American Fork pauses transit oriented development 06

Construction workers work on a soon-to-be-completed balcony at an apartment complex in American Fork on Aug. 1, 2018. 

“It’s time for triple-up economics. We are only as strong as the base layers of all our employees.” — Mark Cuban, American entrepreneur

Housing is so much more than just a roof over one’s head; it is security, a stable place to stay healthy, safety from the elements and a place to build family connections and welcome friends.

And now housing represents a place to work and stay protected from COVID-19. Our homes became our offices, relying on technology to conduct our work, socialize with our colleagues over online webinars and meetings, and ensure we earn our payroll checks. Teachers conduct lessons online for our children. We have virtual medical visits when we need our family doctor or therapist. We try to reduce our visits to the grocery stores and rely more on Amazon or online food ordering. We receive our orders at the doorstep, brought by postal workers, Amazon drivers or Dash delivery folks.

Housing is now also a part of our healthcare system, as it is a place to stay healthy and prevent others from becoming infected. Renters and homeowners who have a place to call home are keeping themselves, their families and the surrounding communities safe from the pandemic.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have access to all the above, but many without these privileges are the same people who provide the conveniences of our current reality. These jobs have been considered essential to our community: tech staff, healthcare workers, cooks, cashiers, grocery stockers and delivery personnel. Most of these folks are low-income. These people continue to go to work to make sure we have access to all we need to make it through difficult times, yet are still struggling to keep or find housing.

In 2019, in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the state of Utah you had to earn $14.89/hour. We had over 264,000 Utahns making less than that before COVID-19 hit. In 2019, we had over 164,000 jobs which are now considered essential workers: food prep and fast food workers, cashiers, janitors and cleaners, retail sales workers, certified nurse assistants and many more who are not making enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment. Many of these folks might be unemployed now or have their hours severely decreased.

Now more than ever, we must be grateful for the employed essential workers, many of whom cannot afford the most basic need — a place to call home. It is our duty as individuals and communities of this state to see that Utah’s essential workers have housing that they can afford.

Utahns need to be willing to offer affordable housing in their communities to workers who provide them a lifeline to essential services. Housing is healthcare. Housing is shelter. Housing is upward economic mobility. Let’s take care of those who need it most. Let’s take care of the people we are depending on the most today.

Tara Rollins is executive director and Francisca Blanc is the advocacy and outreach coordinator at Utah Housing Coalition. Utah Housing Coalition is a state-wide membership-based organization advocating for affordable housing. It is a state partner of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Opportunity Starts at Home.