One in seven Citrus County households are below the national poverty line, and 29 percent are working poor households.

More than 40 percent of Citrus County residents struggle daily to afford basic needs.

One of the most important needs, second only to child care in family expense, is housing. This fact is why county leaders consistently lament the lack of affordable housing as a major economic, health and quality-of-life issue in Citrus County.

This is why news of a groundbreaking at Daystar Life Center in Crystal River for St. Benedict Housing, a 10-unit complex of affordable rental housing for low-income families, is so important to the community.

It is a small improvement for a large problem.

Earlier this year, a group of about 50 economic stakeholders cited affordable housing as one of 12 issues that needed to be addressed. Affordable housing ties in with having a skilled workforce, something else those leaders acknowledged as a problem when it comes to developing a more diverse and stronger economy. Skilled employees won’t come to work here if they don’t have a place to live.

In January, Citrus County’s elected leaders spent five hours in a roundtable discussion, which eventually turned to affordable housing. It was cited as one of the contributing factors to the three issues leaders felt needed the most attention: a lack of jobs, mental health and substance abuse treatment options.

Earlier this year, a health study ranked Citrus County 54th out of 67 Florida counties in a series of health metrics.

Tito Rubio, administrator of the Department of Health in Citrus County, said the reason for the county’s low ranking is complex, but rooted in socioeconomic challenges. He said the fundamentals of improving Citrus’ health should be based on getting more jobs here, more affordable housing, and raising the level of education.

We applaud the work of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the Catholic Charities’ Shelters of Hope initiative. Their partnership with Citrus County community agencies recognizes the importance of doing something now to improve the affordable housing situation in our community.

We see it as stepping stone, and also the throwing down of the guantlet as a challenge to elected and community leaders to take the next step.

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