Independence Day and the Working Poor

This Independence Day we may choose different ways to show our patriotism. Some of us will carry flags on the SUV as we drive (frequently) to the gas pumps. Some will wear flags on our clothing, or hang them from porches and balconies. Larry Piffany, of Ormond Beach, Florida, will reveal his patriotism through actions, not just symbols.

Piffany, 50, is a carpenter, a craftsman. Since 1983 he has divided his working time between free lance woodwork and his real “calling” in life: building homes for those less fortunate than himself. Piffany is a part-time job site coordinator for the Volusia Habitat for Humanity. This organization gets little press, yet actually builds new homes for those previously unable to afford one. Besides that, Piffany still finds time to do voluntary carpentry work for his church group, The United Methodist Volunteers In Missions. This work has taken him to remote places like Guyana, Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize. During the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1999, Piffany flew to Honduras and Nicaragua to help build homes for some of the victims. On top of that, he paid out of pocket, 1/3 of the expense. The balance was underwritten by his church, obtained soley through private donations. Larry Piffany seems to put his money, plus his hammer and nails, where his mouth is.

Last month Piffany and his “significant other”, Linda Kaladjian, spent 10 days in Jamaica under the hot and humid tropical climate, to help construct a new home for a family in need. Kaladjian, a family mediator by profession, volunteered her time, albeit that she had absolutely no construction experience or skills whatsoever–just a big heart and a wallet deep enough to afford the trip. The couple used $1600 of their own savings to take the trip to Brownstown Jamaica. There they and eight other good samaritans, helped the aforementioned family in need build a small but sturdy new dwelling. Under the rules of the Jamaican Habitat for Humanity organization the family fit the criteria: a) they were employed, b) they were living in substandard housing, and c) they had already completed the required “sweat equity hours” (volunteer work). Piffany and Kaladjian had to travel 90 minutes each morning to get to the location, and visa versa at day’s end. Yet, 10 days later the group of good souls saw the product of their “labor of love”: a 400 sq. ft. new home. “By U.S standards perhaps a bit too small” offers Piffany, “yet this sturdy home with 2 bedrooms, a living room , kitchen and indoor bathroom is a palace to these folks.”

Is this the way things have to be? Do our citizens and those abroad have to rely exclusively on the charity of others to build new dwellings for those in need? What role, if any, should the local, state and federal govt’s play? How about joint cooperative efforts of goverment and organizations like Habitat for Humanity? Why must these groups continually have to beg for what Tennessee Williams referred to as the “kindness of strangers’? This writer offers a more viable and expansive solution. Let’s tax the very people who should be underwriting such bold endeavors: the super wealthy and the powerful corporations. How about a small income tax surcharge on those earning in the top 1%? Then we raise the corporate tax rates (which, by the way, have been continually lowered since the early 60’s) a wee bit to put some cash into this kitty.

With all this new found money, local governments can use the power of “eminent domain” to buy slum properties from landlords (wasn’t feudalism grand?) and work with Habitat (and other proven successful groups), to fix up or rebuild on these properties. What occurs next is the real beauty of this plan. The local government then offers these “slum tenants’ the right to own the apartment or house they were previouly renting. The government aka the community, is willing to put up the down payment for this transfer of property, and underwrite the newly formed mortgage. Or, if some local banks decide to get a conscience, they can voluntarily hold this newly created mortgage at rates 50% lower than usual. Either way, the former tenant (now owner) would be paying a monthly interest rate, using today’s figures, of around 3-3.5% to have equity–to have a stake in the community, in the future! That is how we can transform substandard neighborhoods into flowing communities- by giving people a chance to own their property. That, dear friends, is the opposite of Communism– rather Capitalism in its originally intended purified state.

Larry Piffany is not a political animal–he’s too busy, unfortunately, to get as involved as he would like. Yet, why must our society, the richest most advanced in the world(supposedly) have to rely mostly on “the kindness of strangers”? Why must the Larry Piffany’s and other good souls have to pay their own way to be able to then help those less fortunate? Why shouldn’t groups like Habitat for Humanity get a bigger piece of the government cow, while those “corporate welfare” clients get at best some “skimmed milk”? Piffany states he does what he does ” to demonstrate to those more in need than myself that I will never forget about them.”

Isn’t it time for our government, through citizen demand, to demonstrate as much? After all, we all are “our brother’s keeper”. Let’s close the corporate run “zoo” and start building “palaces”.

Philip Farruggio, son of a longshoreman, is “Blue Collar Brooklyn” born, raised and educated (Brooklyn College, Class of ’74). A former progressive talk show host, Philip runs a mfg. rep. business and writes for many publications. He lives in Port Orange, FL. You can contact Mr. Farruggio at e-mail: brooklynphilly@aol.com.

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Philip Farruggio, son of a longshoreman, is “Blue Collar Brooklyn” born, raised and educated (Brooklyn College, Class of ’74). A former progressive talk show host, Philip runs a mfg. rep. business and writes for many publications. He lives in Port Orange, FL. You can contact Mr. Farruggio at e-mail: brooklynphilly@aol.com.

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