News Round-Up: Sequestration and the Housing Shortage

Last week, NLIHC released Housing Spotlight: America’s Affordable Housing Shortage, and How to End It. It’s a startling look into the depth of the affordable housing shortage facing extremely low income households, providing data at both the national and state levels showing the amount of housing needed is far greater than what is affordable and available to the lowest income renters.

Prior to the release of our report, HUD released a summary of its report to Congress on the worst case housing needs. As the Seattle Medium notes, the report shows 8.48 million renter households experiencing the worst case housing needs– severely unaffordable housing, substandard housing conditions or both– which represents a 43.5% increase since 2007.

The local CBS affiliate in Phoenix reports that due to the shortage of affordable rentals available to the lowest income people, three out of four of these renters will spend more than half of their incomes on housing costs.

Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire reports on the HUD worst case needs report, and notes that while rents in the state are increasing, the data shows that vacancy rates are down, adding another layer of difficulty for lower income renters.

While the data continue to show that low income renters face a severe housing shortage, the federal programs that help the poorest Americans with their housing needs are now subject to deep cuts. As the New York Times reports, sequestration, which took effect Friday, will result in hundreds of thousands of very poor households losing their housing assistance and becoming at risk of homelessness.

News Round-Up: Desperate Measures

Poor-quality housing conditions are often a fact of life for the poorest Americans. Two stories this week show the impact this reality has on families, and the different ways the story plays out in private and public housing.

On this blog, Senior Vice President for Policy and Research Linda Couch writes about family friends living in poverty and struggling for stability. Forced to leave the room they rented due to living conditions deemed unsafe by the local government, this family is hungry and nearly homeless. Linda knows all too well the conditions this family faces in the rental market, and wonders if there is a better life in their future.

Often, residents of federally assisted housing live in poor condition similar to their low income counterparts in private rental housing. As an article in the Tampa Bay Times explains, years of cuts to federal spending on public housing means public housing agencies often don’t have the funds necessary to operate and adequately maintain their housing. In response, HUD launched the Rental Assistance Demonstration, which allows housing agencies to seek out private investors to raise the capital necessary to maintain high-quality housing. Housing officials and advocates alike acknowledge the risks of private funding, but with housing need growing and budget cuts a fact of life for HUD-funded programs, many housing agencies see no other choice.

New Affordable Housing Preservation Tool Empowers Advocates to Save Housing

Have you ever wanted to get a list of all of the federally assisted multifamily properties in your community, but couldn’t find one that was truly comprehensive? Have you ever wished you could see if a property had more than one subsidy attached to it, but didn’t want to have to go to multiple datasets to do it? Do you want to be able to see which affordable properties in your community have upcoming contract expiration dates so you can focus your efforts on ensuring those properties remain affordable? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then you will be happy to hear that a new tool is now available that will allow you to do all of the above and much more!

The National Housing Preservation Database is an address-level database of all federally subsidized multifamily properties in the country. It includes information on properties with the following types of assistance:

This database contains the most comprehensive information about the location and status of over 70,000 properties and 3.5 million units.

We encourage you to take some time to explore this brand new resource. There is a “Preservation Tool” that allows you to search for specific types of properties in the geography of your choice, and there is a “Research Tool” that allows you to download the entire dataset. A detailed User Guide provides more information on how to use each of these tools. You can also view a map of all of the federally subsidized properties in your community on this website.

Affordable housing advocates know how vital the existing stock of project-based housing is to low income households in this country and have been waiting for a tool like this that might assist them in their efforts to identify and preserve this housing. Many cities and states have created similar databases for their locality and local governments, tenant organizers, nonprofit developers and others have used these databases to preserve affordable housing in those communities. Now, it is possible for people all over the country to create similar databases and coalitions.

If you are interested in creating a local database that includes properties with state and local subsidies from this larger database, feel free to contact Megan Bolton, Research Director at NLIHC at megan@nlihc.org.

Let us know what you think of the database and the mapping tool, and share with us how you might use this information to preserve affordable housing in your community. Let’s talk preservation in the comments!

News Round-Up: Housing, Present and Future

With the election just two weeks past, pundits are still speculating about its impact on housing. In an opinion piece, Mark Calabria of the Cato Institute notes that “a vocal minority within progressive circles [is] calling for reducing the mortgage interest deduction and using the money for rental assistance,” but speculates that a Romney administration  may have been more fertile ground for this proposal than the continued Obama administration.

Meanwhile, reports continue to surface showing the great need for that rental assistance. In Connecticut, where rental prices are the 6th highest in the country and there is a nearly 34,000 unit shortage of housing affordable to the lowest income people, advocates are calling for more affordable housing.

New housing is needed, but it’s important to preserve what we have. In Sacramento, the public housing agency there is redeveloping some older housing developments into mixed-income housing, to improve the housing quality and make it more financially sustainable. Residents and advocates have expressed concern that the residents who live there now may not be able to return to the redeveloped housing as promised.

Building and rehabilitating housing is one way to make sure housing is affordable to the lowest income people. Another way is through fair housing regulations. In New Jersey, the state supreme court heard arguments on the Mount Laurel decision, which requires communities to provide housing for residents with low incomes. Citing data from NLIHC, advocates wrote to their local papers calling for the New Jersey court to uphold the Mount Laurel decision.

Housing is a solution to homelessness. Faith groups gathered in Washington last week to ask Congress to provide $1 billion in funding for the National Housing Trust Fund, which would build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for extremely low income Americans, including the 630,000 homeless people in the U.S.

Regardless of who won or lost on November 6, sequestration has the potential to have a huge impact on housing opportunities for the lowest income Americans. As Time notes, more than 140,000 families could lose their homes due to sequestration.

News Round-Up: Up for Debate

Calculations from the National Low Income Housing Coalition have made their way into a number of recent news reports and opinion pieces. The Echo Press of Alexandria, MN reports on the new county profiles from the Minnesota Housing Partnership. These profiles include data developed by NLIHC and show that “In every county in Minnesota, some families face paying more than half of their income for their housing.”

Florida Legal Services staff attorney and retired NLIHC board member Charles Elsesser notes, in a letter to the Miami Herald, that with that city’s Housing Wage at almost $22 an hour, the need for affordable rental housing is clear and it’s time to talk seriously about solutions.

An opinion piece in the New Jersey Jewish News uses figures from Out of Reach to show how difficult it is for seniors living on fixed incomes in New Jersey to afford market-rate rental housing. The author notes that mission-driven nonprofits devoted to developing housing for seniors can’t do their work if the federal government does not provide adequate funding for housing for extremely low income people.

We return to Minnesota for a look at a report NLIHC released this spring, Affordable Housing Dilemma: The Preservation vs. Mobility Debate. This brief article in The Twin Cities Daily Planet notes that neither investing in community redevelopment, nor making it possible for low income people to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods, will be the solution to America’s affordable housing challenges in all cases.

Affordable Housing Dilemma made its way into a report in the Nashua Telegraph on the the Nashua Housing Authority’s plan to demolish a public housing development many say is worth saving because it is well-maintained and affordable. The housing authority counters that demolishing the dense development would allow the residents to move to less-crowded areas where they would no longer be “defined and isolated by their income level.” The article suggests the debate in Nashua is a perfect example of the discussion in NLIHC’s report, and notes that “spatial dispersion” is not a cure-all for poverty.

Have you seen any great uses of housing data in the news this week? Share them with us in the comments!