GIVE HOUSING A VOICE: TOOLKIT FOR RENTERS

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Overview:  The U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 43 million Americans rent in 2017, doubling in rate compared to decades ago.  According to the newly released America’s Rental Housing 2017, these growing numbers of renters are looking at an unequal housing market where affordability is increasing and the stock of affordable homes and housing assistance are decreasing.  While there are programs available, the NLIHC argues that the tools the federal government has to help low-income households are not being utilized.  In the absence of federal help, state and local governments can attempt to address funding for rental assistance.  As for a more permanent solution to this growing problem, major federal investment should be directed towards affordable housing through organizations such as the National Housing Trust Fund and rental assistance programs like Section 8 vouchers.

Talking Points on Rental Housing Affordability and Availability

Shortage of Affordable and Available Rental Housing

The National Low Income Hous

ing Coalition (NLIHC) has released an annual report calculating the discrepancy between available affordable housing units and renters who earn below the poverty line or 30 percent of the area median.  Last year, they found that for every 100 households categorized as extremely low income (ELI), only 35 affordable rental homes are available—a shortage of over 7 million affordable and available homes.  The shortage of affordable rental housing is in part due to an influx of higher income households relocating into more affordable homes.

Gap between Working Wages and Housing Costs

Against a backdrop of rising rents, low-income households have seen more and more of their incomes go to their property owners. Today wages are simply unable to meet this rising costs of housing, as a result the majority of renter households are cost-burdened.  Data shows that nearly 10 million ELI renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent; of those, 8 million are considered severely cost burdened, forced to spend more than half.  Individuals and families are forced to make budget cuts; they spend less on food and transportation and even less on healthcare for seniors and for their children.  Unpaid rent and utility costs put families and individuals at risk for eviction, which can turn into a vicious cycle.  Housing instability not only causes economic distress, but also takes a psychological toll on a cost-burdened renter, which makes affording the costs of housing even more difficult.  Families and individuals often spiral into extended periods of homelessness if they are unable to pay their housing costs or maintain housing stability. 

Demographics of Low-Income Rental Households

Vulnerable populations such as seniors, disabled people, and families with children are overrepresented among extremely low-income renters. The NLIHC found that only a quarter of all ELI households are “non-disabled non-seniors with no children.”  There are many racial and ethnic disparities when comparing representations among extremely low-income renters because differences in income tend to be drawn across racial lines, African-American and Hispanic residents make up much of the ELI population: 35 percent of ELI renters are black, and 29 percent are Hispanic.

Rental Assistance

The number of renters struggling to afford housing has far outpaced the expansion of rental assistance in recent decades.  However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does offer programs such as privately owned subsidized housing, public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) to help low-income people find affordable rental housing. With privately owned subsidized housing, the HUD helps apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants. Public Housing provides affordable apartments for low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)  allows individuals and families to find their own housing and use the voucher to pay for all or part of the rent.  One can apply for these programs by contacting a public housing agency. 

Strategies

1) Share your own story.  Talking from your own personal experience is powerful.

2) Educate the public about the realities of the risks they fear.  Share the facts and not the argument.  

3) Market the proposal in a more attractive manner.  Present a case for affordable housing that proves its value to the community and share evidence showing the lack of negative externalities.  

Resources

America’s Rental Housing 2017 (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University)

Low-Income Housing Guides for Renters  (Affordable Housing Online)

Find Affordable Rental Housing (USA.gov)

For Low-Income Renters, the Affordable Housing Gap Persists (CityLab)

NYHousingSearch.gov

Rental Assistance (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Rental Housing (NYS Homes and Community Renewal)

State of U.S. Rental Market: Rich get more options, poor suffer affordability crisis (Curbed)

 

“Renters” Success Stories

Gabriel Delgado, Stuyvesant Resident

Holly C., writer-poet (Lace Mill resident-artist)

Local Artist Finds Solace in Lace Mill, Continues on Artistic Journey Despite Setbacks (Dawn Bisio, Lace MIll resident-artist)

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