Affordable Housing Crisis in the 21st Century

1 Affordable Housing Crisis in the 21st Century

In this lesson, we will discuss how affordable housing in the U.S. has been a major issue in the 21st century. The current state of affordable housing in the country is dire, with millions of Americans struggling to find homes that they can afford. The lack of affordable housing is due to a number of factors, including rising housing costs, stagnant wages, and a shortage of affordable housing units. In many cities across the U.S., the cost of housing has risen faster than wages, making it increasingly difficult for low-income families to find affordable housing.

Objectives

  1. Understand some of the causes of the affordability crisis in the 21st century
  2. Recognize the compounding impacts of housing insecurity on individuals and communities
  3. Think through potential solutions to the affordable housing crisis

Lectures

Key Takeaway:

  • The lack of affordable housing in the United States has become a critical issue in the 21st century. Various factors contribute to this crisis, including stagnant wages, skyrocketing rent prices, and limited availability of affordable homes. 
  • Millions of low-income families struggle to find affordable housing, often spending a significant portion of their limited income on rent. This financial burden can lead to instability, homelessness, and a never-ending cycle of poverty. 
  • Addressing the affordable housing crisis requires a combination of policy changes, investment in affordable housing development, and community support. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated these efforts, leaving millions of Americans at risk of eviction and homelessness.

 

Why Affordable Housing is a Crisis 

The lack of affordable housing in the United States has become a critical issue in the 21st century. Various factors contribute to this crisis, including stagnant wages, skyrocketing rent prices, and limited availability of affordable homes. 

In the U.S., more than 7 million extremely low-income families do not have access to affordable housing.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that there is a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters.

More than half a million people in the U.S. are homeless on any given night.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the affordable housing crisis, with many renters facing eviction and homelessness.Minorities and people of color are disproportionately affected by the affordable housing crisis.

Causes

  • Rising housing costs: Housing costs have been rising faster than incomes for many years. This has made it difficult for people to afford to buy or rent a home. For example, Over 10 million renters spend more than 50% of their income on housing. At the same time, the median rent in the U.S. has increased by 70% since 2000, while the median renter income has only increased by 20%.  Homeowners are also impacted with the median home price in the U.S. is more than four times the median income.
  • Low wages: Many people in the United States do not earn enough money to afford to pay for housing. This is especially true for people who work in low-wage jobs, such as retail and food service.
  • Lack of affordable housing: There is a shortage of affordable housing in many parts of the United States. This is due to a number of factors, including the decline of manufacturing jobs, which led to a decrease in the supply of affordable housing, and the increase in demand for housing from immigrants and millennials.  At the same time, the federal government’s budget for affordable housing has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s.
  • Government policies: Some government policies, such as tax breaks for homeowners and landlords, have contributed to the affordable housing crisis. These policies make it more expensive for people to buy or rent housing.
  • Discrimination: People of color and people with disabilities are more likely to experience housing discrimination, which makes it more difficult for them to find affordable housing.
  • Natural disasters: Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, can destroy homes and make it difficult for people to find affordable housing

Impact on Low-Income Families and Communities

Millions of low-income families struggle to find affordable housing, often spending a significant portion of their limited income on rent. This financial burden can lead to instability, homelessness, and a never-ending cycle of poverty. 

Home is more than a roof over your head… 

 

Eviction

Lack of affordable housing leads to eviction.  

Eviction is the legal process by which a landlord can remove a tenant from their rental property. Evictions can occur for a variety of reasons, including nonpayment of rent, violating the terms of the lease, or illegal activity.

The eviction process varies from state to state, but it typically begins with the landlord serving the tenant with a notice to vacate. The notice will specify the reason for the eviction and the amount of time the tenant has to comply. If the tenant does not comply with the notice, the landlord can file a lawsuit for eviction.

The eviction lawsuit will be heard by a judge, who will decide whether or not to grant the landlord’s request for eviction. If the judge grants the eviction, the tenant will be ordered to vacate the property within a certain amount of time. If the tenant does not vacate the property, the landlord can have the sheriff’s office remove them.

