Tuesday, February 27, 2007

U. S. Housing: A crisis of affordability

With so much attention of media and business journalism focused on the current, and very fragile, housing value “bubble,” it is easy to miss another extremely important national housing story.

The United States faces a growing shortage in affordable housing. The shortage is reaching crisis proportions as it continues to grow.

Fourteen million American households now spend more than 50% of their income to cover housing costs or they live in substandard housing conditions. For some households it is both.

In 70% of the nation’s 200 largest metropolitan areas, middle class workers (nurses, teachers, janitors, retail clerks, firemen and police officers) don’t earn enough to qualify to purchase even a modest home.

In Dallas, Texas, one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, only 42% of the households occupy homes that they own.

Over the past ten years, the U. S. lost 2,000,000 affordable rental homes because of soaring markets, the decline of federal housing subsidies, owner divestment and age and deterioration.

Hard fact of life in the USA: For every new affordable unit built, two are razed, abandoned or redeveloped as high cost rentals.

The affordable housing crisis connects to a host of other urban challenges. Housing and community environment are crucial factors for success and vigor when it comes to public education, economic development, public safety, employment, transportation and health/wellness.

Current public policy regarding housing steps away from citizens at the bottom of the economic ladder in favor of homeowners at the upper reaches of the economy. The continuation of such an approach will only deepen and broaden the severity of a range of pressing urban problems confronting inner city neighborhoods.

We need a new vision and many new voices.

[Facts informing this post were found at In Focus—MacArthur Foundation, “Deepening Our Knowledge about How Housing Matters”]


Dave Sandell said...

What can a normal person do to help this situation?

Larry James said...

Dave, great question!

1) Get involved in your local community to first understand the problem and issue from a local perspective. Find out the status of the affordable/workforce housing inventory where you live. Find out what your local government's attitude is toward the issue and what, if anything, local government (city/county) is doing or would like to do. Also, see what you can learn about private, for-profit and non-profit efforts along this same line.

2) Educate yourself about state and national housing funding issues and policies. One source of info would be the Affordable Housing Finance magazine. Over the past 6 plus years and longer reaching back to 1980, public policy has worked against low-income persons in this country across a wide front.

3) If you are part of a faith community, engage churches across your city in low-income communities to build partnerships and to learn what is going on.

Just a few starters for you.

bpb said...

Housing here (Athens, AL) is pretty affordable, but my daughter lives in Charlotte, NC. Housing costs are out of sight (at least in my opinion and based on what I see around here). She's single, 26, and makes a modest salary. She even bought a foreclosed property and her payments are way more than I could pay, especially at her age. What are folks gonna do? I can't imagine what people do that have a minimum-wage job. So very sad. And scary.

KentF said...

So many issues, so little time. Why has housing skyrocketed in the past decade? A booming economy, predatory lending, increased land, materials and wages prices for new homes, unrealistic property taxes, folks over-paying due to realtor pressure and predatory lender pressure, and I could go on. This is a real issue that affects 75% of Americans - not just the poor.

Habitat for Humanity is a small start, but sadly many of the volunteers I see working on these homes don't own one themselves, and they don't qualify for many programs for assistance.