Archive | May 2009

The Politics of Affordable Housing

One of my goals during my term as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer has been to increase the availability of affordable housing, specifically for persons with disabilities. Since last June, I’ve come to realize that the task is simply too large for one person to tackle, especially without the ability to engage in the political realm. And believe me, involving myself in politics is not something I look at with anticipation.

I’ve skimmed through many books on the topic of housing over the past several months, and many scholars have their theories about why affordable housing is such a problem, and what it would take to supply the need. Government officials have tried to regulate many different aspects of the process, including specialized zoning, tax revenue sharing, and incentives for developers of affordable housing, among other things. Yet, many years after the word “sprawl” has become commonplace, the need for affordable housing is nowhere near being met. In fact, one statistic explains that, at the current rate of new home construction, if one in ten of those new homes were considered affordable, it would still take 160 years to meet the affordability needs of families in this country. That’s a pretty staggering number in my book, and I simply don’t think we have that long to wait.

One of the primary political barriers to increasing affordable housing is the base of voters electing these officials into office. Consider this: if a person runs for some government office and suggests in his/her platform that homes for lower-income families be sprinkled into your existing neighborhood of middle-income to upper-income homes, would you vote for this person? What about if this candidate suggests that no more homes could be built outside the current suburban borders? Or if he/she planned to limit new construction to primarily higher-density projects, such as condominiums and townhouses? Would you vote for him/her then?

I’m not necessarily advocating that these are the best solutions to the affordable housing problem. In fact, I would very well predict that limiting new home construction to inner city areas could potentially inflate home prices in that area beyond the reach of many families, perpetuating the unaffordability of homes. Even in Downtown Waco, an urban core that still has a lot of growth to do, the newest two-bedroom condominiums are renting in the area of $1500 per month, more than double the market rate for a similar apartment elsewhere in Waco.

Truthfully, no one wants to vote for a candidate that’s gonna make life cost more for us. I realize that. Yet, there are families in sub-standard housing everywhere just begging for a decent place that they won’t have to pay half their income to live in. What would this place look like if life were more affordable for more families?