Growing up, my dad worked as a mechanic and my mom became disabled when I was young, so our income options were limited. Until recently, my parents rented our house, both my grandfather and grandfather rented as well, and despite what my parents did to make ends meet, we didn’t have secure housing. At the age of 14, I got my first job, and the income I made went to my family to buy food, pay bills and pay rent.
I know firsthand how far a few hundred extra dollars can go, especially when there is no generational wealth to count on. Since my family never owned a home – one of the cornerstones of building a wealth for generations – owning a home by myself was out of my reach. Given Idaho’s lack of affordable homes and the high cost of living, that’s likely to be the case at least for the foreseeable future.
As the Director of Education for the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, I work with Idaho residents experiencing housing insecurity or housing discrimination. Our organization’s goal is to ensure open and inclusive housing for all people, and all sources of income. Every day I see how Even a few hundred dollars can make a difference in someone’s ability to stay in housing, which is one of the main reasons I support creating a tax credit for working families in Idaho.
The credit, enacted by many other states, will be modeled on the federal income tax credit. Recipients will demand money based on their income, while those with more modest incomes will demand more credit. Credit diminishes gradually as household income increases, which gives a bridge to self-sufficiency through earning adjustment.
Although this credit won’t cost Idaho’s budget much, it can make an important difference to many Idaho families who live from paycheck to paycheck. Those hundreds of dollars could be the difference between paying rent or facing eviction. Those of us who live from paycheck to paycheck know the old adage, “Rent eats first.” A family facing financial insecurity will prioritize paying rent, before paying for car repairs, food, or even necessary medical treatment. The basic human need for shelter negates all of those things when the situation is extremely dangerous.
Staying in a safe and stable location is one of the best ways Idahoans can avoid housing discrimination. When a family defaults on rent and faces eviction, they also face the prospect of entering the unforgiving housing market in Idaho. The lack of accessible, affordable, and accessible homes for Idahoans of modest means creates an environment in which already vulnerable people are subject to discrimination. With so few affordable homes available, predatory landlords can discriminate on the basis of many categories prohibited by the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.
While the Intermountain Fair Housing Board is there in part to help families facing this discrimination, I’d rather see families avoid it altogether. I think the Idaho family working tax credit will help them do that.
I know what it means to be part of a family that has to worry about money, even while family members are working. While this tax credit won’t cost Idaho much, for Idaho families on modest incomes, it could mean the difference between staying home or facing the trauma of homelessness. There is no more basic need than the need for a safe home. We can and must enact a policy that helps more of our neighbors secure that need.