#BlackHer2020: Housing Affordability

This is the first in a series about housing affordability and its impact on Black women and communities.

Three years ago, I made an intentional decision to relocate from Washington, DC to Atlanta, GA. Part of the impetus for that transition was the high cost of housing. In DC, a one- bedroom rental can run more than $2,000/month; and like many renters, I couldn’t begin to entertain the idea of purchasing a home in the DC market. After 5 years of living with roommates or in tiny basement singles, I sought a new location where I could get more bang for my buck. This is a situation far too many non-married Black women and working people experience. Almost half of all renters in the US are housing cost-burdened—meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs; about one in four homeowners face the same financial strain. According to American Community Survey data, for households headed by non-married Black women – 64.1% of renters are cost-burdened and almost half of homeowners are cost-burdened. And while low-income earners are the most vulnerable, housing burdens worsen for people across income levels when housing costs exceed $2,000/month.

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which posits that we must attend to our most basic needs (food, water, safety) at the bottom of the pyramid first before we can shift our attention to actualizing needs at the top of the pyramid (feelings of accomplishment, achieving one’s full potential). Shelter is one of our most essential human needs, we all deserve a safe and habitable space to rest our heads, yet the availability of housing that is affordable—including government subsidized housing, low-cost rentals, and affordable homes for purchase—is diminishing as housing prices surge in cities across the country.

How did we get here?

Several interconnected factors have contributed to the housing affordability crisis:

  • The demolition of public housing projects – initiated in 1992 by the $5 billion Hope VI program, over the following two decades public housing units in cities across the country were demolished and hundreds-of-thousands of residents were displaced. The intent of this “urban renewal” was to decentralize poverty, but many residents did not benefit from the revitalization and instead ended up in other impoverished communities.
  • The Great Recession – precipitated by the housing market crash that resulted from predatory subprime mortgage loans and an unregulated housing market. Poor communities and communities of color were disproportionately steered into these predatory products that became unaffordable as economic conditions changed, resulting in their homes becoming underwater or foreclosed. This had significant financial impacts on Black and Latinx households—who were 50% more likely to face foreclosure than their white counterparts—and for whom homeownership makes up a significant portion of their wealth. Black women were overwhelmingly targeted for subprime loans; according to an article by The American Prospect, Black upper-income women in the DC metro area were nearly five times more likely to receive subprime purchase mortgages than upper-income white men.
  • Gentrification – the redevelopment of neighborhoods that have been disinvested in, which aims to attract more affluent residents while shifting the class and culture of existing neighborhoods. Gentrification reduces affordable housing stock, raises renter housing-cost burdens, increases property values (and taxes), and drives out existing (lower-income) residents. New market-rate construction—like luxury apartments and condos—also contributes to gentrification and has similar effects on increasing living costs and displacement.
  • Dearth of available low-cost housing stock – according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) extremely low-income renters (i.e. people who earn up to 30% of the area median income) face a shortage of 7 million affordable rental properties; and middle-income renters (i.e. people who earn above 80% of the AMI) face shortages of housing that is affordable too, particularly in high-cost cities where new housing development has not kept pace with demand. Harvard’s recent study on the State of the Nation’s Housing found that part of the reason for the decline in available housing stock is that housing construction has been slow post-Recession, and housing that is being built is focused on the higher end of the market.

Several of the Democratic presidential candidates are offering ideas for how to address the housing needs of low- and middle-income voters. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Rent Relief Act that would offer a refundable tax credit for cost-burdened renters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act to invest in a national Housing Trust Fund to create, operate and preserve affordable housing for people with low incomes. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and presidential hopeful Julian Castro introduced his housing plan that includes housing vouchers for anyone that needs help and a refundable tax credit to help cost-burdened renters.

These and several other proposals are on the table, and with housing as a fundamental need for Black women and our families, we must support a candidate who has a strong proposal to improve housing affordability. Stay tuned for the next article in this series as we uncover more about the issues driving the housing affordability crisis and explore strategies and solutions to stabilize housing costs for low- and middle-income renters and homeowners.



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