Home Is Where the Health Is – How Cities and States Can Address the Affordable Housing Crisis

By Rejane Frederick

Housing affordability is a pressing issue for communities across the United States, with roughly 39 million U.S. households—including nearly half of all renters and 1 in 4 homeowners—struggling to afford their housing. Accessible, safe, and quality homes form the foundation of health and well-being for every household, yet the rising cost of housing is making it increasingly difficult for many U.S. residents to keep a stable roof over their heads while meeting basic needs such as water, groceries, health care, and transportation.

While the national housing market has, by most accounts, rebounded, the gains made have disproportionately benefited higher-income households. For residents of modest and limited means, wages and housing subsidies have failed to keep pace with rising rental costs. These costs are consuming a larger share of these residents’ disposable income and savings, increasing household insecurity and deepening existing socio-economic inequality and segregation.

Despite its importance, the supply of affordable housing remains in dire straits: While the need for aid rises, existing rental stock is aging and federal housing assistance continues to stagnate. Today, only 1 in 5 eligible families in need of rental assistance actually receives it, due in large part to insufficient federal funding. Extremely low-income (ELI) households, who represent more than 25 percent of all U.S. renters, face a 7.4 million unit shortage in affordable housing, meaning that there are currently only 35 units available to rent for every 100 ELI households nationwide. Equally alarming, the overall number of housing units subsidized by federal home loan mortgage corporation Freddie Mac has decreased more than 60 percent since 2010, while private-sector investments remain inadequate. And without meaningful action at all levels of government, the ever-shrinking, already deficient national affordable housing stock risks losing many more units over the next 10 years due to maintenance neglect—thereby becoming uninhabitable—or from conversion into market-rate housing once their federally required affordability period expires.

During the Obama administration, several executive actions were taken to meaningfully reduce residential segregation and ensure that financially struggling households are not confined to living in regions with high concentrations of poverty and low rates of opportunity. President Donald Trump not only is seeking to roll back these fair housing rules, but he also is aiming to slash funding for vital housing assistance programs. The truth of the matter is that federal resources and efforts have rarely if ever been able to meet the need for affordable housing—something that seems even less likely, let alone desired, under the current administration and Congress.

Throughout this long-standing crisis, state and local governments have stepped up to fill the affordable housing void left by the federal government, with many doing everything within their means not only to preserve and improve existing fair, affordable housing stock but also to find innovative ways to increase it. Although the Center for American Progress does not necessarily endorse every aspect of what the following states and localities have done, below are some notable examples of approaches that creatively and meaningfully combat homelessness and the ballooning housing affordability crisis.

California

Although the state boasts a mighty, vibrant economy—the fifth largest in the world—approximately 1 in 6 Californians are living in poverty, and homelessness is rapidly rising and spreading throughout the state, with more than half of residents burdened by the cost of their housing. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a comprehensive suite of bills to help tackle the state’s deepening inequality and housing crisis. The legislative package establishes permanent funding sources for the creation and preservation of affordable housing by applying a small minimum recordation fee of $75 on all market-rate real estate transactions, which will raise roughly $250 million in annual funding for anti-homelessness, local planning, and other housing assistance services. Additionally, the housing package places on the upcoming November general election ballot a $4 billion bond initiative to fund current programs that finance the rehabilitation and construction of affordable homes and rental units, as well as increase funding for existing assistance programs that help veterans, farmworkers, and low-income households secure housing.

At the local level, the legislative package seeks to incentivize counties and cities to streamline their planning, review, and approval processes to simplify and accelerate housing development. The legislation also deters local public policies and actions that would make it difficult to develop fair, affordable housing within communities, through increased evidentiary standards and burden-of-proof requirements, as well as strengthened monitoring and enforcement.

For the sole purpose of preventing and fighting homelessness, Los Angeles County recently approved a spending measure—projected to raise $355 million annually over a period of 10 years—to fund rental subsidies and supportive services and improve the county’s shelter system. This effort built on the county’s establishment of the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (FHSP) in 2013, an innovative, now $40 million local rental subsidy program designed to secure quality affordable housing and provide intensive case management supports to county residents who are experiencing homelessness and have physical and behavioral health needs.

Conclusion

Stable, supportive, and accessible housing is a core building block of a quality of life that enables individuals and families to pursue the American dream. The rising housing affordability crisis tears at the very fabric of this national ethos, forcing far too many households to defer individual pursuit as they struggle to afford rent while covering basic living needs. If the current trend continues, the disparity between the need for and the supply of accessible, affordable housing will worsen.

It is important to take note of—and accountability for—this rising inequality, exacerbated by recently proposed and enacted public policies and regulatory rollbacks that threaten the nation’s opportunity to ensure fair, quality housing for all residents. At a time of retrenched federal support, communities are increasingly looking to their state and local governments to address this rapidly growing need. As a result, it is important for localities to ensure that they are not serving as purveyors of the nation’s deepening inequity. Instead, they should be leveling the playing field by looking within and to one another for creative ways to preserve and expand inclusive, affordable housing.

 

Rejane Frederick is an associate director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. The material was created by the Center for American Progress.

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January 26, 2018  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “Home Is Where the Health Is – How Cities and States Can Address the Affordable Housing Crisis”

  1. John Paul Drayer on March 1st, 2018 6:00 pm

    Why didn’t Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia address the harassment complaint against her reported in the Jan. 14th, 2017 Long Beach Press in her CBS News This Morning interview last week?

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