Only Washington Can Solve the Nation’s Housing CrisisRoundup
tags: Congress, housing
Dr. Cohen is the author of the forthcoming “Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age.”
In recent months America’s affordable housing crisis, a long-simmering issue for people of low and moderate incomes, has burst onto the front page. Rents are rising much faster than income, while the median home price in some 200 cities is $1 million. After a decade of decline, the number of homeless Americans is ticking back up.
The private market is clearly failing. Although many city and state governments are motivated to take action, they have limited tools at their disposal, and few of them equal to the task. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, at least under its current leadership, is hardly stepping up.
Indeed the very idea of a federal commitment to affordable housing seems unrealistic today. And yet not long ago, America made just such a promise: the Housing Act of 1949, which, in the optimism of the immediate postwar moment, vowed to provide “a decent home and a suitable living condition for every American family.” We need that same bold national vision today.
At its root, the crisis is a supply problem. Between 2011 and 2017, the country lost four million low-rent apartments. This has driven up demand for what remains, with the predictable result that a third of all households spend more than 30 percent of income for shelter. In many prospering cities, large numbers pay more than 50 percent.
Evictions are epidemic. Waiting lists for subsidized apartments and housing vouchers intended to help low-income Americans “move to opportunity” grow ever longer, so long that some cities have stopped taking new names. A recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard anticipates that rent restrictions could expire on about 1.2 million units by 2029.
Most Americans would agree that a stable residence is a prerequisite for steady employment, their children’s education and a thriving democratic society. A permanent address is required to vote, and consumers’ discretionary income — what they don’t spend on things like housing — fuels a healthy national economy.
And yet aside from a few Democratic presidential hopefuls, the political conversation around housing has been muted, and the political will to act at the federal level has been almost nonexistent.
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