Senator Marco Rubio sponsored legislation in October 2021 that would create a national mortgage-finance scheme for public sector employees. The HELPER Act, also known as the Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator, and Responder Act, is a legislation that offers a one-time home loan option with no down payment to public workers such as teachers, firemen, police officers, EMTs, and other emergency medical technicians in an effort to address the unabated increase in housing prices.
This measure has the support of many local political leaders, notably Rep. Josh Harder, who is a strong advocate for it (D-Turlock). “When I was growing up, people could afford to live near to where they worked,” Harder remarked. “If you were a cop, a firefighter, a teacher, then you could actually live in the community that you served – that’s no longer the case.”
Rising costs of living have contributed to statewide personnel shortages in public education, police enforcement, fire, and other emergency services in recent years. “Increasingly, a lot of folks in our area who serve as teachers or firefighters have to commute from very long distances, or they’re completely priced out of our area to begin with,” Harder said. Harder expressed his worry that public workers, particularly in the Central Valley, cannot afford to work in the areas where they are most needed. “I remember when it used to be $700 for a one bedroom in Tracy, now it’s over $2,000,” Harder said. “We have to do more in terms of making the Valley affordable for the folks who actually live and work here.”
As a solution to this problem, the HELPER Act would provide rent assistance for teachers and other state-funded public servants.
For state workers, Harder estimates that the law would cut housing expenditures by up to $35,000, which is a sizable sum given their typical salary levels. “The average price of a home in San Joaquin County is over half a million dollars,” Harder said. “Not a lot of folks living on a teacher salary can afford that, and yet our kids need to be educated and so a bill like this is really important to make sure that we can close that gap.”
Although there are now just 37 Democrats and 29 Republicans on board, this initiative has become a nonpartisan endeavor with minimal resistance. “I think anytime you’re looking at something like this, a lot of folks look at how much it’s going to cost,” Harder said. “I think we have to be able to really showcase to people… how much it costs our community if we don’t have cops and firefighters and teachers that can actually afford to live here.”
Central Valley and beyond are impacted by excessive house costs and this is only a starting step towards a much broader problem that has to be addressed. For everyone, “I think we have to do a lot more,” said Harder. This includes not only firemen, teachers, and police but everyone.
In April 2022, the median house price in California was $790,475, a rise of nearly 22% from the year before.
An important factor driving up the cost of a house has been the recent spike in timber and building materials. This is one of the projects that Harder is pursuing at the moment: making the process of building a house easier, simpler, and less expensive.
Currently, the HELPER Act is undergoing committee consideration before moving on to the full Senate and House of Representatives.