Being forced to decide between rent, food or medicine seems like an impossible choice, yet it’s one too many Idahoans must make regularly, particularly people of color, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and low-wage, often essential, earners. According to census data from May 2021, 96,000 Idaho households reported not having enough to eat, one in 10 renters were behind on rent, and one out of five Idaho households could not cover usual household expenses.
These families with tight budgets resort to eating whatever is least expensive rather than what is most nutritious, and they often cut doses of necessary medication or go without it in an attempt to cover rent. Children growing up in food and housing insecure households are more likely to experience poor academic outcomes, are less likely to graduate, and often have long-term health, behavioral and emotional problems.
Conversely, affordable, stable housing supports economic mobility, allowing people with low-incomes to climb the income ladder and achieve greater financial stability. Families living in affordable homes are also more likely to be food secure and have better health and education outcomes.
Homes are affordable when rent is no more than 30% of a household’s income. However, 24,000 of Idaho’s families with the lowest incomes pay more than half of their limited incomes on rent, and half of all Idaho renters pay over 30% of their income on rent. In Idaho, the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom home is $16.59 per hour, yet the average renter wage is only $13.26. Area rent is increasing at a rate far outstripping wages, in some cases almost doubling.
Rental assistance programs such as the Housing Voucher Program were created to make homes affordable, and tax credits for affordable home development were designed to encourage a supply of homes affordable at all income levels. But currently the average wait time for a qualified Idaho family to receive a voucher is nearly two years. Even then, they may be unable to find a place to live due to the overburdened and increasingly expensive housing market.
In order to support Idaho’s families and ensure everyone has access to a stable and affordable home, the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger urges Idaho’s congressional delegation to expand rental assistance to every eligible household, invest $45 billion in the national Housing Trust Fund to build new affordable homes, and provide emergency housing assistance to help stabilize families in crisis.
The American Jobs Plan is an opportunity for Congress to make these investments, create good-paying jobs, and ensure a full recovery from the pandemic. Without sufficient federal investments in housing assistance and the creation and maintenance of affordable homes, working Idahoans will slip further into food and housing insecurity.
Congress must act now to advance bold housing solutions that move our state and our nation towards stable and affordable homes for everyone. The American Jobs Plan provides a unique opportunity for Congress to ensure everyone has access to stable housing and to begin to end homelessness and housing poverty.
Gayle Woods is a retired educator. She is one of the founders of the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger, which she currently chairs, and has been working in the field of advocacy to reduce hunger in Idaho for many years. In addition, she serves on boards within her denomination at the Conference and local levels.
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