Sunday, June 26, 2022

MY TURN: Strong foundations for children begin at home

by KERI CEDERQUIST/Guest Opinion
| September 24, 2021 1:00 AM

Ensuring young children and their families have access to a stable, affordable home is a key ingredient in their lifelong success. When families have safe and affordable homes to raise their children in, we see stronger outcomes at school, better long-term health outcomes, and greater financial stability across the community.

Idaho families that are working but not earning enough to afford the cost of living are part of the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population and make up an average of 41% of households in North Idaho. Families are struggling to find affordable homes due to rapidly increasing rental prices outpacing wage growth. In Kootenai County, average rent on a two-bedroom home increased by 32% from January 2020 ($877/month) to June 2021 ($1,160/month). Renters in the Coeur d’Alene area earn an average wage of $13.41 per hour. At this wage, an average Coeur d’Alene worker can afford a home with rent up to $697 — nearly $500 less than the county’s average rent. This gap has significant consequences.

Families who spend more than 30% of their income on housing often struggle to afford other basic necessities and must make difficult choices about what they must sacrifice, such as putting nutritious food on their table, going to medical visits, or covering child care expenses. Children who experience housing instability, evictions and homelessness are more likely to be suspended from school, be held back, drop out of school, and score lower on exams. Further, rapidly increasing housing costs negatively impact Idaho’s child care industry as rents grow faster than wage growth for child care workers and parents face limited options for care. These outcomes all negatively impact the short- and long-term development of children as their health, food security, and education gains are put at risk.

Idaho’s elected officials have the opportunity to support Idaho’s children by supporting long-term housing solutions.

Congress is negotiating an infrastructure and economic recovery package that includes historic investments in housing. The current version would enable 3,000 more Idaho families to access an affordable home through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which helps families access a modest home on the private market by paying the difference between what a family can afford and the actual rent. Only one in four eligible families are currently able to access a voucher due to the program’s limited funding. The package also includes investments in the national Housing Trust Fund, which promotes the creation and preservation of affordable homes. Idaho would receive about $132 million to address our shortage of over 22,000 affordable and available homes for renters with modest incomes.

Idaho’s state lawmakers can also support Idaho’s children by making long-term state investments in affordable housing and enhancing resources and protections for renters at risk of eviction and homelessness.

Safe and affordable homes offer children the stability and healthy routines they need to be happy and healthy. These resources are needed now more than ever, and I urge our lawmakers to support these robust investments for Idaho’s children and communities.

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Keri Cederquist is the Community Impact Director for United Way of North Idaho. Her work focuses on strengthening early care and education systems, affecting positive change for ALICE, and building capacity through local, regional and statewide collaborations.

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