You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” No place is this more evident than at a school, where numerous staff — from bus drivers, to teachers, to groundskeepers — work together to make kids’ futures bright.
A new reportreleased last week by the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy shows that an essential piece of that village is lacking: affordable housing.
The 2016 “Paycheck to Paycheck” report examines housing affordability in 210 metropolitan areas for five occupations integral to schools: bus drivers, child care workers, groundskeepers, social workers, and high school teachers. The findings are clear: For many school staff, finding affordable housing is a significant challenge.
“None of these occupations earned salaries that were high enough to guarantee either renting or owning a home in every metro area included in this report,” the authors conclude.
Housing is considered unaffordable when it requires more than 30 percent of a household’s income. And, by that widely accepted metric, bus drivers, groundskeepers, and child care workers are especially cost-burdened. For bus drivers, owning or renting a two-bedroom home is out of reach in all 210 metros analyzed nationwide. For groundskeepers, home ownership is feasible in only 25 metros and a two-bedroom rental is affordable in just 57 metros. Child care workers can afford owning a two-bedroom home in only 13 metros and renting a two-bedroom home in only 10.
Over the past decade, Mark had lived many places he didn’t call home. A state prison cell. A cockroach-infested motel room. An apartment complex populated with alcoholics and drug addicts — two substances he’d battled himself.
He’d had setbacks with his sobriety that led to arrest and suffered a stroke that left him partially disabled.
But, at the Grand Opening of the Beacon Hill housing development last month, Mark kept repeating one phrase: “I feel so blessed.”
Mark was one of dozens of residents who moved into the new supportive housing development in Grand Rapids within days of its completion. A $9.4 million project, Beacon Hill promised to fulfill an urgent need for additional affordable and supportive housing in rural Itasca County, Minnesota. But, evidenced by the packed room of local residents and leaders from across the state, it was clear this housing project is special.
Certainly, it’s notable in its design, bringing together families with children and individuals with supportive housing needs to create a diverse but connected community of more than 120 residents. Perhaps even more exceptional, though, these 48 units are the tangible result of a unique collaboration among local leaders representing a diversity of interests, from the county to state corrections, from housing to mental health services.
For more than 50 years, people from across the Midwest visited what became known as the “Indian Bowl” to share in the culture and traditions of the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe. On warm summer evenings, they gathered in the colosseum-like seats to marvel at the powwow dancers’ intricate footwork, watch their swirling dresses, and feel the beat of the drums.
But after half a century of Wisconsin winters, the concrete seating of the Indian Bowl was crumbling, and the building was falling into disrepair. When a study showed only a $300,000 difference between renovating the facility and building a new one, the Lac du Flambeau community saw an opportunity to bolster its mission to share and sustain the Ojibwe culture. In September 2014, crews demolished the Indian Bowl to make way for the Waaswaaganing Indian Bowl Living Arts and Culture Center. “Waaswaaganing” means “Lake of Flames” in Ojibwe, describing the look of a lake as it is spearfished by torchlight.
On August 4, 2016, the Lac du Flambeau community finally broke ground at the site of the new Indian Bowl. Approximately 60 people attended, including community members, architects, donors, students from the Abinoojiiyag Youth Center, and a Korean cultural exchange group visiting from New York. The ceremony included a prayer, speeches by Indian Bowl friends and supporters, and a celebratory picnic at the Lake of the Torches Resort Casino.
So what happened? When the impasse over light rail killed the bonding bill in the final moments of the session, both Republicans and Democrats asked the Governor to call a special session to pass the critical measure that, among many other aspects, included $45 million for affordable housing. The Governor heeded the call — but with a long list of must-have that he’d need to see in the bonding bill to bring legislators back to St. Paul. Top of his list? Funding for the Southwest light rail.
As the summer heat sizzled, so did media speculation about the prospect of a special session. But, despite (or perhaps because of the) high political temperatures heading into the election year, the major barrier refused to thaw: Republicans said they wouldn’t agree to a deal with light rail funding in the bill and Democrats said they wouldn’t agree to a deal without it. To add to the intrigue, some speculated a deal rested on helping Speaker Daudt’s primary race.
Then something seemingly amazing happened. The Governor brought together the combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato to persuade Speaker Daudt. As the weeks passed, the Governor compromised on many of his demands and still negotiations were stalled. It wasn’t until he had the Speaker over for sandwiches in late August that a deal reportedly was brokered. Still no agreement on funding for light rail, but it seemed the special session was moving forward.