This is the second article in our series on affordable housing and its impacts on Black women and communities. You can read this first article here.
Let’s say your lease is up, or you just landed a new job in a new city, or a friend or family member needs a new apartment. Then, you are probably familiar with the rental experience. You know that grueling process of finding available properties that meet your needs, visiting those properties to discover they aren’t quite like the pictures, paying non-refundable application fees only to be denied, having your credit checked and interrogated, reviewing mile-long leases that mostly protect the lessor, dealing with difficult landlords and property managers, and—if you’re lucky enough to get offered the unit you seek—shelling out a sizeable security deposit along with first, and sometimes last, month’s rent. Finding a place to rent is beyond exhausting.
Now, imagine going through this process as an extremely low-income renter (who only earns up to 30% of the area median income AMI) in need of rental support and facing lengthy and closed waiting lists for Housing Choice Vouchers. Then, add the layer of a shortage of 7 million affordable housing properties and finding a home—one of our most fundamental needs—becomes a truly demoralizing endeavor.
With rent prices that are rising faster than wages and a dismally low national vacancy rate (the lowest since 1994 at 4.4%), the affordable housing crisis is impacting renters at multiple income levels. In high-cost cities, even middle-income renters (i.e. people who earn above 80% of the AMI) face challenges finding housing that is affordable. Harvard’s recent study on the State of the Nation’s Housing found that part of the issue is that new housing development has not kept pace with demand, and housing that is being built is focused on the higher end of the market. Also, short-term rentals like Airbnb decrease the availability of long-term rentals and drive up rental prices. Given that Black households and other households of color are more likely to have extremely low-incomes and to be renter cost-burdened (56% of Black households pay more than 30% of their income on rent), too often our families are being left out in the cold.
Government-subsidized housing programs, like Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), provide affordable housing options for those most in need but these programs have been under-resourced, poorly designed, and ineffectively implemented. According to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, more than 10,000 units of public housing are lost across the nation each year due to disinvestment in public housing infrastructure; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that between 1990-2010 the U.S. lost over 300,000 units of affordable public housing. This was largely due to the demolition of public housing projects initiated by the $5 billion Hope VI program. Many Black residents did not benefit from “urban renewal” and its promises to decentralize poverty, and instead ended up in other impoverished communities. And while Public Housing has provided shelter and community for millions of families—especially the elderly, disabled, and female-headed households—the program has also been criticized for concentrating poverty and relegating people to poor neighborhoods.
HCV provides subsidies to low-income renters to supplement housing costs. Renters pay 30% of their household adjusted gross income toward “fair market rent,” and the remainder is covered by the voucher. This helps extremely low-income and low-income renters access modest units in the private market. However, applicants seeking assistance face years-long waiting lists or lists that are closed altogether. According to a recent report by National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), more than half of HCV waiting lists across the country are closed to new applicants, and 25% of waiting lists have a wait time of 3 years or longer. Those who are able to obtain vouchers may face refusal from landlords who will not take HCV, even if the voucher covers the rent, which often limits them to properties in lower-income neighborhoods.
Imagine needing a place to sleep and being told to check back in a couple of years or being denied access to a home because, although you have money to rent, it’s not the right kind of money.
With surging housing prices, insufficient subsidized rental options, low vacancy rates, and inequitable housing development, many renters are being forced to find the cheapest rental unit available and forfeit the bulk of their wages toward housing costs with little remaining for other necessities. So, how do we tackle rental housing affordability? Here are a few notable strategies the Democratic presidential candidates are touting
- Provide a Renters’ Tax Credit paid monthly that covers a portion of rent payments exceeding 30% of income for low- and middle-income renters. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro have plans for a Renters Tax Credit. Although their plans vary, a Renters’ Tax Credit would help millions of renters cover their housing costs.
- Expand the HCV program and ban discrimination against voucher holders. Secretary Castro has an affordable housing plan that includes a fully-funded HCV program that provides vouchers for everyone who needs them. Currently, only one in four eligible families receives vouchers.
- Invest in the Housing Trust Fund, which provides resources to support the production, preservation, or rehabilitation of safe affordable housing for extremely low-income and low-income families. Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act of 2018 that would invest $45 billion per year (for 10 years) in the national Housing Trust Fund to build, rehab and operate affordable homes. Secretary Castro also supports increasing the Housing Trust Fund by $45 billion per year.
You can learn where all of the democratic candidates stand on affordable housing by visiting Our Homes, Our Votes.
We must increase the supply of affordable housing for low- and middle-income families—including both rental housing and homes for purchase. Affordable rental housing is key to ensuring people have access to safe and affordable shelter, but opportunities for Black women and our families to attain and sustain homeownership can improve our economic position long-term.