Want to help keep Idaho families housed? Try a state tax credit for working families.

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I don’t come from wealth.

Growing up, my father worked as a mechanic and my mother became disabled when I was young, so our income options were limited. Until recently, my parents rented our house, my two grandparents rented as well, and despite everything my parents did to make ends meet, we had no safe place to live. At 14 I got my first job and the income I earned went to my family to buy food, pay the bills and pay the rent.

I know firsthand just how far a few hundred extra dollars can go, especially without generational wealth to fall back on. Because my family didn’t own a home – which is one of the main pillars of building generational wealth – it meant that owning a home myself was beyond my reach. Given Idaho’s lack of affordable housing and high cost of living, it likely will, at least for the foreseeable future.

As Director of Education for Intermountain Fair Housing Council, I work with Idahoans who experience housing insecurity or discrimination. The goal of our organization is to provide open and inclusive housing for all people and all sources of income. Every day I see how even a few hundred dollars can make a difference in someone’s ability to stay housed, and that’s one of the main reasons I’m in favor of creating a tax credit for families of Idaho workers.

The credit, which many other states have adopted, would be modeled after the federal earned income tax credit. Beneficiaries would claim money based on their income, with those with lower incomes claiming more credit. Credit gradually declines as household income increases, providing a bridge to self-sufficiency through income adjustment.

While this credit wouldn’t cost Idaho’s budget much, it could make a big difference for the many Idaho households living paycheck to paycheck. Those few hundred dollars could be the difference between paying rent or facing eviction. Those of us who live paycheck to paycheck know that old adage, “rent eats first. A household facing financial insecurity will prioritize paying rent, before paying for car repairs, food, or even necessary medical care. The basic human need for shelter supersedes all of these things when the situation is severe enough.

Staying housed in a safe and stable situation is one of the best ways for Idahoans to avoid housing discrimination. When a household falls behind on rent and faces eviction, they also face the prospect of entering Idaho’s cutthroat housing market. The lack of accessible, affordable, and available housing for Idahoans of modest means creates an environment where those who are already vulnerable are susceptible to discrimination. With so little affordable housing available, predatory landlords can and do discriminate based on many categories prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Although the Intermountain Fair Housing Council exists in part to help households facing this discrimination, I would rather families avoided it altogether. I believe an Idaho working family tax credit would help them do that.

I know what it’s like to be part of a family that has to worry about money, even if the family members are still working. While this tax credit would not cost the state of Idaho very much, for low-income Idaho families, it could be the difference between staying housed or dealing with the trauma of homelessness. There is no need more basic than the need for a safe home. We can and must adopt policies that help more of our neighbors meet this need.


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