Sean Pelletier Has the Floor

Lifelong lessons impact advocacy

Sean Pelletier Has the Floor

Some people are moved to advocate for something because of a personal experience, others because of what they have experienced through others. My support for Affordable Housing is because of both.

Several years of my childhood were spent in Des Moines with my mother who was a working, single parent. Like many single parents, particularly those without a college education, she spent a disproportionate amount of her income on housing. I didn’t know it then, but as I grew older I came to understand how hard she worked during that time to make ends meet. Both her struggles and successes left an indelible mark on me.

Then in 1994 as a young adult, I student-taught in Kansas City in a program that places student teachers in urban schools where they gain experience teaching students from multiple cultures and economic backgrounds. One of the many things I learned from my students was how hard it can be to obtain an education when you’re worried about where you live and where your next meal will come from.

And now, as a result of my position as the Executive Director of the EMC Insurance Foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to be a member of the United Way Income Cabinet, a board member for the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and a board member for the Greater Des Moines Partnership. My involvement with these and other organizations has allowed me to apply some of the life lessons and also makes me proud to be a part of the Des Moines community.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is integral to attracting new businesses to Des Moines and in helping the city grow and prosper—and the country is noticing. However, for Des Moines to continue its path of growth, we need to help people find jobs that pay enough in wages to allow them to support their families and provide affordable housing in areas where there are concentrations of jobs paying less than $15 an hour.

As a member of the United Way Income Cabinet, I read the 2011 study by the Iowa Policy Project on The Cost of Living in Iowa. (A great information site provides key reports and an interactive map of Iowa’s 99 counties with breakouts of expenses and overall costs to live there.)  Through this study I re-learned and remembered just how hard it can be for a single parent trying to make ends meet. I also learned what a big difference there is between surpassing the Federal Poverty Guidelines and having enough income to survive. The study also showed just how large the average percentage of income is that is used for housing—hardly affordable even for those making enough.  But what about those who don’t earn enough to cover the most basic living expenses?  This is where the Polk County Housing Trust Fund (PCHTF) enters the picture, along with providers and entities that work to help meet the needs of low-income individuals. 

Eric Burmeister, the staff and PCHTF board are working to make central Iowa a better place to live for all people. Bus trips around the Greater Des Moines area have helped to create more awareness about what housing is and is not available in Des Moines and the surrounding suburbs for those working lower-wage jobs. The PCHTF has also commissioned a study that will clearly identify areas of need in regard to low-income housing in central Iowa. PCHTF and area businesses have made efforts to change public perception about low income housing through the “Can I Be Your Neighbor” campaign.  

As a board member I am pleased to see the PCHTF has made a strategic shift from being a conduit for funding to an active, strategic leader in the process of changing how and where we provide low-income housing. PCHTF has been a great steward of the public and private funds entrusted to the organization and it will leverage those funds to even more advantage to help our community in the future.

Sean Pelletier is a PCHTF Board Member and the Assistant Vice President of Government Affairs at EMC Insurance and the Executive Director of the EMC Insurance Foundation.