14 October 2015: County in desperate need of affordable housing

County in desparate need of affordable housing

The article in last week’s Courant about a conference to discuss the “challenge” we face with mobile homes helped bring attention to one of our county’s most pressing needs. Though the article focused specifically on the challenge of mobile home parks, it was timely in that it got to the larger issue: affordable, attainable, quality housing.

Shelter, one of the essential needs of every human, is more than about being of the rain. The quality of the housing in which one lives has immediate bearing on the health and safety of the individual. A report, “Housing and Health: Time Again for Public Health Action” by the National Center for Biotechnology Information explored the correlation between housing quality and good health.

“Poor housing conditions,” the authors write, “are associated with a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory infections, asthma, lead poisoning, injuries, and mental health.”

First, substandard housing disproportionally affects people of color and people with low incomes.

“Blacks and low-income people are 1.7 times and 2.2 times more likely, respectively, to occupy homes with severe physical problems compared with the general population. People with low income are more likely to live in overcrowded homes.”

Not only does income affect the ability to secure quality housing, it also impacts the ability of owners to maintain them. Even in rental situations, substandard housing attracts primarily low-income occupants, thus giving the owner little incentive or means to pay for upkeeps.

Other factors, some that at first seem minor such as having little or no storage space which invariably leads to clutter, contribute to increased physical injury and even fire. Further, the homes of low income people are more likely to be too warm or cool due to poor insulation. Thus, the domino effect begins. Often, homes that are dependent upon expensive forms of heating such as electric baseboards and space heaters are most susceptible to fire.

The report summarizes the dilemma of low income people when it comes to housing and energy prices by pointing out how low income people are forced “to make tradeoffs between having enough food, staying warm, and living in adequate housing, with resultant adverse effects on health.”

And this is America, not some third-world country.

The costs of substandard housing impact not just the people in them but all of us. Across the board, our tax dollars are being spent to mitigate health issues that might have been prevented as well as first responders’—police and emergency services—costs.

While we can agree each person must be responsible for maintaining his/her personal well-being, every member of a community has a stake and vested interest in seeing all of its members have the opportunity to do that.

Substandard housing adversely impacts our economy. Our local businesses struggle to attract and hold onto qualified workers because the types of people they need refuse to live in squalor. The problem is particularly acute in Clear Creek. Estimates of the county’s housing shortage run as high as 1,000 units.

Dan Ebert, owner of the Two Brothers Deli and part of the team that has developed the soon-to-open Westbound and Down, talked about his and others’ struggle to attract and keep solid employees.

“As an employer I find that the lack of housing and quality housing is the biggest hurdle in finding employee,” Ebert said.

The laissez-faire philosophy of life—every man for himself—on display and running amok in the U.S. House of Representatives is not only debilitating to the core of our republic but also is caustic to any community. It is the antithesis of a healthy community.

No one truly desires to live in squalid conditions. It’s a matter of pride, self-worth, and personal dignity.

Commissioner Tim Mauck cuts to the quick on the issue.

“Quality, attainable housing at all levels,” Mauck told me, “is an integral component of a well-balanced community given it is part a sustainable community’s infrastructure.”

Providing that is not some socialistic ploy. It makes sense makes sense from a number of perspectives: health, safety, and business. When people feel respected and valued, they respond in kind.

So, kudos to all those stepping up on this, from business and political leaders to private property owners.

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