Story of the Week

What It Takes to Make Housing Affordable in the United States By Daphne Okumus

As a part time student with full-time commitment in community service, I have recently completed a research project focused on the importance of housing stability for socioeconomic well-being for low-income households including the homeless population, and the positive impact of nonprofit affordable housing developments for disadvantaged communities.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to share some of my findings for those who might be interested in learning more about the nation’s major housing problems.

The housing affordability issue genuinely arises in segments having an acute affordability mismatch between income and housing cost including the supply of affordable housing units (NLIHC, 2016, p. 7). The following information shows a model of housing affordability as a major problem which is centered on an association between the “shortage of affordable units” and the “affordable but unavailable units” (NLIHC, 2016, pp. 3,4). If they are out of balance, and when a household cannot afford housing in the private market, they can contribute to a negative on the household-income side of the inequality symbolizing housing affordability. Based on the information that the National Low -Income Housing Coalition has documented “Nearly 43.2 million renter households lived in the U.S. in 2014; 10.4 million of them were ELI (extremely low income). Only 5.8 million rental units were affordable to ELI renters, leaving an absolute shortage of 4.6 million affordable units… Of the 5.8 million affordable rental units for ELI households, 2.6 million were occupied by higher income households… making them unavailable to ELI renters” (NLIHC, 2016, pp. 3,4).

In addition, severely cost burdened low-income families are forced with difficult choices in evaluating other necessary expenditures. The potential adverse consequences to the health and well-being of the individuals within such households as a result of such reduced expenditures on food and health care are destabilizing and are likely to lead to homelessness. A study conducted by Edward J. Martin provides an example of how economic crisis have negative impact on the ability of people to earn enough to keep themselves housed. According to Edward Martin, people who encountered an unexpected crisis, such as “job layoffs, bankruptcies, and skyrocketing foreclosures, which have plunged many families and individuals into severe economic hardship, particularly those living in low-income communities… linked with rising levels of homelessness for many Americans” (Martin, 2015, pp. 67). If the cost of housing is too high for the incomes of households that need housing, then homelessness is likely to result for at least some of those households. (Ellen, O’Flaherty, 2010, p. 59) The most recent NLIHC’s annual report, Out of Reach, have documented that “housing cost are too high for low-wage workers… The 2017 Housing Wage for a one-bedroom rental home is $17.14, or 2.4 times higher than the federal minimum wage… An extremely low income (ELI) household whose income is less than the poverty level or 30% of their area’s median cannot afford the average cost of a modest one-bedroom rental home in any state” (NLIHC, 2017, p. 1) When low-income families and individuals face high cost rent burdens, they have little money left to meet other needs.

In conclusion, what is missing on both the income and the housing side is a full commitment to improve the conditions of the poor. Since the housing is the largest financial burden for low-income households, increasing the amount of affordable housing would also have the greatest impact on the economic security of low-income families and individuals. In the Encyclopedia of Housing, Edward M. Proctor has explained that “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved that… all people have the intrinsic human rights to a standard of living that will adequately provide for their health and well-being… To ensure that the member states have a thorough understanding of their obligations to implement practices that foster and promote protections with respect to the right to adequate housing” (Proctor, 2012, p. 639).