 21,000 households in the Deltona-Daytona metro area are spending more than half of their income on rent.

All six Volusia County Council candidates have been invited to take part in Monday’s forum, and all six have committed to attend: District 2 candidates Danny Fuqua and Billie Wheeler; District 4 candidates Barbara Bonarrigo and Heather Post; and County Chair candidates Jeff Brower and Deb Denys.

The FAITH group also brought attention to affordable housing in June with a rally at the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church in Daytona Beach Shores. Everyone stayed in their cars during the event.

The Rev. Nancy Griswald of Coronado Community United Methodist Church in New Smyrna Beach said to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Volusia County at the fair market rate, a worker would have to earn more than $16 per hour. The county’s mean renters earn less than $14 per hour.

“Many make less than that, like the the average food prep workers, security guards, groundskeepers, maids, receptionists, nursing assistants who care for our elderly parents, those who stock our groceries … so many of our essential workers who have courageously kept our economy going during this pandemic,” Griswald said at the June outdoor gathering.

The Rev. Wendell Webster, pastor of Mount Zion AME Church in Daytona Beach said the affordable housing crisis is not new. It’s simply one leadership has yet to address.

“You already know the statistics that people who are renting in Volusia County can ill afford $635 or more for monthly rent,” Webster said at the drive-in church event. “You already know that six out of every 10 renters are paying more than 30% of their income in rent. You already know that 30,000 households pay half of their income in rent. God is not pleased.”

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