Six affordable housing stories in the news

The Norman Apartments in Uptown, Chicago, in the process of conversion from affordable to market-rate units

The Norman Apartments in Uptown, Chicago, in the process of conversion from affordable to market-rate  units. Photo by Ilana Cheyfitz

I started a new habit earlier this month: reading news stories related to affordable housing every day. A few days of this  practice confirmed what I already suspected: cities, towns and villages throughout our country are struggling to meet their  housing needs, especially in the rental market.

According to a report published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University earlier this year, the number of  people living in rental units is increasing, while the number of available and affordable units is decreasing. Between 2007 and  2011, the number of renters who qualified for rental assistance rose by 3.3 million. The number of subsidized units remained  relatively unchanged. These people joined the ranks of low-income families in competition for the 3.2 million rental units that  were both affordable and available.

More than three-quarters of income-eligible renters in 2011 were compelled to compete for units in the private market  because publicly funded units could not handle the capacity.

The quantity of cost-burdened renters (those who pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent) rose to just over 50  percent, the number of severely cost-burdened households (those who pay more than 50 percent of income toward rent) was  28 percent.

More than 80 percent of people making an annual income of $15,000 or less (approximately the income earned by a minimum-wage worker with full-time employment) were cost-burdened; 69 % were severely cost-burdened.

These selected figures illustrate the enormity of the housing crisis. Demand exceeds supply, and those in need have minimal political power. The inadequacy of affordable units and policies effects communities throughout the country from wealthy Chicago suburbs to resort communities in Lake Tahoe, California to the evolving neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.

Below are articles about six places in which affordable housing has become newsworthy.

1) “Washington’s Affordable Housing Bind”  -Megan McArdle at Bloomberg View discusses the implications of a recent city decision regarding the developer for a new housing complex . The winning proposal, which will create an exclusively market-rate building but will put money into a fund  to build affordable housing in a less affluent neighborhood, was chosen over other proposals that called for a mixed-income development. McArdle uses this new development to open up a debate about the merits of more total affordable units (off-site development) or fewer, but better located, new apartments for low-income residents. Like other housing advocates, I believe market-rate and affordable units should be built side-by-side. Improving the neighborhoods available to poor people creates access to schools, stores and other amenities that help ease some anxieties of poverty; shunting people into distant areas reinforces the growing distance between poor and comfortable.

2) “Advocates push for low-income housing in Wilmette luxury development” -The developer of a planned mixed-use transit-accessible apartment building in expensive Wilmette, IL has donated $80 million to a housing assistance fund in lieu of building affordable on-site units. Local housing advocates are pleased with the donation, which will help provide subsidies and rental assistance to area low-income seniors and disabled people, but point out that this money does nothing to create more homes for those in need.

3) “Cary affordable housing project moves ahead despite opposition” -An $18 million affordable housing complex was approved in the village of Cary, IL. Sixty units will provide homes for local service workers, factory employees, teachers and other low-wage earners who cannot afford to live near their work. Cary’s single family homeowners claim the money used to fund the project was illegally procured. Other concerns include increased traffic near the complex and crowded schools. The development’s opposition promises to continue their fight until plans for affordable housing are nullified.

4) “San Jose considers new tax to pay for affordable housing” -The San Jose region has lost 63 percent of its affordable housing since statewide budget cuts in 2011 caused the dissolution of California redevelopment agencies (RDAs). To fund affordable development without RDA funding, which played an important role in the creation and maintenance of affordable housing buildings, San Jose officials want to instate one-time impact fees for all new housing. Detractors of this proposal ignore he proven success of fees in other cities and state the extra charges will slow down construction, raise property taxes and be a burden on the community.

5) “Some forced to move as Ann Arbor-area apartments transition from affordable to market rate” -Landlords of some of Ann Arbor’s housing developments are converting affordable units to market rate, as their 15-year Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) expire. Residents of these complexes are at a loss to find both funds for moving and available, affordable apartments.

6) “Kings Beach, California: Affordable green housing for service industry workers” – A rare happy story in affordable housing. The award-winning apartments in Kings Beach are the result of a collaboration between community members and developers. The complex incorporates the upscale aesthetic of the resort town, on-site social services, and proximity to job centers and amenities. It is worth noting that approximately one-quarter of funding for this sustainable and beautiful community came from the now defunct RDA (see San Jose article, above).

I wish the news were more uplifting. Perhaps, with time and perseverance, communities will welcome their low-income neighbors into their buildings.





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