I grew up in the Walla Walla Valley in Washington, going to Dixie Elementary School and Pi-Hi; and graduating from Wa-Hi in 1972. In Walla Walla, I worked at Whitman College, Key Technology, Inland Counseling, and Walla Walla Community College. This is my hometown, but living out my retirement here seems less and less likely.
Currently, my rent alone takes over 45% of my Social Security check — and my rent is low by Walla Walla standards. Add to rent the cost of health care insurance (which is incredibly expensive), the rising cost of utilities and groceries, and I am grateful to get through each month. I am not alone in this dilemma. Every single, retired woman friend I have struggles to cover her living expenses, and we all know the trend is unsustainable. I make too much to be eligible for public housing assistance, but not enough to qualify for a home loan. I am sure that there are plenty of others — working and retired — who find themselves in similar situations.
As a matter of fact, the statistics are grim. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for a home to be affordable, it should take up no more than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income. A household spending over 30% of its income on housing is considered “cost burdened.” A high percentage of renters in our region are cost-burdened: Prescott (81%); Walla Walla (57%); College Place (52%); Waitsburg (52%); Dayton (46%); and Milton-Freewater (43%). More broadly, 41% of people paying rent or mortgages in our region are living in homes they cannot afford.
I started looking for proactive solutions to these affordable-housing challenges. A friend suggested I contact the Community Council, which is working with volunteers to form the Common Roots Housing Trust. I am encouraged and have joined in the effort.
Common Roots’ goal is to help keep homes in the region affordable by helping people like me buy a modest home on land owned by the trust. If you are interested in learning about Common Roots, I encourage you to check out their website at www.commonrootshousing.org and register to attend a free, live Zoom town hall explaining this important new initiative on Jan. 11 at 6 p.m.
To register, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_V7kZiNm3Qva8PUCwwsQ7jg.
Patricia Divine Wilder
Walla Walla, Washington