I want to begin today’s column by asking you what might seem like a simple question: What comes to mind when you hear the word “home?”

Think about all the ways your home connects the fabric of your life—a place to live and raise your family, a roof over your head, a place to call your own, earned through your daily wages and skills. It is your very own piece of community. Now imagine life without your home. Take a few moments or minutes to think about the ripple effects it would create throughout your life.

Why I am asking about your home and what does this have to do with Adams Economic Alliance? While our organization focuses on our local economy, supporting businesses, industry, and workforce development, what happens if a large segment of our population and workforce cannot afford a place to live?

The Alliance is one partner among many who are engaged in a workforce housing initiative that will bring to light the need for and impact that affordable housing has on everyone whatever your income. The Adams County Community Foundation conducted a study that concluded there is a lack of housing for county residents.  South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) is taking lead on this under their new @Home in Adams County initiative.

Currently, statistics show more than 20 percent of the county’s population is struggling to find affordable housing. And how do we define “affordable?” It’s when 30 percent (or less) of your income goes toward your housing costs and utilities. For many people in Adams County, this number exceeds 50%, and for many low wage earners, it can exceed 70% of their income.  One of the barriers to affordable housing is when income does not keep up with increasing costs of living.

We are watching this issue very closely at the Alliance. A new report shows nearly half of Pennsylvania’s hourly-wage workers (more than 1.75 million Pennsylvanians) make less than $15 per hour, even as the cost of living continues to increase. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been unchanged in the last decade and remains at $7.25 per hour. Governor Wolf said recently that this report confirms the dire need for Pennsylvania to raise the minimum wage.

The challenge before us, to find a solution to the affordable housing puzzle in Adams County, requires a whole new level of support that historically has been on the radar screen for social service agencies but not those who can participate in the process of meaningful change.

We are honored to have a seat at the table with community partners through @Home in Adams County. In addition to SCCAP and our Adams Economic Alliance, the partners are: Adams County Community Foundation, Adams County Housing Authority, Gettysburg College Center for Public Service, Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), Healthy Adams County, United Way of Adams County, and WellSpan Health. We all have a stake in this.

The conversation is officially kicking off with the 1st Annual Adams County Housing Summit on March 29.

“The summit will serve as an introduction to the collaborative nature of the initiative, an opportunity to learn from Dr. Matthew Desmond, an expert in the field, and as a platform for community members to discuss solutions to these issues. From there, engaged citizens can join task forces to be part of the movement in improving housing, transportation and wages so everyone can be @Home in Adams County,” says Jennifer Herfel, Community Coalition Liaison with SCCAP and @Home In Adams County.

The event is being held at HACC’s Gettysburg Campus.

“Affordable housing has a profound impact on the success of HACC students,” says Shannon Harvey, Vice President, HACC Gettysburg Campus. “Sixty-eight percent of HACC’s students are eligible for federal financial aid despite the fact that 85 percent of these students are working at least one job, with many holding two jobs. Financial insecurity is a daily reality. Combine that with housing insecurity and a student’s chance of completing their diploma, certificate or degree is significantly diminished. As a community, that impacts the sustainability of our workforce.”

With a picture of “home” in your mind, please consider adding your voice to this community conversation, become engaged, and learn more: www.homeinadamscounty.org; as well as our Alliance social media channels.

This article was originally published in the Gettysburg Times, March 14, 2019