At Habitat, we say Home is Key.
It’s the simplest way for us to convey a complex reality. The housing market is a critical part of the U.S. economy, and to that end, the world’s economy, too. Our collective financial stability hinges upon it. More than that, the housing market greatly impacts every single person in our community.
The place we call home – whether it’s affordable, safe, or stable – makes a profound difference in each of our lives. We know this from our experiences. Decades of research about health and education outcomes affirms it.
Of course, at Habitat we don’t usually speak in terms of global economics. Day to day, we think in terms of people: our remarkable homeowners, our generous partners, our incredible volunteers. Whether they just qualified for a loan or made their very last mortgage payment, we know our families by name. We are blessed with ‘weekday regulars,’ our everyday construction heroes without whom we’d be lost. We are fortunate to have the support of hundreds of volunteers, many of whom work, own businesses, and go to school here in Pierce County. Whatever our skill set or contribution, we come together because we believe that everyone deserves a safe place to live. Everyone.
We’re thinking that much more about our people right now, especially as the most vulnerable among us become more vulnerable still in the face of COVID-19. Today Tacoma/Pierce County faces a shortfall of more than 3,000 affordable housing units. Nearly half of households in our area spend 30-50 percent of their income on housing, forcing impossible financial decisions in other parts of their lives, including medical care. One in five seniors is severely cost-burdened. On any given night, at least 1,600 of our neighbors’ experience homelessness.
We must consider what social distancing and quarantine look like for everyone in our community. It’s a sobering reality, but one we cannot afford to ignore. While our staff are following the guidance of leaders and public health officials and exercising the utmost caution… we’re also frustrated. We’re frustrated that we cannot work together as we normally would. We’re worried about our construction timelines and the families to whom we’ve promised future homes. We are heartbroken to turn away volunteers and close our doors to the public. Of course, needs must. We will do what needs doing, even if we must find new ways to work together.
Like many of you, we wish we could do even more in this time of great need. For now, we are endlessly grateful for every healthcare worker, grocer, pharmacist, and small business owner doing their best in such challenging times. Their selfless efforts are a source of hope for us all. They represent the very best of humanity, and we’re confident that we can find new and innovative ways to support them, too. We are proud to be surrounded by such a supportive network of non-profits, community foundations, and donors.
We’re also deeply thankful that we have places to call home, where we can do our best to protect ourselves and the people we love and slow the spread of COVID-19. We only wish that were true for everyone. While we’d certainly never wish for new reasons to talk about affordable housing, this pandemic serves as a poignant reminder of just how much home matters. For many, it will make all the difference in health outcomes. Now more than ever, we are sure that we must rely on and look out for each other. We must recognize each other as neighbors. It’s time to think deeply about the choices we make, and the kind of world we want to create. At Habitat, we strive to create a world where every person has the chance to grow and thrive, with a roof overhead and a community to support them. Come what may, we’ll never stop working towards that world. It’s never felt more important.
Elizabeth is Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity‘s Grants Manager, and a Tacoma resident.