NETWORK believes that access to affordable, safe housing is an essential human right. The Catholic Bishops have taken a strong stand on this issue: “The magnitude of our housing crisis requires a massive commitment of resources and energy [and yet] federal spending for affordable housing and community development has become very uncertain.” (USCCB, February, 2011). They go on to say that inadequate funding of affordable housing is devastating for poor families and vulnerable people. Cost of living increases deplete the value of dollars spent on affordable housing, so each passing year the federal government and its state and local partners face the difficult choice of serving fewer people or severely cutting back the total value of the benefit they receive.
The federal government estimates that housing costs should take up no more than 30% of the household budget. Yet, available and affordable rental units are out of reach for most low-income households. According to HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs 2011: Report to Congress, (released on August 16, 2013) the number of renters with worst-case housing needs grew to a record 8.48 million. There has been a 43% increase in worst-case housing needs since 2007.
A fear of neighbors is that affordable housing development lowers the property values of nearby homes. This issue has been the subject of repeated academic studies by a wide range of research teams, and the consensus is overwhelmingly that well-designed, well-maintained affordable housing does not lower property values – and in some cases, might even raise them! A team from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) combed through seven bibliographies and literature reviews in preparing a meta-analysis and found 62 studies on the effects of affordable housing on property values. The result: 56 studies showed that affordable housing had either positive or neutral effects on property values (29 suggest that they actually have a net positive effect on property values!); 5 studies showed mixed effects and only 1 study showed negative effects (Shelterforce Blog; part of NLIHC communications to members, September 23, 2013).
Compounding the affordable housing crisis for poor families is that the most severe housing shortage exists at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. On average, for every 100 extremely low-income families (those making less than 30% of the area median income) there exist only 39 units of affordable housing (www.nlihc.org). In no state can a worker making the minimum wage afford the Fair Market Rent (FMR). In 28 states and the District of Columbia, workers making twice the minimum wage cannot even afford FMR. This situation and the spate of foreclosures in the past several years have directly led to an increase in homelessness.
The State of Homelessness in America, 2013, completed in April 2013 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, examines trends in homelessness between 2011 and 2012, showing that, overall, the homeless population, which had soared earlier, had decreased by less than 1%. But this is not the full story. While the number of people experiencing homelessness as part of a family increased slightly, the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and those identifying as veterans decreased significantly. The improvement is undoubtedly due to policy changes such as permanent supportive housing aimed at veterans and chronically homeless individuals. During this period flexible federal resources were available to communities through the “Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) to help prevent homelessness for families and individuals, which many communities used to target the chronically homeless. Also, the Veterans Administration funded special programs and focused extensive outreach on homeless veterans. The decreases in chronic and veteran homelessness indicate that, with federal, state and local investment in strategies proven to end homelessness, progress can be made.
Rental properties comprised nearly half of all recent foreclosures, and renters have found themselves in precarious positions. Assistance was provided to keep some rental units operating, which limited the number of households becoming homeless, but low-income households continue to struggle. Housing stock and housing vouchers (which continue to be cut) are insufficient for the numbers that need them. Shelters are above capacity and thousands are living on the streets, bunking with friends and family, or living in their cars.
In the view of many housing advocates, the only viable solution to the affordable housing shortage is the National Housing Trust Fund, which would invest monies primarily in rental housing for low-income and extremely low-income people.
NETWORK supports programs that will provide secure and affordable homes for all, particularly those with the least economic power. We support efforts to “green” housing units both as a means of providing healthy housing and to preserve a healthy ecosystem in which all of us live. We also work on the National Housing Trust Fund and Housing Choice Vouchers.