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The War for Housing Security
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The entry point of buying or renting a home just keeps increasing with no end in sight. How sustainable is that?
Daniel Soria | Learn4Life CLMI Fellow
The American dream is reaching a penultimate test of its validity – or, more specifically, the freedom to work hard and be guaranteed the opportunity to have a roof over your head. This dilemma can be characterized as “housing insecurity,” the lack of solid economic supports as a result of high housing costs relative to income and poor housing quality compounded by unstable and poorly planned neighborhoods.
Let’s use San Diego, California as an example (my hometown). We have a rapidly increasing unhoused population, middle-class families moving out of areas for employment and a rather unaffordable cost of living in a place where the median rent, according to Zillow, is $3,500 and the average home value nears $1 million …
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The entry point of buying a home keeps increasing, and lack of density, according to many experts, doesn’t help. The Pew Research Center has found that nearly half of all Americans find the lack of affordable housing to be a significant issue. Yet, residential NIMBY(“not in my backyard”) advocates and interest groups lobby city governments to prevent the development of expanded “affordable housing” developments.
A National Crisis
This is not isolated to a cluster of cities similar to San Diego. It’s a national crisis, an ensuing battle for the simple notion or right to a roof over the head of all people. Be it the rising cost of living in urban areas where most jobs are concentrated or the houselessness crisis fueled by a spike in home costs, rent, and zip code values, this issue is as important as any other.
Realistically: How sustainable is this? It manifests locally and accumulates into national trends. Taking this into account, a more in depth analysis of the crisis is necessary to fully comprehend who is being affected by a lack of affordable housing and how we explore ways to reconcile it.
Before we delve into the intricacies of the issue, we need to fully understand why housing insecurity is so pervasive in the first place. Putting it simply, housing insecurity stems from quite a few factors: the rising cost of living; “inflation;” the legacy of segregation, redlining and racial zoning; the prevalence of bad zoning, gentrification and displacement, as well as ongoing systemic racism and classism. Aggravating all of that is lack of federal, local and state investment into affordable housing, alongside the strong opposition of NIMBY groups - largely driven by preferences, class and, in many instances, race - that stop substantial progress or the prospect of integration whenever they get the opportunity. This type of organized resistance to practical housing solutions is driven largely by an obsession with protecting suburban or middle class-to-wealthy enclave expectations of safety.
Looking into the lack of government investment, Housing California takes a closer look at the development of housing projects in the U.S. in an effort to demonstrate that the rate in which affordable housing is being built in the U.S. is failing to match the increasing demand for said housing. Putting this into perspective, the state’s Housing and Opportunity index found that “not one region built enough housing to meet its regional need.” Putting this into the national scale, the National Low Income Housing Cooalitions, has found that 76 percent of all extremely low income households in California are severely cost burdened, paying over half of their income for rent. Such predicaments put most American households in positions of limited social mobility, and a hypereliance on their established incomes, making prospects of job flexibility a far more scarce prospect.
With statistics like these, you wonder who would be opposed to fixing this issue, and what type of reasoning they would have to back it up. In come NIMBY groups, a term used to categorize residents who are opposed to local community developments and projects in their area, through the use of land-use laws and lobbying. The Canadian Homeless Hub defines them as …
The phenomenon in which residents of a neighborhood designate a new development (e.g. shelter, affordable housing, group home) or change in occupancy of an existing development as inappropriate or unwanted for their local area.
Such groups tend to hold significant political power, particularly within local politics, and their resistance disincentivizes local elected officials from approving solutions that may combat housing insecurity. In short, NIMBYs are one major enemy to combating the larger problem of housing insecurity, as built-in prejudices and attitudes framed around specific group preferences are more driven by maintaining the status quo.
Potential Solutions & Benefits
With a firm understanding of the issues that housing insecurity brings we can also develop an understanding of those specific barriers keeping the problem alive. We must explore potential solutions and benefits to effectively eliminating housing insecurity.
For starters, we should establishment expanded affordable housing wherever major economic opportunity exists. Unaffordable housing should be automatically incongruent with any space where major job prospects and growth exist. Any given area where there are substantial social and economic boosts and benefits should be an area perfectly designed for affordable housing development. Yet, the absence of such removes additional benefits when local governments and policymakers ignore or don’t commit to affordable housing development.
The first, and likely most, beneficial outcome from affordable housing would be increased economic development. Stanford Economist Raj Chetty has found that Children who move into lower poverty neighborhoods earn upwards of a 31 percent increase in future income. Additionally, children living in stable affordable homes are likely to have move opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom. This data demonstrate one clear opportunity: faster Gross Domestic Product growth as a result of more chances to climb up the income distribution ladder with newfound disposable income - or, income that would otherwise be spent on housing costs. Research also demonstrates that housing insecurity is costing the American Economy upwards of 2 trillion dollars a year in productivity costs: the NLIHC discovered that GDP growth between 1964 and 2009 would have been 13.5 percent higher if families had access to the type of affordable housing that doesn’t drain personal bank accounts.
It is clear that housing insecurity is a daunting problem for all generations, even as the benefits outweigh the costs. If we’re to truly achieve the “American Dream,” the first step is to establish strong public awareness around and consciousness towards addressing housing insecurity. What follows next? A strong first step would be putting this issue on the ballot. Electoral accountability forces policymakers to respond to the needs of income-strapped residents. It also offsets the influence of NIMBY organizers and other interests more interested in the preservation of an ugly caste-system status quo that is unsustainable and, ultimately, destructive.