Guest Commentary

New Habitat goal is to improve housing affordability for 10 million people

Low-wage workers are forced to engage in a game of tradeoffs when it comes to living in safe, affordable housing. For example, they may have to choose between paying their rent on time or repairing their car so they can get to work. They often forgo doctor visits, medicine and healthcare to make ends meet. Did you know that a minimum wage worker in Sedgwick County would have to work two full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment for their family? While we generally consider Kansas an affordable place to live, one in 10 Kansans pay more than 50% of their income for housing. In Sedgwick County, 21,715 families pay more than 50% of their income for housing.

As executive director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity, I’ve watched futures change dramatically for hardworking families when they experience affordable homeownership, which is defined as 30% of monthly income. They save for emergencies, invest in education for themselves, purchase reliable transportation and watch their children thrive because they live in stable housing.

Access to affordable housing is not an insurmountable problem if we have the will to address it together. That’s why we’re joining hundreds of Habitat for Humanity organizations today to launch our first national advocacy campaign, Cost of Home. The campaign’s goal is to improve housing affordability for 10 million people across the U.S. over the next five years through policy and system changes.

We’re already making an impact in Sedgwick County through our homeownership program. Did you know that Habitat homeowners build their homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage? A monthly mortgage payment on a three-bedroom Habitat home is about $200 less than the $764 fair market rent on two-bedroom apartment. Habitat homeowners also complete 40 hours of financial literacy and home maintenance, ensuring their success.

Since our founding in 1986, we have partnered with 249 families, which include 536 children. We are finishing construction on three homes in our Rock the Block revitalization initiative. We began this initiative five years ago to best meet the need for affordable housing in Wichita. By month’s end, there will be 43 homes with 61 adults and 102 children living in affordable housing in Rock the Block.

We can do more. Through the Cost of Home advocacy campaign, Habitat for Humanity International, along with affiliates like us, our partners, volunteers and community members — like you — will work together to find solutions that will allow every family to have access to affordable housing. Over the next five years, the campaign will improve home affordability by promoting changes in four key areas:

  • Expand resources for affordable home production. We’ll establish, strengthen and grow housing programs to increase and preserve affordable housing options for low and moderate income renters and homeowners.

  • Increase inclusive access to credit. We’ll support policies that increase and broaden access to appropriate credit for underserved populations.

  • Enable equitable land use. We’ll advocate to reform land use policies to increase housing opportunities.

  • Develop communities of opportunity: We’ll advocate for policies that support sustainable neighborhood revitalization, especially in under-resourced communities.

Increasing access to affordable housing is an investment that benefits everyone in our community. Won’t you join us?

Ann Fox is the executive director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity