To the editor:
First, there was no shelter for homeless people. I wasn’t homeless, so I didn’t speak up except to complain because they weren’t invisible.
Next, seniors and people with disabilities on fixed incomes could no longer afford their housing. I was neither, so I didn’t speak up except to advise them to get a job or pick up and move.
Service workers — even those with two jobs — couldn’t afford simple apartments. I wasn’t a service worker, so I didn’t speak up except to oppose the planned affordable development in my neighborhood.
Then, housing was too expensive for young professionals, teachers, public safety workers and municipal employees. I wasn’t one, so, I didn’t speak up except to dismiss their appeals for salary increases and condemn the sluggish traffic as they commuted farther to housing they could afford.
But then an affordable home got to be out of reach for my young adult children, my aging parents and even me. Now, there’s no one to speak for us.
With an unmet need of over 23,000 affordable units statewide, this is a more familiar story, even in our rural areas.
Idahoans revere self-sufficiency and independence. But we remain uniquely dependent on the federal government for affordable housing. Unfortunately, much of that federal funding is targeted to lapse while our legislators persist in ignoring the housing need by declining to fund the Idaho Housing Trust Fund they created in 1992. We need both state and federal funding to solve our affordable housing shortage.
Idaho also prides itself as a laboratory for business innovation. But that innovation is absent when it comes to addressing housing affordability. Our surrounding states recognize the need and benefits. All of them have robust funding that helps their citizens afford a safe and stable roof over their heads. By contrast, Idaho provides no funding for affordable housing while hamstringing municipal governments. State law constrains city and county budgets while eliminating options like rent control, inclusionary zoning and local taxes or fees that could fund solutions. We should debate the merits of these ideas, but having none of these options is disheartening!
If you are an employer, until now you have benefited from Idaho’s relatively low wages, which used to match our low housing costs. This is no longer the case. It’s time for you to speak up.
If you are a local official, examine how access to an affordable home directly affects the business climate and health outcomes in your community.
If you are an Idaho legislator, it’s time to listen. There are unmet housing needs in every district. Have some serious conversations about housing affordability in Idaho and introduce or support housing legislation.
If you care, show up and support affordable housing developments in your neighborhood and write your state and federal legislators. Insist on action and support Sen. Crapo’s National Housing Trust Fund legislation.
We know true opportunity for every Idahoan to have a healthy life begins with an affordable place to live. We all need to speak up!