As Trump and Republicans concentrate on stripping away everything that could possibly help the poor in the United States, we as Americans need every sign we can find that someone cares, that there is hope, that not everyone is terrible — and one of those comes in the form of PBS travel guy Rick Steves.
Recently, Steves gave a $4 million apartment complex to the YWCA to help house homeless women and kids — something that is greatly needed as they stand to lose their healthcare, food assistance, and other basic necessities under the Trump presidency (don’t worry, though: our already bloated military has tens of billions extra to keep bombs falling overseas because Republicans understand what really matters).
“I know vacation travel is supposed to provide a break from the grinding reality of our workaday lives,” Steves writes in his blog. “But for me, travel and the peace of mind of having a roof over your head have always been associated.” He says that he spent many of his early days in his profession sleeping on trains, on the ferry, in friends’ hotel rooms, and even on the floors of construction projects. “How else would a white, middle-class American kid gain a firsthand appreciation for the value of a safe and comfortable place to sleep?” he writes, adding that he would in his early days as a tour guide intentionally neglect setting up hotel reservations to “put my tourists through the anxiety of not knowing if they’d have a roof over their heads tonight.”
This experiment was short-lived, but his love of people persisted and a twenty-year project recently was fully implemented:
Back home, one of my pet social causes has long been affordable housing. Twenty years ago, I devised a scheme where I could put my retirement savings not into a bank to get interest, but into cheap apartments to house struggling neighbors. I would retain my capital, my equity would grow as the apartment complex appreciated, and I would suffer none of the headaches that I would have if I had rented out the units as a landlord. Rather than collecting rent, my “income” would be the joy of housing otherwise desperate people. I found this a creative, compassionate and more enlightened way to “invest” while retaining my long-term security.
This project evolved until, eventually, I owned a 24-unit apartment complex, the use of which I provided to the YWCA. They used it to house single moms who were recovering hard-drug addicts and were now ready to get custody of their children back. Imagine the joy of knowing that I could provide a simple two-bedroom apartment for a mom and her kids as she fought to get her life back on track…times 24. Imagine the joy of giving people who dedicate their lives (through their work with the YWCA) to helping these people in need the facility to better do their work. To me, this wasn’t particularly noble or compassionate…it was just thoughtful use of my capital. Working with the YWCA and the Rotary Club of Edmonds, we publicized this creative way of putting a fortunate person’s retirement nest egg to work in a powerful way in hopes that others would be inspired to do the same in their communities. (I’ve laid out the timeline of this project and a review of my thinking regarding the numbers and the “investment,” below.)
This program is designed so the donor could eventually take back control of the land and retire on it (by selling it or renting the apartments). I was committed to providing the apartments to the YWCA for 15 years. Any time after that point, I could take back control if I wanted or needed to. I enjoyed the security of knowing I had that equity if I needed it. And I figured I’d likely be doing well enough that eventually I’d donate it entirely to the YWCA.
What inspired him to take the plunge? Trump and his horribleness, of course:
With the election of our president in 2016 and the rise of a new, greed-is-good ethic in our government, I want to be more constructive than just complaining about how our society is once again embracing “trickle-down” ethics, and our remarkable ability to ignore the need in our communities even as so much wealth is accumulated within the top one percent of our populace. I’m heartbroken at how good people, dedicating their lives to helping others (through social organizations and non-profits across our society), are bracing for a new forced austerity under our government of billionaires.
So, inspired by what’s happening in our government, and in an attempt to make a difference, I decided to take my personal affordable housing project one step further: In 2017, I gave my 24-unit apartment complex to the YWCA. Now the YWCA can plan into the future knowing this facility is theirs. And I’ll forever enjoy knowing that, with this gift, I’m still helping them with their mission.
As the GOP continues down the path of telling the poor to literally “f*ck off and die” good people like Steves are needed more now than ever — and it’s amazing that he was able to find a way to tell them to get bent while making lives better.
Watch a report on the gift below: