Angela Connolly has the Floor

PCHTF Board Members talk about Affordable Housing

Angela Connolly has the Floor

You’d think after 35 combined years of working in planning zoning and being a Polk County Supervisor I’d become more, rather than less political. But in recent years significant developments have struck a bipartisan chord, including one of great inspiration to many, including me… Grandchildren.

I became a grandparent for the third time a couple of weeks ago. Let me introduce you to Waylon Thomas J. Connolly.

As concerned as I am regarding big issues their generation will face such as national debt, education and jobs, I am equally confident in what we are able to do here in central Iowa to ensure the vitality of our region and opportunities for those who follow in our footsteps.

My confidence comes in large part from the cooperative, long-term regional planning effort of The Tomorrow Plan, the broad and deep strategic approach of Capital Crossroads and the good, collective thinking and investments we are making in Central Iowa’s future.

Choosing the right opportunities and areas of focus are at the heart of how successful we will be in our efforts and the way our communities look and operate 10, 20, 40 years from now.  One core area is affordable housing – specifically, workforce housing.

While quality of life, impact on education, and other key measures speak to the importance of housing, my focus for this column is regional economic competitiveness – which serves as an umbrella to those areas and more.

In a national survey of more than 300 companies conducted by Harris Interactive, 55 percent with more than 100 employees acknowledged an insufficient level of affordable housing in their area. Two-thirds believe that the shortage “is having a negative impact on retaining qualified entry-level and mid-level employees.”

Our part of the country is not immune.  A key player in anticipating needs and coordinating and funding initiatives in this area is the Polk County Housing Trust Fund (PCHTF).  It was established 16 years ago to address the need for more affordable housing units and to help fund supportive housing services for lower income persons.  I’ve been on the board 14 years and while great work is being done and thousands of lives impacted, there is still a growing gap in affordability for employees earning 30 percent to 80 percent of area median income – or, in dollar terms, $22,650 to $60,400 annually for a family of four.

An interesting and instructive case study from Montgomery County, Indiana caught my attention. In a nutshell, there were claims by local business leaders that the county’s workforce did not have the skills to fill the available jobs.  The organization tasked with investigating the concerns showed contrary – the demographics and socioeconomic characteristics of the county were not the problem. What was discovered was the county had become a “net importer” of workers.  The author of the case study attributed this to minimal housing and housing prices not in line with wages.  Those who lived in the area and could afford the housing were not the kind of employees needed to fill many of the available jobs. Those who could fill the jobs could not afford to live in the area.

As a Polk County Supervisor and Housing Trust Fund Board Member who helps with corporate Campaign calls for fundraising, I am encouraged by our recognition of housing as a key economic variable. At a minimum it should not be a barrier for employees and employers. And with the right affordable housing options could become an economic advantage for our Region.

This would also provide an advantage for employers, employees and parents who want their children (and grandchildren) to have a vibrant place to stay, and if they leave, to which to return home.