When I grew up in a $16,000 house in a working-class city in New England, I never imagined I would live in a world-class ski resort and have enough room for guests and a garage bigger than a studio apartment in most urban cities. I am enormously grateful to call this valley home.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, I began my housing education. I learned how hardworking people’s income is often out of reach of a modest place to call their own. I learned how rent often takes up to 50% of a household’s income, leaving health care and child care by the wayside. I learned how your castle could be wiped out by a levee breech and rebuilding was not guaranteed, due to lack of insurance or those wanting to make a buck without giving an honest day’s work.
Along the way, I was fortunate to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the Saint Bernard Project and the Fuller Center for Housing. My skills were marginal, but a stranger helping a stranger build their home was powerful. I learned that stable, decent, long-term housing anchors families and young people to their community, improves health outcomes and helps children achieve success in school.
In Ketchum, I found a kind and generous community. Hidden behind the beauty of the mountains and streams, I learned the term ALICE (asset-limited income-constrained employed), finding that 52% of our friends and neighbors struggle on a survival budget. When 70% of all jobs in Idaho pay $20 an hour or less, it’s hard to afford the necessities of life.
So I have tried to speak up, to be an advocate for community housing. I operate under the adage, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Don’t miss the chance to speak up for our workers, the people who answer the call when we’re in need, who care for us when we are sick, who teach our children and keep our restaurants going. Stand up for community housing.
(Editor’s Note: Liz Keegan is the vice-chair of the Blaine County Housing Authority.)