Affordable Housing: Is it a Misnomer
We hear the phrase ???affordable housing??? and suppose that we know the actual meaning of the term. Wikipedia defines ???Affordable housing??™ as a term used to describe dwelling units whose total housing costs are deemed “affordable” to those that have a median income.??™ But what exactly is affordable The answer to that question would depend on with whom you speak. And, I would imagine, where you live. [Where is your thesis statement]
I understand that our governments (local, state, and federal) have all been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of affordable housing. And this has been an on-going problem, not only in Vermont but all over the country. In my research, I have found several articles dating the year 2001. But as there are various ???definitions??? of affordable housing, the things that actually define the core of the situation are just as varied. Things like rent versus income, minimum wage, housing standards, and so many other things are really what cause ???affordable housing??? to be not so affordable.
In some areas, like Chicago, the ???solution??? to affordable housing is tenancies where all the individuals and families are in ???projects.??? Cabrini-Green comes to mind. This was place where you wouldn??™t even know if your children would make it safely from the bus to the front door, at times, parents had to wonder as they sat in their living room if they were even safe. Cabrini-Green was an area run rampant with poverty and crime. It was also an area where drugs and gangs run so rampant that people felt that one of these two ???methods??? were their only options on how to live their lives. Thankfully, Cabrini-Green (the affordable housing site in Chicago) was torn down in recent years to pave the way for ???mixed-income??? housing. The Chicago Housing Authority (that ran Cabrini-Green and was also responsible for the renovation of the area) has now opted for incomes of all levels. Some of those that could not afford ???higher level??? housing just may become homeless due to inability to pay for their rental housing.
But we do have other areas, like our own rural Vermont, where gangs don??™t run rampant, and drugs aren??™t as prevalent as areas like Chicago neighborhoods. That??™s not to say that those things don??™t exist in our state. I would have to be completely naive to think it doesn??™t exist. It??™s just not as prevalent in our state as in others. Issues in Vermont are different. We have downsizing and businesses closing completely. This is causing those that used to be able to afford their rents/mortgages to suffer. It??™s people that never asked for any help and pride isn??™t allowing most of them to ask now. Even if they are asking for help, it??™s very difficult.
Most of the problem that I see is that ???affordable??? doesn??™t coincide with income. People used to plan on one-fourth of their monthly income going to rent or a mortgage. I remember my parents explaining this to me in my teens when I wanted to get my own apartment. These days, a person??™s rent or mortgage is about half their income; with food being the other major expense for the month. Even someone with a decent income (well above 200% of poverty) struggles with the day-to-day necessities. But for those not even scraping by because they make minimum wage, the struggle to stay afloat and maintain a roof over their family??™s heads is a huge undertaking. And heaven forbid they have kids under ???school age??? because then they have exorbitant childcare costs that ensue as well. And let??™s not get into the costs of some kind of transportation. People would have the monthly payment on the vehicle AND insurance for the vehicle plus routine maintenance (which up here in Vermont includes changing tires twice per year, annual registration/tag fees with a safety inspection cost on top of that.)
I understand all of these costs hitting our population with great difficulties. But at the same time, I understand why landlords can??™t lower the rents as well to make things more ???affordable.???
A reason like the mortgage is one costs involved, which we would all expect. They have to pay the mortgage just as we have to pay our rent or mortgage. But they have tenants skip out on the rent owing them quite a bit of money. To try to pursue a tenant skipping out would cost a landlord more than it??™s worth. Just to pursue an eviction can cost a landlord about $2500. If the landlord has only one building or unit for rent, it??™s just not feasible for them to do this. And I would be remiss in not stating that a landlord also has to maintain insurance on their building—More money that they just don??™t have.
Another cost to landlords is the Vermont Landlord Association. That cost is $185. After speaking to a landlord who has only one building for rental, she told me it??™s just not worth the cost and others simply cannot afford to pay that $185 per year fee for the association. Would it be worth $185 per year if you have only one unit for rental I don??™t think so.
Tenants want the landlord to make sure the building is kept up properly. Well, that??™s all well and good if every one of the tenants paid their rent. In a perfect world, that would happen. But in reality, we all know someone who hasn??™t paid all the owed a landlord at one time or another.
I see more and more landlords not including utility costs in the rents these days. Skipping out on the rent is one reason for this; another is the costs of rising utilities year after year. And then we have those qualifying for seasonal fuel assistance. Many of those people don??™t realize that even though they rent from someone, they may still qualify for seasonal fuel assistance. Applying for this would help landlords out immensely, but some people don??™t see it that way or just don??™t understand it.
One of the biggest things I see lately regarding ???affordable housing??? is the fact that people don??™t know how to do without anymore. Parents and grandparents who grew up in the depression understand how to do without all too well. The shelter manager for Northeast Kingdom Community Action has only the basic phone line, basic cable, and only very basic internet connection.
I have noticed that younger generations have a tendency to feel entitled to things like cell phones, satellite television and internet. But if a family cannot afford those things, they should really do without. I know for a fact, I carry one of the smallest packages for satellite television. We all understand there are areas that you can only get satellite, there??™s no cable where they??™re located (I??™m one of these types.) but you don??™t have to get all the movie channels or the largest package the company has available. And my telephone, the very smallest package with long distance. (And the only reason I have that is so that my children can reach their father who lives in Florida.) My car is ten years old. I won??™t be getting a new one any time soon either. I would rather do without the cell phone than have my kids do without a roof over their heads. I would rather not have a movie channels (especially as they only show the same movies that are released already at the video store three months earlier), than have my kids not eat.
So where does that leave us It leaves the topic of affordable housing as a struggle our country has been dealing with for many, many years. It leaves our country with something we just can??™t shove under the carpet and hope it goes away. It is something we all want to resolve but the issues on both sides have a gap wider than the planet. I do not think this is anything that can be resolved in the next few years. Maybe with some compassion on both sides of the argument, one day, it will find resolution. Maybe with Obama as president, something will happen soon. But for now, I??™ll just straddle the fence understanding both sides of the coin.
Hevesi, Dennis. “Cracks in the pillar of affordable housing.” 18 Nov. 2001. New York Times. Web. .
Rathke, Lisa. “Http://www.latimes.com/business/nationworld/wire/sns-ap-us-hunger-in-vermont,0,7801641.story.” Print.
Tanner, Jane. “Affordable Housing: Is There a Serious Shortage” Congressional Quarterly Researcher 11.5 (2001). Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Nov. 2009. .
“Affordable Housing in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont Gets $3.0 Million Infusion.” PR Newswire 25 Nov. 2009. Professional Collection. Web. 27 Nov. 2009. .