Elisabeth Buck Has the Floor

From campus to community - making an impact

Elisabeth Buck Has the Floor

Funny how this one line within an impressive, lengthy bio jumped off the page:  Student body president of Iowa State University.  What kind of career does someone of that caliber choose later in life - after serving two Iowa governors as deputy chief of staff and Director of Iowa Workforce Development? 

As it turns out, chief community impact officer for United Way of Central Iowa

Elisabeth Buck is responsible for leading the mobilization for reaching community Goals for 2020 in the focus areas of Education, Income and Health.  All areas directly or indirectly affected by access to affordable housing.

United Way, along with the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and Polk County, funded Housing Tomorrow, central Iowa’s first regional plan for affordable housing, and a subset of The Tomorrow Plan, of which Elisabeth is a Team Tomorrow member.

We asked Elisabeth to share insights on why United Way supports Housing Tomorrow and the impact of housing on community goals.

We provide funding to the Housing Tomorrow plan because it will address multiple, related issues affecting employment, income levels and housing. We expect it will confirm that we need more affordable housing in areas of highest employment. When people can’t afford to live where they work, it creates need for better transportation infrastructure.  When transportation takes a bigger bite of household budget, it affects housing options as well. It’s interdependent.  Housing Tomorrow will help identify and address these gaps and provide a future where we have the right kinds of housing options in the most appropriate areas.

How does the Housing Tomorrow Plan relate to Goals for 2020?

While the primary goal of affordable housing may appear to be lowering the monthly housing costs for low- and moderate-income families, the positive impact is far greater.  Affordable, clean and safe housing plays a significant role in all three community impact areas that are priorities of United Way of Central Iowa – Education, Income and Health.  In addition, research shows that affordable housing development also drives local economic growth. For example, when the combined costs of housing and transportation remain affordable, both working families and local economies can reap the benefits as families have more to spend on local goods.


Correlation between the three community impact areas and housing

·       Education:  research identifies several pathways through which housing conditions influence education outcomes. In particular, high residential mobility and poor housing conditions are associated with significant deficits in educational achievement. Frequency of moves is a particularly important factor because it impacts education outcomes for both mobileandnon-mobile students; research finds that teachers in schools with highly mobile student populations tend to focus less on new material and more on review, which results in achievement deficits for mobile and non-mobile students alike.

·       Income:  research shows that a lack of affordable housing can make it more difficult and more costly for employers to recruit and retain employees. Conversely – a lack of affordable housing can make it incredibly difficult for an individual to live close to where they work – increasing transportation costs and continuing to challenge individuals who fall below a self-sufficient income level.

·       Health:  research indicates that affordable housing improves health outcomes for its residents by reducing exposure to hazards in poor quality housing, improving neighborhood conditions, reducing stress and reducing budgetary constraints that prevent spending on health insurance and nutrition.

As a side note, Elisabeth’s experience in employment and workforce solutions for Iowans provides an additional and unique insight into the issue of affordable housing. United Way’s Goal for 2020 in Income is to help 75 percent of central Iowans reach financial stability, measured as 250% of the federal poverty level.  Because of pervasive economic headwinds, just under 65% of central Iowans reach this income threshold.

There are, however, pockets of good news in the recently released poverty data. United Way and its community partners helped nearly 1,800 central Iowans prepare for and land higher-paying jobs last year. That means they have a better chance of being able to afford housing for themselves and their families.   Which means a better chance of improving lives by uniting the caring power of our community –United Way’s mission.

Elisabeth Buck is the Chief Community Impact Officer at United Way of Central Iowa. Prior to joining United Way, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Iowa Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver from 1999-2007 until her appointment as Governor Culver’s Director of Iowa Workforce Development in 2007.