Jane Fogg Has the Floor
Former educator sees impact of housing
Serving alongside organizational leaders on a community initiative or challenging project is revealing. Many come open to sharing their resources and collaborating to achieve collective impact. That was my experience with the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and one of the reasons I was genuinely excited to become a member of their board.
I grew up in Des Moines, first living in a home built by my parents near Drake University. Some of my fondest memories include walking to the Varsity Theater or Sheslow Auditorium for wonderful children’s theater productions. While still in elementary school, we moved to Polk Boulevard. During the years our family lived there Interstate 235 was constructed, cutting through neighborhoods east to west and taking many beautiful homes and my father’s small manufacturing plant. Thankfully he was able to relocate. Even as a young person I sensed the importance of neighborhoods and the ripple effect, both good and bad, of progress on people’s lives.
Following college, marriage, and some years away from Iowa, my husband and I moved our family, now with two young children, “back home” to Des Moines. The primary reason was the quality of life, especially the quality of the public education system.
During those years I experienced what many of you already know – this is a place where the impact of volunteers, community leaders and policymakers determines the quality of life for most everyone and why serving as a volunteer has always been so important to me.
Today, after having been an educator; serving on numerous community boards; including three terms as a school board member; working for both the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the United Way of Central Iowa, my time and attention focuses on the financial stability of lower-income families. I saw first-hand that improving access to affordable, stable, quality housing can promote positive education, employment, and health outcomes for families.
Studies show a clear correlation between a students’ academic success and the stability of their family’s housing situation. According to the U.S. Government’s Accountability Office, four moves for children by 8thgrade mean they will be four times more likely to drop out of school. Their parents are often moving to get work or earn better wages. In Polk County we have 30,000 households who do not earn enough to afford $600 per month rent payment. While some would argue for higher wages, my focus instead is on access to sufficient, affordable housing options in areas where we have the highest density of jobs.
When I shop at the downtown Farmers Market I look around at the new developments and old buildings being remodeled with suites and penthouses and wonder where are the people who used to live here? When I hear about new hotels, restaurants and with service jobs being added, I question, “What are the communities’ plans to provide the right mix of housing options to fit the variety of jobs and incomes for those workers?”
In recent years the term housing cost-burdened has become part of the discussion and refers to when 30% or more of the household income goes to housing costs. To be severely housing cost-burdened, a household is spending 50% or more of its income on housing costs. Clearly people in these situations are faced with constant financial pressures, cutting costs in other areas, such as food or healthcare to simply pay rent or their mortgage. This financial pressure often results in multiple moves which results in negative impacts for vulnerable families and especially those with school-aged children.
Greater Des Moines is listed among the most-affordable in the nation for housing. However, recognition lists are of little value to those who are experiencing the waiting lists for rental units and the challenge of finding affordable housing options near the places where they are able to find work.
I believe the Housing Trust Fund’s leadership, coupled with a growing understanding of how housing impacts health, economic development and education, has set the stage for much-needed strategic planning in our shared communities. Our community leaders and volunteers continue to advocate for affordable housing options for all who would wish to live and work here so that their family can thrive, just like ours did.
I welcome your questions and insights on how affordable housing factors into the financial stability of families and their quality of life.