Kathy Gray Has the Floor

Two Sides to Every Paycheck

Kathy Gray Has the Floor

As many of us know from personal experience, there are two sides to every paycheck.
One is how much you earn based on what you do for a living; and the other is how far that check can go based upon where you live.

I grew up as one of five children in Silver Spring, Maryland (just outside of Washington, D.C.) in what I’d describe as a middle-class family. My father worked for the SEC in downtown D.C. and my mother was a nurse. 

I started traveling to Des Moines in 1997 for my job in the mortgage industry.  And then in 2008, my husband and I moved here from the D.C. area.  The cost of living is significantly higher in D.C., but cost and affordability is a relative thing – especially when it comes to housing.

Affordability also has two sides; relativity and supply & demand. Both are very much controlled locally. While our region is known as an economical place to live, “economical” is also a relative term.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing takes up 30-42% of the average household budget, making it by far the largest household expense. Here in Polk County, that percentage is roughly doubled for those who are classified as extremely low income (ELI); which, for example, would include a single person making $15,750 (or less) or a family of 3-4 making $24,250 annually.  In Polk County, those with lower incomes spend 68% of their income on housing. Unfortunately, that means the average cost of homes and apartments is often beyond the budget of many who make our community work. Of course, this assumes they can even find a place to rent or own. There are 16,586 ELI households in Polk County (income guidelines noted above) and only 8,236 units that rent for what they should be able to afford. That’s a negative balance of 8,350 units! Clearly, we have a shortage of affordable housing for our ELI community members. 

I believe that every person should have the opportunity to live in the community of their choosing –and have an option to buy or rent housing commensurate to their income. That is one of the reasons I became a board member for the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, which provides planning, advocacy and funding for affordable housing.

On Oct. 25th the Des Moines Business Record will facilitate a panel discussion, “March to 1 Million: How will Greater D.M. Handle its Growth?” as part of their Business Record Power Breakfast Series. The session is expected to include discussion of the strains our growth will put on our local infrastructure; how our local governments will adjust; and the demographic makeup of our workforce. Given what we have shared in this column, it is my hope that the event will also include planning for a future where our people are able to live in the community of their choice; not only because it is where they work or wish to be, but also because it is where a paycheck can go further in providing them the quality of life that we all know truly makes Greater Des Moines special.

Kathy Gray is Executive Vice President of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She is Secretary of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund Board of Directors, where she has served since 2014.