PCHTF Funder Principal Financial Group has the Floor
Mary O’Keefe Shares Insights
I once heard it said the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families (and communities) don't always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor. One American dream my parents struggled with while raising us in Chicago was to own a home. I was the seventh of 11 children and the issue of providing affordable housing is a very personal one for me.
While I cherish the childhood I had, being an adult gives me a different perspective for what my parents faced. The financial pressures were significant and the challenges almost insurmountable after one of my siblings contracted spinal meningitis. My father often worked three jobs and my mother worked also. Unfortunately there was waiting period on our health insurance policy and my brother needed care before it kicked in. Danny’s care bankrupted us and stable housing was almost impossible – we were evicted seven times while I was in grammar school as landlords sold the houses we rented. It’s hard to imagine how life would have been different if there had been stability for something as basic as a place to live.
That’s why I am moved to work alongside Principal employees and other volunteers on Habitat homes, serve on the Homeless Coordinating Council and grateful the Principal Financial Group Foundation provides funds to the Polk County Housing Trust Fund. With the Housing Trust Fund’s leadership in comprehensive planning, advocacy and support of housing providers, we can increase and preserve the number of affordable housing options for everyone.
And that includes a larger number of people who are working, like my parents, who for a whole host of reasons may not be able to afford safe and stable housing. Last year the total number of individuals served by the Polk County Housing Trust Fund Operating and Supportive Service allocations increased from 2,901 to 2,986, and there was a noticeable shift in the profile of those receiving assistance. The profile included a marked increase in clients who reported having some form of income. Additionally, a larger percentage of clients served were in the higher income range of 30-50% of area median income.
That means the challenge of providing housing is expanding to those who likely never expected to need help. The good news is we have strategic focus and leadership provided by the Housing Trust Fund and share Midwestern values of caring, teamwork and perseverance. Our race to provide affordable housing for all is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay. My parents’ hard work, love and sacrifice gave me the opportunity to better my life and provide stability for my son. We may not be able to see the finish line in the short term, but the progress we make will change lives for generations to come.