Housing issues are one of the main problems that the country is dealing with. You may have heard the term affordable housing before in the past. However, you may not realize the significance behind the word. In order to better understand all the aspects of affordable housing, you need to understand the basics.
What’s affordable housing?Affordable Housing is defined as housing that is within the budget of residents who fall within low income which is determined by the housing affordability index.
Every state in America has some type of shortage with affordable housing. In order for a person to afford the average price for a rental unit, they would need to make over $17 an hour at 40 hours a week. This is a stark difference from the national average minimum wage which is $7.25 and hour. This is just for a one bedroom apartment, you would need to make more money or work excruciating hours if you have many members of your family and need more space. This is even harder for people who are living in states that have a higher cost of living. It can be even harder than that if you are cost-burdened and need to spend over 50% of your income towards housing.
When residents are cost-burdened and housing costs are high, it affects all aspects of life. People need to cut corners on important aspects of life like expenses of health insurance, groceries, and more. This can take a huge physical and mental toll on a person.
Unfortunately, when people are struggling with housing, they try to find ways to reduce the cost of living. However, if a resident moves away from their place of work to live in a cheaper area, they may cut costs on housing but increase the cost of transportation. So even if they become less cost burdened in regards to housing, they still are spending the same amount of money.
How Can Housing Become More Affordable?There are many policies that can improve housing affordability. However, two basic policies that have been proven to work:
1- The federal government can increase funding towards affordable housing and directly give money and/or discounted housing to low-income residents. Whether the family receives free housing or receives money for housing, housing becomes affordable.
2- There can be legislation put into place in order to increase the number of affordable housing units available in the area. Whether that be through lessening restrictions on the size of buildings that can be built or through removing zoning rules that limit the amount of housing that is possible.
Other policies that are worth mentioning and looking into are rent control as well as inclusionary zoning policies. These can help with the housing that’s already there opposed to expanding affordable housing opportunities.
Why is affordability related to increase in supply?When trying to fix the housing affordability issue, it is important to keep in mind about the supply associated with the housing crisis. The reason for that is it is important to keep in mind the reason there is an affordability crisis is because not enough people have access to the housing that’s necessary. That being said, if a plan aims to solve issues with housing like rent control but there is no plan to improve and expand affordable housing, then it doesn’t really help the problem in ways that it should.
In order for housing to truly be more affordable, the supply needs to increase because of how high demand is increasing.
What is the definition of zoning and why does it matter?Zoning is defined as municipal or local law/regulation that dictate how real property can and cannot be used in certain geographic areas (Investopedia). When zoning laws are in place, it is meant to limit either the industrial or commercial use of land regardless of the type of business/building. Each area has their own local zoning regulations.
There are different types of zoning. The first type becing “form-based” zoning which is the regulation of the building shape and size opposed to “Euclidean” zoning which is regulated by the type of building whether office, shopping center, residential, etc. Regardless of the zoning law, it will distinguish and guide what is and isn’t acceptable in regards to apartment buildings.
There are other rules that technically aren’t considered zoning but still set rules and regulations on what is necessary in order to build affordable housing. Regulations like mandatory minimum amount of parking spaces as well as de factor limits and more.
What is inclusionary zoning?Inclusionary zoning (IZ) is defined as ordinances that are required to provide a portion of new construction to be affordable to people who are considered low income. Throughout the years, this option has become much more popular. For example, if a company is creating an apartment building, a portion of that building needs to be affordable for low income residents.
Inclusionary Zoning is only properly effective when paired with upzoning. Upzoning is a regulator that mandates a more dense use of buildings which allows more affordable housing opportunities.
What is exclusionary zoning?This type of zoning is the process in which a city or a town makes it not possible for non-qualifying residents to move into certain areas. It is essentially discrimination against low-income Americans. One of the most blatant examples of this is the ban on trailer parker and/or mobile homes in wealthier neighborhoods in Boston.
Other none blatant examples of this include setting minimum lot sizes of 7,500 square feet in order to be built in Washington D.C. This makes it impossible for low-income families to afford this type of housing.
How Does Rent Control Come Into Play with Affordable Housing? Right off the pat, this seems like a dream come true. Rent control is when there is a cap on what the maximum amount of rent that a landlord can charge is. This gives off the impression that housing will become more affordable because landlords cannot charge crazy amount of rent. However this actually isn’t the case.
Due to the fact that will be less profitable to make apartments because of the rent cap, people will not want to build more housing opportunities because there just isn’t the same amount of money if there was no rent control.
Definition of Gentrification and How it Relates to HousingThe simple Oxford dictionary definition of gentrification it defines it as, “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” This just means that people with a higher-income will move into a typically low-income area.
The word gentrification has a lot of stigma behind it because it makes people believe that the area they are in is losing its identity. However, that’s not the case, in a study conducted by Columbia University representative, there was proven to be little impact from gentrification and displacement is very rare.
What is filtering?Filtering is defined as the idea that “as new market-rate housing is built, higher-income people move into it, leaving behind older housing stock for lower-income [residents]” (Forbes). This is essentially the opposite idea of gentrification. The understanding of this idea is the fact that as higher income residents leave, the older residential houses that they were staying in filter down market and eventually become more affordable to lower-income residents.
What exactly happened with public housing?The history of public housing goes way back. Let’s start with the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Since that catastrophic economic change, America was in hardship. This wasn’t helped by the start of the Second World War in 1939. WWII led to a ban on civilian construction because labor workers were needed as soldiers to be drafted. All materials needed to go towards the war effort, nothing else really mattered at this time. Once the war was over in 1945, America had a huge housing crisis due to lack of homes. This housing shortfall was addressed by government funded construction projects to build federal housing. As the economy slowly but surely returned back to normal, and economic stability was becoming normal again, this left public housing almost exclusively for lower-income families. As suburbanization came into play during the 1960’s-1980’s more and more city dwellers were moving to the suburbs. However, that didn’t include anyone other than middle-upper-class white Americans. White America didn’t allow people of color to move into the suburbs and in turn essentially left all lower-income Americans, and people of color americans in the projects. The same white Americans also rejected ideas of improving housing for these marginalized groups which further led to the enhancement of link between ghettoization and government housing.
This also hasn’t been helped by lawmakers choices in how to handle public housing. Over the past few decades, housing policies have been more focused on reducing the supply of public housing opposed to the construction of it.
Explain the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
Also known as, “Section 8 Housing”, this is a program that was originally in the Housing Act of 1937 that has continuously been updated and amended. The idea behind section 8 is instead of money being spent towards constructing new public housing, those funds will go towards low-income residents as vouchers to cover part or all of the cost of renting from a private landlord. This type of program makes it better for landlords who can have mixed-income buildings opposed to just public housing.
There are serious benefits of Section 8. It allows more variety in living situations amongst low-income Americans. They are able to make a decision on where to live based on variables they want like location, price, building safety, and more.
However, just as there are benefits, there are also drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks is the issue of funding. The government has a reluctance to put the proper funding necessary for housing assistance. Due to this fact, the amount of low-income residents that need housing assistance is far more than the amount of vouchers actually available for those residents. This leads to long waitlists to receive care that people urgently need. Another huge drawback is the fact that these private landlords typically prefer to not want to rent to Section 8 residents. This makes it harder for people with vouchers to actually find a place to stay, even if they are lucky enough to receive assistance.
Overall, these are all key aspects to understand when talking about or researching the affordable housing debate. Each component plays a significant role in figuring out what is not only needed to change, but how the history of public housing has happened in order to fix these issues moving forward.