CEO and Founder of Hope Partnership, Rev. Mary Lee Downey's insight was recently included in the Orlando Business Journal's Community Impact: Affordable Housing Issue.
Read an excerpt of her comments below. For the full article, please visit the Orlando Business Journal.
Rev. Mary Lee Downey moved to Orlando in 2006 — when the Great Recession started — and watched as Osceola County residents moved into hotels and motels when they couldn't afford to buy a home or were unable to find an apartment to rent. The trend heightened through the years, and more working families simply could not find affordable housing. Those who had money to rent a place found there wasn't enough inventory for them, Downey said. She now works to end homelessness in Osceola County through her nonprofit. "This has become increasingly worse in the last four years for those who are low-wage workers in our community. Hotels/motels are not workforce housing."
Here, Downey shares more:
What are the county’s most pressing affordable housing needs? We need housing that matches wages. Even when building what we call “affordable housing,” we still have those whose wages will never be enough. We must find pathways for housing for those who are full-time employees in our hospitality and tourism industries who are struggling to find homes that match their pay.
What are you planning to do in the future to address these issues? Our organization has been exploring every possible solution to building financially-attainable housing in our community, from tiny homes to hotel conversion to [building] a multifamily complex. We also continue to direct services we do to help those in the most need in our community.
Have you ever needed affordable housing? How has that changed your perspective on the issue? There have been multiple times in my life when I've been housing insecure, mostly in my teens and early 20s. I know what it feels like to not know if home always is going to be home. Not having a safe place to call home is a traumatic reality, and it takes its toll on the mind, body and spirit. It can even lower lifespan by 20-30 years in the U.S. I’m grateful my reality is much different now, and I don't worry about my housing. But I won’t forget it, and it’s why I fight for my neighbors the way I do.
What advice do you have for others in your community who want to help out with these issues? Make it a priority. We must hold each other accountable and responsible for the needs of our neighbors. Encourage our government leadership to make housing our No. 1 concern. Ask our businesses to make it a priority in practice and when lobbying. Support your local nonprofits, who with very little resources are working tirelessly to solve this crisis. We can't do it alone, and we don’t want to. We want everyone to believe that everyone deserves a safe place to call home.
— Jack Witthaus