Christine Hensley has the Floor

PCHTF Board Members talk about Affordable Housing

Christine Hensley has the Floor

I’ve always believed experiences shape our views and choices. The speech therapist who stuttered as a child, the teacher whose parents worked the fields and didn’t go to school, the young couple who couldn’t afford the down payment on a house and the wife who now works to help others. The year was 1970 and that was my husband and me. We were three years married, long on dreams and short on cash.

Our dream, like many, was to own a home. The Des Moines fixer-upper was on a little cul-de-sac at Prospect and 30th.  We didn’t have the money for a down payment so we earned it through a sweat equity loan that included the two of us working on the house, making much-needed repairs and improvements. I look back on those early years with mixed feelings. Of course happiness and young pride but also an understanding and empathy for how very difficult it can be to achieve the American dream of home ownership.

As someone who was born and raised on the east side of Des Moines, the oldest of eight children, I came to know the challenges of many families and how the culture of a neighborhood is created by the stability and safety, or lack thereof, of its housing.  I started working when I was 13. As an adult I want to believe it was the start of what became the work ethic I have today.

A couple of months ago I retired from my 14-year role as regional community affairs officer for Bank of the West, but make no mistake about it, I’m far from retired from working.  In fact, this will free me up to do even more projects in the community while focusing on legislative issues at the federal and state levels and serving my fifth term as a city council member.   As Chair of the City’s Legislative Committee I continue to work towards shaping policy and securing funding for our community at both the State and Federal level.

The Polk County Housing Trust Fund has really evolved. It’s gone from being a Funder to now being the Voice in a strategic approach for providing safe, stable and affordable housing.  The timing of this transformation is good given the need is growing and housing is absolutely a key part of our community’s future success.

One of the many things I find gratifying about serving in the area of housing is seeing how we can take a dilapidated area and with a little help turn it into a vibrant neighborhood where families take pride in their properties. And from an economic development standpoint, employers understand the role of housing in attracting and retaining a workforce.  It’s a critical and often overlooked part of economic development.

Given experiences shape our views and choices, imagine a community where the experience of our citizens includes an opportunity for everyone to have safe, stable and affordable housing.  It’s one of the issues I am passionate about and why “retiring from my job” will enable me to work even harder on this and other issues.  I hope you will join me.