Monday, November 21, 2005

The Waterfall into Poverty

The November edition of Affordable Housing Finance magazine reports that 92% of apartments in the top 25 metropolitan areas of the United States are unaffordable to retail salespeople, counter clerks, cashiers and others similarly employed unless they spend a minimum of 30% of their income on rent. This report was based on data provided by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

A careful study of 21,000 census tracts in these markets identified just 1,000 tracts in which at least half of the rental housing would be affordable to these workers applying this standard. In a majority of the areas analyzed, less than 8% of the census tracts were tagged as "affordable" to retail sales workers.

San Diego was the least friendly market without a single census tract classified as affordable. Kansas City was the most amenable with 26% of the tracts studied found to be affordable.

In 2002, approximately 15 million people worked in the retail sales industry.

The point?

Hard working American families are falling out of the middle class into worse economic straits each year. Outsourcing, corporate downsizing and a lack of skills for engaging the new economy all combine to place downward pressure on individuals and families.

The nation's lack of affordable workforce housing is becoming a major issue for every urban area in the country.

All the while, the federal government continues to cut back on the very programs designed to provide support and a safety net for working families whose economic future depends on more stable and affordable housing options.

Problems at the very bottom are even worse. Still, the current situation facing our nation guarantees that a steady stream of our fellow citizens are drifting further and further downward with no end in sight.


IBreakCellPhones said...

Thinking about this in terms of supply and demand, the things that will bring down housing prices are either increasing supply or decreasing demand.

I know that I did my part to add to demand when I was single. I rented an apartment and didn't have a roommate. That kind of independence is ingrained in our culture.

To increase supply, we could do things such as build higher, with fewer setbacks, or we could keep on spreading our communities further and further out. Plano used to be considered the "far fringes" of the Dallas area, then it was Allen, and now it's Frisco and McKinney. Melissa and Anna aren't too far behind.

What method can we use that does not involve government coercion to bring down housing prices?

John Greenan said...

"What method can we use that does not involve government coercion to bring down housing prices?"

Given how efficient the markets are, the only option to bring down housing prices is additional subsidies, probably governmental, but possibly through private philanthrophy (although the sheer scale of the problem makes that unlikely).

I think a more likely solution is in looking at how to increase income--perhaps through a raise in the minimum wage.

IBreakCellPhones said...

"perhaps with a raise in the minimum wage."

Trouble is, then the labor to build the houses becomes more expensive, and it cascades through the economy. The houses would end up being more expensive, wouldn't they?

Larry James said...

John and Ibreakcellphones, I'll let you carry on. Fact is, we need public assistance on affordable housing development, purchase and rental with clear and hard restrictions tied to work, productivity and clean and sober living. Things would improve. Currently, most subsidies go upstream to those who don't need it. Simple fact.

Charles said...

While it wouldn't be a huge discount, we could actually have a free market for housing if real estate agents weren't violating anti-trust law to protect the 6% fee. I know agents do good work, but blocking lower-service, lower-fee agencies from listing artificially boosts the price of homes. Larry, I know this wouldn't impact most of the people you work with, but for the folks on the edge of building equity, it could be a deal-breaker.

John Greenan said...

"Trouble is, then the labor to build the houses becomes more expensive, and it cascades through the economy. The houses would end up being more expensive, wouldn't they?"

It depends. Very little legal, on the books, construction work is done at or near the minimum wage, so it might have little impact. On the other hand, at least here in Dallas, a very high proportion of
construction work is done by undocumented immigrants--a raise in the minimum wage wouldn't effect them either.

Very few retail workers are illegal and many of them get close to the minimum wage.

So it's my (educated?) guess that a raise in the minimum wage would make housing at least somewhat more affordable for retail workers.

Larry James said...

John, I believe you are absolutely correct.

Jeremy Gregg said...

Occupancy rates in Dallas fell towards the mid- to high-80% rates in the years following 2001. This was due primarily to the previous years' explosive growth in development, which created a glut of multifamily units in Dallas.

According to the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, "Driven by the unprecedented housing need created by Hurricane Katrina evacuees, overall apartment occupancy for the Third Quarter in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metro has reached 92 percent for the first time in sixteen Quarters."

I am very concerned about what will happen when thousands of these families face eviction on December 1, 2006. A report tonight on Channel 11 reported that FEMA is already not paying apartment owners for the past few months.

Without jobs or savings -- and with few affordable options available to them -- many of these families could face a very long winter.