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Our view: More affordable housing needed in McHenry County

Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

McHenry County has had an affordable housing problem for decades, but there isn’t much will among either elected officials or the public to improve the outlook.

Affordable housing isn’t about failed public housing projects or Section 8 housing. It means having a housing supply that is affordable for the vast majority of the people here.

That population includes senior citizens, who are too often getting taxed out of their homes. It also means manufacturing employees who are vital to the county’s economic success, and young people starting their careers who are necessary to keep communities thriving.

According to McHenry County’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, more than 40 percent of local families are living in homes they can’t afford.

When families have to spend more than half their income on rent or mortgage, other problems emerge. Local economies suffer when so many families have little disposable income.

While the problem has been here for a long time, it’s getting worse. That’s the case despite the significant decrease in home prices. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of rental units that cost more than $1,000 per month increased by about 200 percent. At the same time, McHenry County lost about one-third of its units that rented for less than $500 a month.

It takes a salary of $38,320 a year – $18 an hour – to afford the fair market rent of a McHenry County two-bedroom apartment at $958 a month. It’s hard enough for young people to find jobs, much less find one in a community in which they can afford to live.

We should want our local workforce – from top to bottom – to be able to live in McHenry County. Those who work here but live elsewhere spend money and pay taxes in other communities. It’s the opposite of community sustainability.

The housing market crash gave municipalities an opportunity to fill our affordable housing need during this slow time for growth. We encourage local governments to identify parts of town where affordable housing best is suited and be open to such developments.

Increasing the number of affordable housing options should be embraced in McHenry County instead of discouraged.

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