Home is Where the Crisis is
Home is there for you. It is your haven. Your safe place. A place where you can sit back and relax. Spend time with loved ones. Recuperate. And start preparing for the next day.
But what if your home suddenly wasn’t safe? If you came back to a burglary? Or a flooded apartment? Or walls that were infested with termites?
How would you feel? And what would you do? Especially if this was the one place you could find refuge.
Now imagine if every time you came home, you had this sinking feeling, this premonition that something was wrong. If, instead of a flood or burglar or even a colony of termites, you always feared an even worse predicament: an eviction notice.
A National Epidemic
This is what it means to have housing insecurity. To not know where “home” is or will be.
Housing insecurity continues to be an important issue in the United States. In social science terms, housing insecurity refers to a “lack of security in an individual shelter that is the result of high housing costs relative to income, poor housing quality, unstable neighborhoods, overcrowding, and/or homelessness.”
It is an issue that continues to touch the most vulnerable populations of our society, including minorities, middle and low-income families, and younger members of our society.
According to a report from Harvard University, the average national income is insufficient to pay for average rent prices. Since 1960, renters’ median income has only gone up 5% while rent has increased by a whopping 61%. What this leads to is a significant cost-burden for those whose incomes have failed to keep up with rent hikes.
With so much financial capital tied up in rent, Americans have less available for other forms of equity like pension, retirement, investment, etc. Many who cannot afford to stay in their neighborhoods may have to move to poorer communities with fewer resources, worse schooling, and dangerous surroundings.
In addition to unaffordable housing, this report from Harvard University also shows the devastating effects of these rent hikes: homelessness. Researchers found that cities with the greatest rise in housing costs also had the greatest rise in homelessness. This demonstrates that our current predicament is not just the result of poor personal choices, but is instead a real consequence of the housing crisis.
To address this issue before it spirals out of control, we as a nation must put more time, energy, and money into creating affordable housing. This can take multiple forms, from increasing the housing budget to creating community land trusts to restricting unfair landlord practices.
By increasing our housing budget, we can start putting more money into creating affordable housing. For example, we can follow the lead of Washington, D.C. and set aside money for a Housing Preservation Fund. In addition, we can start making use of undeveloped land by building housing, parks, and other amenities, like Gary, Indiana did.
Community land trusts (CLTs) are another popular and cost-effective option. They allow developers to have control over a property for as long as 99 years, while allowing the landowner to keep the rights to the land. The “developers” in this case are usually groups dedicated to serving a community-oriented purpose like providing affordable housing or adding more green space.
For housing restrictions, we can look to New York and Toronto as examples. Similar to restaurants, the local governments in these cities have started giving ratings to apartment complexes based on certain factors. Criteria include cleanliness, landlord responsiveness, safety, etc. This puts the pressure on landlords who receive a low score to improve their offerings.
While housing insecurity continues to be a looming and widespread issue, we can start making reparations by coming together as a community to address it. Only then can we provide a helping hand to the millions of Americans who cannot afford to buy a home or invest in property, who spend more than 30% of their paycheck on rent, and who have to live every day with the worry that their rent could be increased or that they could be evicted without any notice.