Evictions can have a number of negative consequences for tenants, including:

  • Damage to their credit report: An eviction will remain on a tenant’s credit report for seven years, which can make it difficult to rent a new apartment or get a mortgage.
  • Financial hardship: Evictions can be expensive for tenants, as they may have to pay for moving expenses and security deposits. At the same time, tenants often lose their belongings during an eviction which costs money to replace. 
  • Poor mental health and well-being: Housing instability and homelessness lead to higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. 
  • Move to inadequate housing: Due to poor credit, people are often forced to move into inadequate housing in higher poverty neighborhoods.  
  • Homelessness: If a tenant is evicted, they may not be able to find new housing.  
  • Education challenges: Children often have to relocate schools during the middle of the school year as housing may not be available in their current school districts. This relocation can impact their ability to stay on track for school while also causing disruptions for classroom as students are not permanent members throughout the school year.  

 

 

Gentrification and Displacement

Gentrification

Gentrification, broadly defined is the displacing one group of people and replacing them with another that has more privilege.  It should be noted, that gentrification lacks a universally accepted definition based on empirical evidence. There are variations in how gentrification is geographically defined, the characteristics that define it, and its impacts on communities. 

 

 

In order to understand the full implications of gentrification, it’s important to explore its origins. One of the earliest definitions of the term comes from the British sociologist, Ruth Glass. Her definition describes the process of wealthy residents displacing the working-class in urban areas, resulting in physical and social changes in the neighborhood. This process typically involves renovation and redevelopment leading to higher rents or house prices, thereby limiting access to the housing market for original inhabitants who are mainly from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Additionally, her definition speaks directly about how urban spaces have become highly problematic in terms of the inequitable allocation of resources to low-income communities.

One critical aspect mentioned within this definition is that gentrification is a process defined by class displacement that has generated a new class structure in urban areas. The richer newcomers displace older residents who tend to be poorer and often belonging to various racial or ethnic minorities. Furthermore, Ruth Glass’s definition emphasizes that gentrification occurs when successive waves of people move into these neighborhoods causing rent prices to increase dramatically.

Black and white image of white woman on the left.  On the right it says "Gentrification"

The story behind Ruth Glass’s definition is one based on comprehensive observations made while studying certain areas in London such as Islington and Notting Hill Gate during the late 1950s and early 1960s when these places were beginning to witness dramatic population changes due to major infrastructure improvements taking place all over London City. While conducting research, Ruth observed significant numbers of artists moving into low-rent accommodations in run-down Victorian homes throughout those two regions above – changing them from shabby neighborhoods into fashionable living amenities overnight. Her observations led her to develop what we have come to understand as the definition of gentrification, which has become a cornerstone in gentrification studies today.

[This song isn’t about the UK gentrification from the 1950s and 1960s but its about gentrification from the early 2000s]

The collision between worlds of varying incomes, educational access, and government protection is a prevalent effect caused by gentrification in neighborhoods. In the United States, the newcomers, usually wealthier white citizens, come into neighborhoods that were once inhabited by working-class or low-income residents. This sudden injection of wealth and lifestyle differences causes cultural clashes and displacement among the original residents who can no longer afford to live in that neighborhood.

Gentrification creates a stark contrast between those who can afford to reside there with better access to education, healthcare, and infrastructures versus those who are forced out due to rising prices and limited access to essential services. This difference often leads to feelings of resentment from the original residents, resulting in a sense of displacement and exclusion.

 

 

Displacement

Gentrification often leads to stories of displacement and cultural clashes in gentrifying neighborhoods. As wealthier residents move in, lower-income residents may be forced out due to rising costs of living. This can lead to tension and conflict between the old and new communities, as well as a loss of cultural identity for those who are pushed out. Residents may also clash over differing ideas about how the neighborhood should be managed or developed.

 

 

 

Solutions and Challenges 

Addressing the affordable housing crisis requires a combination of policy changes, investment in affordable housing development, and community support. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated these efforts, leaving millions of Americans at risk of eviction and homelessness.

Solutions

Increase the supply of affordable housing: This can be done by building more affordable housing units, providing subsidies to developers who build affordable housing, and converting existing buildings into affordable housing.

It should be noted that private companies that use federally subsided loans to build and maintain low-income housing do not always maintain the property.  

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Image: Forest Cove Apartments in southeast Atlanta

You can listen to other stories about Forest Cove.  

