Not Rent To Be; Let’s Talk Affordable Housing
There is a global bill coming due and its name is July rent. Many wealthy nations have seen their housing affordability problems accelerate with the recent economic woes and this highly predictable problem is facing familiar hurdles. In the U.S., some states have pushed out initiatives to delay (not forgive) rent payments and fines but federal action has been glaringly absent (yesterday a rent relief bill finally passed the House). While many small property owners are facing real struggles and still others are proactively reducing or forgiving rent, it appears a sizable chunk of owners are instead moving to evict during a pandemic.
So, how did this come about, what is needed, and how bad can it get if renters do not get relief?
Well, there are many conditions leading to lack of affordable housing (housing that costs less than 30% of annual income): single family zoning or minimum lot sizes, NIMBYism, income inequality, powerful real estate lobbies, landlords faking renovations to keep prices high, foreign investment and asset parking, gentrification, weaponized housing courts, poor public transportation, etc. The modern affordable housing gap and permanent (non-cyclical) homelessness are typically seen as a result of Reagan’s drastic HUD budget cuts in the 1980s. Things have only accelerated since then, from Bill Clinton capping public housing and beyond. Alongside (and accelerating) commercial factors are political donations, which favor the status quo over reform. Ultimately, we are dealing with traumatic and permanent damage to individuals and families here that is both a condition and horrifying cause of poverty. So, should we pursue Housing First and Homebase or other just-in-time intervention policies? Absolutely. But it is ludicrous not to address the underlying inequities, as shown by how even the success of those programs is often undercut by uneven funding and lack of transition initiatives.
We need immediate rent cancelation during these times as well as long-lasting support for a public affordable-housing sector (private sector incentives like tax credits and rezoning have proven to have limited effectiveness). After all, economic disruptions are only going to get more frequent and affordability is only getting worse. If we do not do something immediately, we may see 50k evictions in NYC alone when Cuomo’s moratorium ends, and hundreds of thousands nationwide. If that sounds exaggerated, 37% of U.S. renters are worried about eviction within the next 6 months, and if 10% of the ~30M units do get evicted that would be approximately 300k (or 3x the foreclosures in 2009). We do not talk about it as much but current eviction levels (pre-COVID) are actually higher than foreclosure levels during the Great Recession. It is up to everyone to do whatever we can to force a massive policy response, after all, housing is a right.
Kellen Parker, Head of Research
In a disturbing research piece Suffolk University Law school investigated housing discrimination in rental applications in the Boston area. The participants found massive discrimination in incentives, approval, and ‘ghosting’ rates (92% response for whites, 62% for Black applicants). It is another reminder of the generational damage of redlining and housing discrimination and how it persists today.
Eviction Lab is a tool for visualizing eviction levels and policy scorecards that drives home some powerful insights about this epidemic, like Charleston’s 19% eviction filing rate, meaning 1 in 5 homes will have an eviction filed in it in a given year and 1 in 10 will be evicted. Housing is a complex issue and there are a multitude of startups and initiatives in the space, from companies working to reduce construction and land acquisition costs to companies working to improve public transit or collective bargaining.
The Death & Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a fantastic read.
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