The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Sunday, March 14, 2021.
Home. It’s where we lay our head at night. Where we cook dinner with family. Where we feel most safe and secure. Amid the COVID pandemic, home became even more important. Home is now where we receive our healthcare via tele-med, educate our children, conduct business, and connect virtually for worship services, community meetings, and social gatherings.
But what if your home was your biggest source of financial stress? For millions of working Americans, the cost of housing is out of reach. Across Kansas, the shortage of affordable housing is causing a barrier for our neighbors who are working to achieve financial stability. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the fair market rent in Kansas for a modest two-bedroom apartment is $855. Someone making minimum wage would need to work 91 hours per week to cover rent. That’s the equivalent of working 2.3 full-time jobs and doesn’t account for utilities and other necessary expenses. Low-income households spending more than 30% of their income on housing are considered financially burdened and face tough choices. Which essential item should they forgo? Food, medical care, childcare, housing? Many of our neighbors are only one crisis away from becoming homeless.
Societal issues such as this are far too great for any one organization to tackle alone. That’s why United Way of the Plains leads Impact ICT – Continuum of Care, a coalition of local businesses, nonprofits, government entities, members of the faith community, and individual advocates. They work year-round with one goal: to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. That includes working to increase affordable housing options, not only as a preventative measure but also to help individuals experiencing homelessness gain stability again.
United Way is proud to financially support a new local development, The Studios at HumanKind. This project is a prime example of progress in affordable housing in our community. Located in the former 316 Hotel location (1011 N. Topeka), the development will add 56 new affordable studio apartments for individuals who need long-term rental assistance. HumanKind will also support tenants with extensive case management to address issues that are often barriers to stable housing, including substance abuse, job placement, access to health care and more. The studios are set to open later this summer. We applaud HumanKind’s efforts to meet this important need and move our community in the right direction.
If you are facing the possibility of homelessness or know someone who is, dial 2-1-1, United Way’s information and referral service. When housing is safe, decent, and affordable, our neighbors can live their best lives possible – children do better in school, seniors are healthier longer and more socially connected, parents and children experience more positive mental health, workers are more productive, trips to the emergency room are reduced, and families have more disposable incomes to boost the local economy. Simply put, affordable housing options advance the common good for all.