Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have a home to live in. If you were facing eviction and you didn’t know where you and your children would live. If you thought that where you were living was just too expensive but when you looked around, the cost of rentals was higher than you pay now. Imagine if you were working, often more than one job, and you still couldn’t afford to live in your community. How would that impact your work, your sense of self, your health, your children, your future?
I was stunned, at the recent Commissioners Forum on Housing, by the speakers’ data and viewpoints on the unaffordability of housing. We see it on a daily basis – our shelters are full of families (most of them working) who can’t afford housing in our community. But hearing it from a business, health, planning and educational perspective was astounding. The impacts on our community are so vast. Dr. Amy Dailey, from Gettysburg College, shared the data and the correlation between housing and depression, stress and other health issues. Suzanne Christianson, a local realtor, shared the difficulties of finding housing for low wage families and seniors on a fixed income. Rob Thaeler, Principal Planner for Adams County shared the facts about housing in our local community and how most of the housing developed here draws from those moving into our area and working outside of the county - with most houses being built costing above $250,000.
Dr. Chris Echterling from Wellspan Health (also Physician of the Year in Pennsylvania for 2016) shared stories about how housing significantly impacts a family’s ability to be healthy and the new data on addiction and recovery and their strong ties to housing, as well as, the cost of providing housing compared to providing shelter space, mental health units and health care - it was so compelling.
Robin Fitzpatrick shared data relating to business and how local HR reps said that families earning under $50,000 per year can’t afford housing (and many earning under $80,000 can’t either) and the impact on their businesses. When she shared that individuals working in family/social services just earn enough to cover the costs for a one-person family, that was bad enough, but she went on to share that those in the service industry - who support our tourism economy don’t earn enough to even support a family of one – I couldn’t help but think of how big this problem is.
But most of all, the stories shared by Kelly DeWees, from Gettysburg School District, about the more than 128 homeless children the district serves and the story of a family renting a U-Haul trailer by the week so that their kids could sleep in a shelter that was cheaper than housing in the community, I was heartbroken.
This isn’t a social services problem! And if you mistakenly think the social services world has it covered, you are so very wrong. There are nearly no resources to help – governmental or otherwise. And this isn’t a people making the wrong choices problem – it is a matter of numbers. We live in a community fueled by agriculture and tourism – traditionally low wage jobs- but we live in a college town that is a bedroom community to Baltimore and Washington. A beautiful community in a state that offers tax advantages for those retiring here. Those factors push up the cost of living – which wouldn’t be a problem if we had wages that enabled people who work in our community to afford to live here – but for many, that just isn’t the case. Poverty in our community is working families who earn low wages (often from more than one job) and seniors on a fixed income. If you work in Adams County, you may well be struggling to live in Adams County. We have to fix this! We, as a community, have to change this.