Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 16, 2015

America’s Rental Housing

By David Reiss

Shahnaz Maqbool

Harvard Kennedy School Littauer Building

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has issued America’s Rental Housing: Expanding Options for Diverse and Growing Demand. The report concludes,

The need for rental housing that low- and moderate-income households can afford is already great and growing. Although multifamily construction is booming, most new rentals are targeted to the high end of the market. And with the huge millennial population poised to enter the housing market, the pressure on rents will only increase.

The strained political climate and caps on nondefense discretionary spending have held down appropriations for federal rental assistance programs. Recognizing these limitations, the federal government has made new efforts to integrate affordable housing, healthcare, and supportive services for the most vulnerable households, including the working poor and older adults with chronic health conditions and disabilities.

There is broad recognition that neighborhood quality directly shapes the economic opportunities available to low-income renters. Indeed, increasing the access to communities with good-quality schools, low crime rates, and proximity to employment and transit can result in better economic outcomes for both parents and children. Improvements to existing rental assistance programs would help more low-income households find homes in a broader range of neighborhoods. At the same time, however, developing new rental housing in disadvantaged communities can be an important means for fostering neighborhood revitalization.

Each of these policy issues deserves attention and debate. While specific solutions vary across markets, the ultimate goal must be to ensure that the nation’s rental housing stock meets the needs of the diverse renter population and that America’s communities are inclusive of all households. (36)

These conclusions are most certainly correct, although they may not be giving the process of filtering its full due. If there were to be a dramatic increase in the total supply of housing, it would lower its average cost, all other things being equal.

I must conclude this post with my constant refrain about the Joint Center’s publications: they fail to adequately disclose their funders. Readers would want to know that the funders for this publication include lots of companies that stand to benefit from an increase in production in multifamily housing, such as builders, construction supply companies and financial institutions.


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