Thursday, February 28, 2013

A shortage of housing for the low-income

Crossposted from Channel Surfing:

A graph from the NLIHC report issued today.

A shortage of low-cost rental housing means that more and more low-income Americans could be facing homelessness in the future. That is one of the findings of a report issued today by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Photo by Sherry Rubel
According to the NLIHC, the four-year-old National Housing Trust Fund, which "was created to address the acute shortage of rental housing the lowest income people in the U.S. can afford" remains unfunded, leading to a growing disparity between the number of units available to the poor and the number needed. Since 2008,
the number of renters in the United States has increased by almost two million households, 44% of whom have incomes at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI). At the same time, the number of homes that are affordable to renter households in this income group decreased by more than 600,000. The number of homes affordable to renters with incomes above 50% of AMI grew by 2.2 million during the same period.
The failure to fund the trust means
that the shortage of homes for the lowest income Americans grows. This shortage places more poor families at risk of homelessness.
The report found that there were about 40 million renter households in the United States, with about one in four being considered extremely low-income (at or below 30 percent of the area median).

And while the supply of rental housing grew by about 700,000 unites between 2010 and 2011, the number of renters grew by about a million -- a deficit of 300,000 added to an already large housing deficit. Exacerbating the gap, the bulk of these new rentals -- about six in 10 -- "were only affordable to renter households with incomes above 80 percent of the (Area Median Income)." Ultimately, "the growth (in units for extremely low-income families) was not enough to keep pace with the growing numbers of ELI renters."
In 2011, there were 5.6 million rental units affordable for the 10.1 million ELI renters, producing an absolute shortage of 4.6 million affordable units. This is an increase of 300,000 homes from the 2010 shortage of 4.3 million units. In 2011, for every 100 ELI renters, there were only 55 units they could potentially live in without spending more than 30% of their income on housing and utility costs.
In New Jersey, the numbers look like this: 49 units affordable to ELI renters, 31 that are affordable and available. About 75 percent of ELI households suffer "severe housing cost burden" -- they spend more than 50 percent of income on housing costs.

This is unsustainable -- and completely the fault of big business and government. Municipalities have no incentive to build low-income housing, nor to make it easy for developers to do so. They prefer more expensive housing because it generates more taxes and does not come with the stigma that suburban communities attach to those with low incomes. Builders, for their part, are uninterested in low-income housing, unless it means that they can generate new revenues. So they have conspired to do nothing.

In New Jersey, despite a relatively effective affordable housing regime -- one that has been idled by the current governor's hostility to it -- getting affordable housing units built has been nearly impossible.

The level of homelessness has held steady in recent years, but that is only because the annual count generally does not include those who fall outside the technical definition but who also lack stable housing. And while some regions of the state -- in counties like Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic (i.e., the northern counties) -- have worked to keep homelessness in check as best they can, others -- such as Ocean -- have not and have attempted to deal with the indigent population by chasing them to other locations.

Tent City in Lakewood is not the disease that some on Lakewood see it as being; rather, it is a symptom of a broken economic system that views society's outcasts as the inevitable and disposable byproduct of economic growth. The homeless and poor are no different than the poisonous emissions pumped out of smokestacks and tailpipes, meaning they are not the responsibilities of those who benefit from the system but costs that must be socialized and paid for by all of us.

I digress, of course. The immediate issue is the lack of housing, which all of us should see as a mark of shame.

Send me an e-mail. The Tent City Project is an artistic look at human rights issues facing residents of a homeless camp in Lakewood, NJ and its connection to the growing number of tent cities across the country. See our Facebook page for more information -- and don't forget to "Like" us.

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