Moving into a single wide trailer in a Wisconsin mobile home park as a child was Deidre Schmidt’s introduction to affordable housing. The cheap rent and stability allowed her mother to attend college and eventually move the family into a better home in Minneapolis.

“I look back now and I think ‘Gosh, that’s really the place where I found rest, acceptance and stability,'” Schmidt said Thursday morning at The Garage coworking space in downtown Rapid City as part of the Morning Fill Up series.

Now the CEO of CommonBond Communities, the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing in the Upper Midwest with more than 6,000 affordable rental apartments and townhomes serving more than 12,000 people in 56 cities throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, Schmidt is trying to give today’s families similar opportunities.

Affordable housing isn’t just a technical definition detailing a person’s income and what percentage of their income they pay for a home, Schmidt said. It’s a place offering quality and community to its residents. Too often, the conversation surrounding affordable housing — the cost of land and construction, access to land and labor, superiority of ownership over rental, providing it as an act of charity or a prevention against civil or criminal issues — becomes too repetitive, narrow and removed, Schmidt said.

In short, it veils the foundational issue below.

“When you go to talk about affordable housing in virtually any city the same themes come up,” Schmidt said. “Many of these discussions end up being a pretty thin cover for issues of race and class.”

The willingness to discuss those issues in public conversations, she said, helps change the dialogue and ultimately, the outcome.

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