Affordable Housing Experts Seek Solutions to Nationwide Problem

This is one of several Solutions Journalism stories published through a Grady capstone course that reported on housing issues during the fall of 2018.

According to Monroe Group, there is not a single county in the United States that can fill 100 percent of its low-income population’s need for safe, affordable housing.

While there are more than 11 million extremely low income households, there are only about 5.5 million available units, according to the Urban Institute.

Robert Silverman, an affordable housing advocate and professor at the University of Buffalo, is involved in a study to make recommendations for where the government should place affordable housing in 10 of the fastest-shrinking U.S. cities.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: There are not enough available units for the amount of households that require affordable housing according to Monroe Group. Also, people may have misconceptions on how affordable housing works.  

While affordable housing continues to be an issue, Silverman said there are still misconceptions about it.

“It may be a general misconception that there is adequate supply of affordable housing, but many households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing,” Silverman said.

Silverman also said affordable housing is not an entitlement.

“Also, there is a general misconception that affordable housing is an entitlement, and that most subsidized units are in public housing. Today, the largest subsidized housing program is the Section 8 voucher program, that subsidized rents that voucher holders received. In most cities the waiting list to get a voucher is several years,” he said.

Mariel Sivley, the executive director for Georgia Supportive Housing Association, said supportive housing and affordable work hand in hand.

“Supportive housing is affordable housing with services provided that enable people to live in the community and thrive. It is not a poorly run boarding house or an unlicensed personal care home. It is generally very affordable rental housing linked to services like case management, health care, and workforce development,” Sivley said.

Sivley sees different organizations and agencies working together as the solution.

“The most viable solutions are partnerships between health providers, housing providers, nonprofits, and government agencies with housing seen as an important part of healthcare. The complex social, medical, behavioral, and long-term care needs of consumers being considered with a long lens, using data and evidence-based practices,” Sivley said.

Sivley does see the limitations of this solution, however.

“The challenges include decreasing affordable rental stock, stigma associated with clients with complex issues, discriminatory zoning laws, lack of prioritization of funds for supportive housing, and lack of healthcare expansion in Georgia,” Sivley said.

Policy is limiting what affordable housing solutions can do according to Silverman.

“The biggest problem is the cost of housing and the difference between rents and what low-income people can afford. The most viable solution is to give low-income households rent subsidies and bigger tax deductions and credits if they own homes. Unfortunately, public policy is moving in the opposite direction,” Silverman said.

Only 35 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Silverman said the government is not providing assistance.

“Most subsidized housing is part of the section 8 voucher program now, but that program is very underfunded and there is little support in Congress and the White House to increase funding. Also, for homeowners, the loss of SALT (state and local tax deductions) had effectively increased the cost of housing across the board, particularly in higher taxed states and localities, since property tax deductions are capped,” Silverman said.

Silverman suggested that the solution for some low-income households might be to move to another city, if there is no other way.

“If people can’t get access to government resources, which is the situation for most low-income households, there are few options other than moving out of poor areas, areas with poor services and a lower quality of life, and/or areas where the cost of housing is relatively more expensive,” Silverman said.

Trevon Johnson is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.