But community ownership can be an option. 

Community Land Trusts

A community land trust (CLT) is a nonprofit organization that owns land and leases it to homeowners at a below-market rate. The CLT retains ownership of the land, which helps to keep housing costs affordable for future generations. CLTs are a way to create and preserve affordable housing in communities.

CLTs work by purchasing land and then leasing it to homeowners at a below-market rate. The CLT retains ownership of the land, which helps to keep housing costs affordable for future generations. CLTs can also provide homeowners with access to homeownership education and financial counseling.

CLTs are a relatively new type of organization, but they have been growing in popularity in recent years. There are now over 200 CLTs in the United States, and they have helped to create and preserve thousands of affordable homes.

 

 

Increase wages: This can be done by raising the minimum wage and by providing wage subsidies to low-wage workers.

Provide rental assistance: This can be done by providing rental assistance to low-income families and individuals. It should be noted that only one in four eligible low-income households receive housing assistance.

Provide homeless services: This can be done by providing homeless shelters, food banks, and other services to people who are homeless.

Change government policies: Some government policies, such as tax breaks for homeowners and landlords, have contributed to the affordable housing crisis. These policies should be changed to make it more affordable for people to buy or rent housing.

End discrimination: People of color and people with disabilities are more likely to experience housing discrimination, which makes it more difficult for them to find affordable housing. Laws should be enforced to end discrimination in housing.

Prepare for natural disasters: Natural disasters can destroy homes and make it difficult for people to find affordable housing. Communities should prepare for natural disasters by building homes that are more resistant to damage and by developing plans to help people who are displaced by disasters.

Five Facts About Affordable Housing in the United States:

  • ✅ In some cities, such as San Francisco and New York, the median rent is more than 50% of the median income.
  • ✅ Over 10 million renters spend more than 50% of their income on housing.
  • ✅ More than half a million people in the U.S. are homeless on any given night.
  • ✅ In some cities, the waitlist for affordable housing can be several years long.
  • ✅ The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the affordable housing crisis, with millions of Americans at risk of eviction.

FAQs about the Affordable Housing Crisis In The United States

What factors have contributed to the affordable housing crisis?

Rising housing costs are one of the primary factors contributing to the affordable housing crisis in the U.S. In many cities, the cost of housing has far outpaced wage growth, making it difficult for low- and middle-income families to afford a decent place to live. The lack of affordable housing options is also due to a shortage of available units. Many cities have not kept up with demand, leading to a shortage of affordable housing options for those who need it most.

How many people in the U.S. are affected by the affordable housing crisis?

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters in the United States.

What are the consequences of not having access to affordable housing?

Not having access to affordable housing can lead to homelessness for individuals and families. Without a stable and secure place to live, people may be forced to sleep on the streets, in their cars, or in overcrowded and unsafe living conditions. The lack of affordable housing can also lead to financial instability and poverty. When a large portion of a person’s income is spent on housing, they may struggle to afford other basic necessities such as food, healthcare, and education.

What are some proposed solutions to the affordable housing crisis?

One proposed solution to the affordable housing crisis is increasing funding for affordable housing programs. This can include federal, state, and local government programs that provide subsidies to developers who build affordable housing units. It can also include funding for non-profit organizations that work to provide affordable housing to low-income families. Some experts have suggested that the solution to the affordable housing crisis lies in addressing the root causes of poverty and income inequality. This can involve policies that promote economic growth and job creation, as well as investments in education and job training programs. By increasing access to well-paying jobs and reducing poverty, more people will be able to afford housing without relying on government subsidies or other forms of assistance.

What is the relationship between homelessness and the affordable housing crisis?

The relationship between homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is direct and significant. The lack of affordable housing options has contributed to the rise in homelessness in the U.S. In many cases, individuals and families are unable to find affordable housing, and as a result, they become homeless. Homelessness can also be a result of evictions due to the inability to pay rent. When housing costs are too high, individuals and families may have to choose between paying for housing or other basic necessities such as food and healthcare. This can lead to missed rent payments and eventual eviction, which can ultimately result in homelessness.

 

Quick Check

Who coined the term “gentrification”?

Ruth Glass

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The U.S. Government

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The National Low Income Housing Coalition

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Check Answer

 

 

 

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