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Housing report documents shortage of affordable housing – but with a silver lining

March 20th, 2019 by Joe Kriesberg

Last week, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition released, The GAP – A Shortage of Affordable Homes, its annual report documenting the shortage of housing available for low-income Americans.  The report provides many depressingly familiar statistics:

  • 7 million extremely low-income (ELI) American households (households with incomes below 30% of the Area Median Income) lack access to housing that is affordable to them, including nearly 170,000 households in Massachusetts;
  • In Massachusetts, for every 100 ELI households there are just 46 affordable homes;
  • 72 percent of households with incomes below 50% of the Area Median Income are severely cost-burdened, meaning they pay over 50% of their income to rent;
  • People of color are much more likely to be cost burdened then their white counterparts.

Clearly, we have work to do.

At the same time, if you dig a little deeper into the report, there is another lesson to be learned: smart housing policies work and pay long-term dividends. 

According to the report, Massachusetts has one of the smallest affordability gaps in the country with 46 affordable homes per 100 ELI households, compared to a national average of 37.  Massachusetts ranks 14th of the 50 states.  The Boston MSA ranks third in the nation with the lowest affordability gap, just below Providence (whose MSA includes parts of Massachusetts) and Pittsburgh.  In Boston, we have 46 affordable homes for every 100 ELI households – a dire shortage. But in L.A., they have just 18!  Dallas has 20 and Phoenix has just 21.

How is it possible that one of the most expensive regions in the country is also the third best in the country in terms of providing actual affordable homes to ELI people?  Unlike many housing studies that show Massachusetts to be one of the worst states in the country when it comes to housing affordability, this study considers government subsidized apartments and other homes with rent or price restrictions.  In fact, this report recognizes the successful efforts of affordable housing advocates, organizers, policy makers, and developers, over many decades here in Massachusetts, to produce subsidized housing.  Policies like Chapter 40B (which encourages all cities and towns to provide their fair share of affordable housing), programs like state-supported public housing, and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program are making a real difference.   In the City of Boston, 20% of the housing stock has long term affordability restrictions and fully one-third of Boston’s rental housing has restricted rents. One-third!

Our success relative to other states and regions should not be an excuse for complacency. It should be viewed as a reason to do more, because investing in affordable housing really does make a difference,

I was reflecting on these lessons recently when I attended CEDAC’s 40th Anniversary Celebration where Mel King was honored for his legacy in launching the community development field, and again, a few days later, at a wonderful memorial service held to celebrate the life and legacy of Amy Anthony, Governor Dukakis’ Secretary of Housing and Community Development and the founder of Preservation of Affordable Housing.  As I listened to speakers reflect on their incredible legacies, I found myself thinking about the thousands of people whose lives are healthier and happier because of what they and so many others have done over the decades.  The NLIHC report affirms that their legacy lives on in the homes they – and we – helped to create. 

As an advocate, I know that we often rely on dire statistics to generate the political will needed to spur policy change. I also know that we must confront the pessimism and cynicism that says governmental action won’t help and could make things worse.  I hope the NLIHC Report can do both – give us the encouragement and confidence to overcome this negativity, while renewing our sense of urgency that we need to adopt an ambitious housing agenda to help the millions of Americans who remain housing insecure.

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MACDC Notebook Archive

March 19th, 2019 by John Fitterer
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