October 28, 2015
California Dreamin’ of Affordable Housing
Yesterday, I blogged about the affordable housing crisis in New York City. Today, I look at a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, How Housing Vouchers Can Help Address California’s Rental Crisis. It opens,
California’s severe shortage of affordable housing has hit low-income renters particularly hard. Nearly 1.6 million low-income California renter households paid more than half of their income for housing in 2013, and this number has risen 28 percent since 2007. While the shortage is most severe on California’s coast, many families throughout California struggle to pay the rent. A multifaceted approach with roles for local, state, and federal governments is needed to address the severe affordable housing shortage, but the federal Housing Choice Voucher program can play an outsized role.
California’s high housing costs stretch struggling families’ budgets, deepening poverty and hardship and exacerbating a host of other problems. For example, 23 percent of Californians are poor, according to Census measures that take housing costs into account, well above the poverty rate of 16 percent under the official poverty measure. California has 14 percent of the nation’s renter households but nearly 30 percent of the overcrowded renters. And California has one-fifth of the nation’s homeless people, more than any other state. A large body of research shows that poverty, overcrowding, housing instability, and homelessness can impair children’s health and development and undermine their chances of success in school and later in the workforce.
Housing vouchers help some 300,000 low-income California families afford the rent, more than all other state and federal rental assistance programs combined. Vouchers reduce poverty, homelessness, and housing instability. They can also help low-income families — particularly African American and Hispanic families — raise their children in safer, lower-poverty communities and avoid neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Moreover, so-called “project-based” vouchers can help finance the construction of affordable rental housing in areas with severe shortages.
Yet the number of vouchers in use has fallen in recent years, even as California’s housing affordability problems have worsened. Due to across-the-board federal budget cuts enacted in 2013 (called sequestration), 14,620 fewer California families used vouchers in December 2014 than in December 2012. By restoring funding for these vouchers, Congress can enable thousands more California families to afford safe, stable housing. (1, reference omitted)
Really, the analysis here is not California-specific. The authors are arguing that low-income families benefit greatly from rental subsidies and that Congress should restore funding for housing vouchers because they provide targeted, effective assistance to their users. While California has a high concentration of voucher users, all low-income renter households would benefit from an increase in the number of housing vouchers. No argument there.
I am disappointed that the report does not address an issue that I highlighted yesterday — attractive places like NYC and California continue to draw a range of people from global elites to low-income strivers. Policymakers cannot think of the affordable housing problems in such places as one that can be “fixed.” Rather, it must be seen as, to a large extent, a symptom of success.
So long as more and more people want to live in such places, housing costs will pose a challenge. Housing costs can be mitigated to some extent in hot destinations, but they are hard to solve. And if they are to be solved, those destinations must be willing to increase density to build enough units to house all the people who want to live there.| Permalink