Stable, Affordable Housing Key to Building a Middle Class

This week, a publication of the Harvard Joint Center for HousingStudies crossed our desks.  The articlelooked at the recently released “How Housing Matters” survey from the MacArthurFoundation, which identified a strong belief in the importance of stable,affordable housing to achieving a middle class lifestyle in the context oftheir own survey that will is soon to be released.  Through this lens several red flags areraised. 

The article states:

“Severalfindings resonate with our recent work at the Joint Center. As our forthcoming State of the Nation’s Housing report will show, the persistent problemof housing affordability continues to cause households to make difficulttrade-offs. Over half of survey respondents reported making sacrifices in thepast three years in order to pay for housing. The most common was to take on asecond job or work more hours. Worryingly, a number of other trade-offs bodeill for peoples’ futures: many respondents reported that they have stoppedsaving for retirement, are accumulating consumer debt, and are cutting back onfood and healthcare in order to meet housing costs. These stop-gap measures,necessary to ensure the rent or mortgage is paid, may add to financial andhealth strains later on. Renters, cost-burdened/distressed owners, youngeradults, minorities, lower-income respondents, and city-dwellers are most likelyto have made at least one trade-off in the past three years.

Thesurvey also explored beliefs about upward mobility and found that, particularlyfor those with lower incomes, stable, affordable housing or owning a home isseen as one of the most important factors in achieving a middle class lifestyle. But a majority think that findingquality, affordable housing in their own community to rent or buy ischallenging. And across age, race, and income levels, respondents expressedsignificant pessimism about the chances of rising from a lower economic classto the middle class, and believe it is harder for younger people today to savefor retirement, own a home, find stable, decent-paying employment, and have astable, affordable housing situation. Fully 79 percent think that middleclass people fall into a lower economic class more frequently than the otherway around.” (Emphasis is added)

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Our own local studies indicate that finding affordable housingis increasingly difficult for a growing number of people.  We see in our own programs that evictioncalls are up due to the inability of tenants to pay rent.  If tenants in trouble become homeless they likelyface three-six months of doubling up with family or entering a shelter.

Unfortunately, we help only a small group of those clientsthrough our Stable Family service.  However,what we know is our clients need about $3,500 in financial assistance and ninemonths of counseling to retain and stabilize their housing.   It isalso important to understand only one out of 10 people that participate inhomeownership readiness assessments are actually capable of eliminating creditissues and accumulating the savings to purchase a home within the next six months.  Even once they are ready to buy, thesepotential buyers then face a challenge of finding a home they can afford.  

So what does this mean?The dream of homeownership is just that for too many people.  We need to look at the data that is being collectedand rethink how we help those who want to own a home achieve this goal.

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