News Round-Up: Closed

Waiting lists for housing assistance and restrictions against occupancy by those with bad rental records or criminal backgrounds make roadside motels one of the few housing options accessible to some extremely low income people. The closure of one such motel in Spokane, Wash. means about 50 such residents will be displaced. It’s not just these residents who are hurting. According to an NLIHC report cited in the article, over half of Spokane County residents pay more than 30% of their income for rent.

The closure of a nonprofit-run apartment complex in Durham, N.C. will result in homelessness for about 200 low income, elderly or disabled individuals, including children. Most of the residents are considered “working poor,” and the rents those households can afford to pay are simply not enough to cover the costs of operating and maintaining housing. Federal, state and local subsidies can fill the gap, but as advocates quoted in the article note, there are too few of those to go around.

In the Gaylord (Mich.) Herald-Times, an article notes that while the foreclosure crisis and tough economic conditions have made renting more appealing for many Americans, the truth in many communities is that renting is still out of reach for those making minimum wage. Services and funding for affordable housing development are scarce, but advocates quoted in the article urge those in need to come forward for help regardless.

It’s not just private or nonprofit housing that’s at risk of closing; public housing can disappear, too. In a report on the causes of homelessness experienced by women with children, Truthout notes that 10,000 units of U.S. public housing are lost to demolition or disposition each year. This means about 165,000 units of housing were lost between 1995 and 2010.

According to an opinion piece in the New York Times there are roughly the same number of assisted housing units now as there were in 2000, though the number of people living in poverty has grown by 14 million. The column’s authors, Yonah Freemark and Lawrence J. Vale, advocate NLIHC’s proposal to modify the mortgage interest deduction and use the savings from reform to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, as a fair and sensible solution to this problem.

News Round-Up: Housing Disasters, Natural and Man-Made

In this week’s News Round-Up, we find news stories showing that both natural disasters, and the disastrous economy, have combined with the nationwide shortage of rental housing affordable to low income people to create a crisis for many American families.

In Vermont, manufactured home park residents whose homes were flooded during Hurricane Irene had no other choice but to destroy their own homes, as repair was impossible and the fee to dispose of them was more than the residents could afford. In a state with the second lowest rental vacancy rates and the seventh highest rents, these former homeowners will have a tough time finding a place they can afford. They will also find themselves in competition with other low income families for scarce affordable rental opportunities. As the need grows, service providers have difficulty stretching the state and federal funding available to them, and must cobble together donations and other resources to help their clients.

Franklin County, Pennsylvania’s shelter system is under stress due to the poor economy and lack of housing affordable to low income people. Waiting lists for vouchers and public housing mean the shelters stay full.

We find a similar story in Indiana, where the minimum and low wage jobs available pay nowhere near the $17.84 Housing Wage there. Service providers say they’re seeing an increase in homeless families in particular.

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.