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Affordable Housing

We have had a severe affordable housing crisis in the United States for at least the past 25 years. Even before the foreclosure crisis that began in 2007, a household looking to rent housing that had extremely low incomes “spent an extraordinarily high proportion of its income on housing costs, largely because the 9.0 million households in search of affordable rental housing were competing for only 6.2 million affordable units.” And those are people that are housed, in danger of being homeless, it doesn’t include the (3.5 million) people that are homeless each year. (Out of Reach, NLIHC, 2009) The numbers don’t add up regarding the supply (housing available) and demand (people who need housing).

Other parts of the solution to ending epidemic homelessness all depend on a supply of affordable housing for everyone, but especially people with very low income (those folks making 30% or less of the area median income).

The goal of affordable housing also is not simply being housed. It’s being housed while being able to live, not like a king necessarily, but live. So beyond covering the rent or mortgage payment, that means having enough money for food, clothes, heat, healthcare, transportation, for an individual or family.

Some things that help include: creating more incentive for developers to create housing for low income people; Section 8 Housing Vouchers (which help with affordability but not supply); and the National Housing Trust Fund. The National Housing Trust Fund was signed into law (Public Law #110-289) by President Bush and Congress and was expanded by President Obama and Congress.

Briefly, The National Housing Trust Fund is a permanent federal fund with a target of creating 1.5 million units of affordable housing for the lowest income bracket within ten years.

Seventy-five percent or more of the moneys from the fund are targeted to rental housing for households with incomes of 30% or less of area median income or with incomes at or below the poverty line (whichever is higher).
At least 90% is for production, preservation, operation of low income rental housing.
Even Bigger Picture Solutions

Beyond these proven tools preventing homelessness for low income households, we are still treading water. The human population continues to rise exponentially. We need to complement these efforts with real innovation in housing in America that creates affordable housing for extremely low income people, environmentally sustainable, and at a scale that meets the need. We must look at all solutions including lessons from other industrial and developing countries, for profit models (social entrepreneurialism), innovative designs and cross sector partnerships.

Affordable Housing Resource Links

Out of Reach: Persistent Problems, New Challenges for Renters
(National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009)

Nation Housing Trust Fund – National Low Income Housing Coalition Website

Nation Housing Trust Fund/Housing Production – National Alliance to End Homelessness Website

“A Tale of Two Town Houses”
(Atlantic Monthly, 2007)

Let Us Continue: Housing Policy in the Great Society, Part One
(Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University by Alexander von Hoffman, 2009)

Rethinking Local Affordable Housing Strategies: Lessons from 70 Years of Policy and Practice
Brookings Institution & Urban Institute, 2003

Executive Summary