Mandi McReynolds Has the Floor

Balancing optimism and pragmatism

Mandi McReynolds Has the Floor

It’s impossible,” said pride
“It’s risky,” said experience
“It’s pointless,” said reason
“Give it a try…” whispered the heart.

(- unknown)

Those who know me best know I am equal parts optimist and pragmatist.  That’s why I am heartened by the attention being given to affordable housing, yet turn my attention to the fact that working on a system, especially of this magnitude with multiple communities, policies and limited resources, will be hard. 

The above words of inspiration reflect my experience that we sometimes make things more difficult by thinking something is impossible, risky, or pointless. Furthermore, we may miss out on the greatest opportunities to advance our communities because of pride, experience, and reason.  

Whether it be for affordable housing, or any other work we wish to advance, we have to let go of the pride that says we know all the answers. We don’t.  Thankfully, we have access to data, experts and the lessons of other communities.

Our bias and experiences can also blind us to see all the possibilities. My experience around housing includes a few childhood years in Flint, Michigan. A season of my life in Cincinnati, Ohio where my father went back to school while my mom worked full time as a teacher. During those years, we lived in a small, three-bedroom house with one bathroom for seven people which included my grandparents who need additional care. As an adult in the Des Moines Area, my older brother Ryan has Down Syndrome. We are looking at various alternative housing solutions. In each phase of my life, housing has been a factor. However, my life is only one story.

Like others who care deeply about housing, or any other issue, knowing what is possible is a good start, but to truly be effective we must look outside of our experiences and biases and seek solutions that are holistic and provide systemic, sustainable solutions.

One of my favorite questions is, “Why not?”.  Even the risk-averse can use it as a springboard for exploring new ways of doing things.  We may end up discussing tiny houses for seniors and individuals with disabilities, providing incentives for developers to designate a select number of units to be at a lower rent, cordoning off tracts of land near job-dense areas and dedicating the ground to housing that is commensurate with the area’s workforce.  And speaking of workers, I’m reminded of the PCHTF campaign that caught my attention even before I joined the board. It’s called, “Can I Be Your Neighbor” and shares pictures of people who do important work in our community, such as nurses, teachers, bank tellers, EMTs, retail employees – all who deserve to live in good neighborhoods – which are sometimes places where people don’t understand or don’t want housing for those who make less than $50,000 a year.  That’s hard for me to understand and accept.

I don’t pretend to have it all together as relatively new board member. I am a mom with a vocational calling. I live just like everyone else with what can feel like a complex life in a complicated world. I know my purpose is to be an advocate for individuals struggling paycheck to paycheck to earn more and have a place in our community. I want my child to know she has a mom who didn’t let her pride, experience and reason stop her from trying. Our communities and her future are better when the people who educate our children, help prepare our food, rescue us and care for us, and make our community a wonderful and safe place to live – have an affordable place to live.   

Whether you’re an optimist or a pragmatist – or both, like me – please consider listening to your heart and whatever the conversation around affordable housing, “Give it a try…”

Mandi McReynolds is the Director of Community Relations and the Principal Foundation at Principal Financial Group. This is her first year serving on the PCHTF Board of Directors.