News Round-Up: Changing Priorities

You’ve read it here before: in New Jersey, as in other parts of the country, “The housing bust has not only hurt homeowners — who have lost equity and, in too many cases, their homes — it has made it more difficult for those who choose not to buy a home to find affordable rental properties.”

Let’s set aside the question of whether lower income people are truly “choosing” not to buy a home, and look at some of the consequences of, and reactions to, this ongoing problem.

In Alaska, we find that larger families- those that need apartment with more than two bedrooms- have a particularly hard time finding affordable rentals. According to a representative of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, it doesn’t make economic sense for a developer to build three- or four-bedroom apartments. Unless, of course, there is a subsidy involved.

What subsidies are available have not been able to create enough low-cost housing to meet the demand. In South San Francisco, 3,000 households applied for just 109 apartments in a new low income housing development. Similar waiting lists exist in San Francisco itself, and many people with Section 8 vouchers that allow them to rent apartments in the private market affordably find that landlords don’t want to rent to them. With budget cuts negatively impacting programs like public housing and HOME, there are few other places for low income families to turn.

Public housing agencies have attempted to offset the expense of offering affordable rental housing by creating mixed-income development. But as this article on the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation shows, mixed income can create decidedly mixed results. Just a small fraction of the low income apartments CHA demolished were replaced, and many higher-income units remain unsold, or were never built.

While it may feel like America has always had a large population of people who cannot afford housing, that is simply not the case.  As this article notes, family homelessness only became a problem in the 1980s, in large measure due to changing federal spending priorities.

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