Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Desperate Need for Affordable Housing

In July I wrote about folk stampeding for Section 8 housing vouchers in Dallas, when thousands of people showed up, some waiting all night, to get vouchers for subsidized housing. It was a terrible story.

Since then, nothing much has changed, other than the fact that even more people are in need of affordable housing. From The Nation:

In Oakland, California, which opened its waiting list in January, officials expected as many as 100,000 people to apply for 10,000 vouchers. In Atlanta, sixty-two people were injured in 2010 at an East Point shopping center where 30,000 lined up after the local housing authority opened its waiting list for the first time in eight years. Even small communities like Aiken, South Carolina, saw hundreds queuing up in October for a chance at housing aid about as likely as seeing three cherries in a row on a Vegas slot machine.

Another way you can find tangible evidence of the housing affordability crunch is by visiting one of New York City’s exploding number of homeless shelters, where a record 41,000 homeless people bed down each night, including more than 17,000 children. The New York Times recently told the story of one of those children, fourth-grader N-Dia Layne, who travels two and a half hours each day between her Upper Manhattan shelter and her school in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. In Cleveland, the number of homeless families and kids grew so rapidly this past summer that for the first time shelters were forced to eliminate daytime meals, housing-search assistance and other services in order to move workers to the overnight shifts, according to Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

I had to read those New York numbers a few times. I can't imagine that there are over 17,000 homeless children in NY City and this isn't an issue being discussed in the endless presidential debates?

By nearly any measure, there are fewer and fewer homes affordable to working-class and poor Americans. The federal housing agency’s annual assessment finds that “worst-case housing needs” grew by 42 percent from 2001 to 2009, and nationwide there is a shortfall of nearly 3.5 million housing units for the poorest households. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the share of renter households with the most severe cost burdens—that is, where more than half of income goes to rent and utilities—grew from a fifth to a quarter over the past decade and has doubled in the past half-century. And as household incomes stagnated for most of the past decade and then dropped during the economic crisis, the nation saw its already inadequate stock of cheap rental housing shrink even faster.

It's pretty simple, really. The cost of living is increasingly high, while wages are increasingly low. It's not a recipe for keeping a roof over one's head.

All of the plans to "end homelessness in 10 years," either are, or will be abject failures. The programs were all underfunded, and as the budget for federal housing programs continues to shrink, their failure is guaranteed. In the name of "deficit reduction" these programs are being cut, and cut again - with the goal being to eliminate them all together.

Despite the bleak policy landscape and the worsening affordability crisis, many local advocates and people working on the front lines talk about the renewed energy and hope generated by the nascent Occupy movement and the revived national discourse about income inequality. Donovan talks hopefully about the “other 1 percent”—the homeless and poor—saying that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the superrich 1 percent is “causing the other 1 percent to agitate, and to show that homeless people are something other than a herded mass. They’re saying, Enough is enough.”

The Occupy movement changed the national discussion when it began last fall. Instead of deficits and debt, we're now hearing about income inequality, joblessness, and a host of other issues that weren't even on the horizon over the summer. It is my hope (as someone living with housing insecurity) that Occupy brings housing to the forefront of our national dialogue.

cross posted at MainSt/

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