Islas is Executive Vice President at MAAC and lives in San Diego.
A few weeks ago, one of the small business owners in my nonprofit – MAAC, formerly known as the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee – proposed contracts with a slight increase in the fees it charges. As one of 19 people who partner with MAAC and run a home-based childcare business, the raise she spoke of wasn’t just for her. She hoped it would apply to all of her colleagues.
The request was anything but an exaggeration. However, multiplied by 19, it could bloat very quickly. At a time when businesses are still recovering from the economic fallout from the pandemic, pay increases aren’t high on most people’s lists. Resources are scarce for everyone, regardless of whether they are for-profit or non-profit.
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MAAC exists to help San Diegans facing economic challenges. My daily work is focused on alleviating the many effects on families when they cannot afford to pay their monthly bills. I know all too well how small changes in the economy can have a big impact on people’s lives. When friends and I discuss the fact that our grocery bills are increasing every month even though we shop less, my mind always goes to the people MAAC serves. What are the families doing who couldn’t afford to live in San Diego before the pandemic?
In 2019, when many of us were taking advantage of a strong economy, 57 percent of renters and 39 percent of homeowners in San Diego were paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, a sign they might have trouble finding basic services like z such as food, medical care and transportation. Some are the same families who simply cannot afford to live in the communities where they work. With the average price of gasoline rising nearly $ 1.20 per gallon over the past eight months, a long commute puts even more of a strain on your monthly budget.
So what to do when life is too expensive? For the families I work with, that means huddling into small apartments with other families to share the rental costs. It also means relying more on community resources like food and diaper banks or utility programs; and pray that nobody gets sick, that their child gets subsidized childcare or that the application for affordable housing is successful.
The truth is that affordability is not a new topic to grapple with. The pinch we are feeling from inflation merely highlights a problem that existed before the pandemic, remains today and will continue to grow unless significant intervention is made.
When I got that call from our childcare company, my team and I did a careful analysis, made some adjustments to our budget, and proudly pledged to give her and her colleagues a raise that was slightly more than she asked for. We were fortunate enough to be able to do this and help a group of small businesses stay afloat.
In my day-to-day work helping people make ends meet, I also stay in touch with fellow community leaders working on large-scale, achievable solutions to our San Diego affordability dilemma. I know that many unlikely partners will take a lot of creative thinking to solve such a complex problem and help our region reach its full economic potential.