2014-01-03 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Housing: Out With The Old And In With The New
By Travis Aiello

The United States needs to transform its housing assistance program to the European style known as Social Housing.

Public housing has supplied poor and low-income families with economic stability since the 1930’s. Similarly, the Housing Development Act, often referred to as Section 8, has allowed millions of families to live above the poverty line over the years.Despite their past success, these housing programs have become ineffective. It is crucial that we consider going in a new direction in affordable housing.

To remedy the increase in housing costs, decrease in available housing units, and stigma surrounding public housing, we must fully establish and embrace social housing.

Social housing has proven to be successful in Europe, in England, Scotland, Denmark and Austria. Social housing is like public housing because it is financed by the government but it may be owned and managed either by the state or non-profit organizations. Social housing not only serves low-income households but also the middle class, which virtually would eliminate the majority of the socioeconomic issues that surround our current public housing.

There is a large percentage of hardworking Americans that struggle to break even, while their housing cost rise. Even though our economy depends on these wage earners, our society does not do enough to support these workers; we need to make sure that they have the comfort of living in decent affordable housing. It is a shame that a person working fulltime and making minimum wage cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

Rent increases affect lower-income households closer to the middle class. Families once able to live on their own without housing assistance are being forced out of their apartments. Some of these families now live in inadequate units not sufficient in size.

The rest have become part of the low-income category and have to rely on housing assistance to stay afloat.

Imagine a couple with three children living in New York City. They make a decent $45,000 a year (more than minimum wage) but their monthly rent that was already difficult to pay at $1,300 has now been raised to $1,700. Their rent is now $20,400 for the year, which is 45 percent of your family’s income. Not much financial flexibility to pay for food, health insurance, taxes, and utilities.

For years the number of individuals eligible for public housing has exceeded the number of available units. According to Robert Holly of CU-CitizenAcess.org, there are 10.1 million low-income households in America but only 3 million have affordable homes. Leaving 7.1 million families in the cold and many are forced to live in apartments that they simply cannot afford. They spend more than 50 percent of their earnings on their housing and as a result they are left in complete financial turmoil.

The new cuts known as “sequestration,” will force state and local housing agencies to cut 140,000 supported units by the beginning of 2014. Thousands of low-income families using Housing Choice Vouchers face a sharp rise in rent. To add insult to injury, many subsidized owners have not renewed their contracts and are changing their apartments into higher rent units.

Social housing caters to both lower income families and the middle class and this can alleviate the negative stigma attached to public housing since its inception.

This stigma is mostly attributed to the fact that the housing was poorly constructed in areas filled with poverty and crime. Thanks to the Margert Community Corporation, steps have been taken to correct this issue and companies have begun to develop affordable housing units in nice areas.

For instance, in Phase II of the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area Project 142 newly affordable housing units have been built along Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. The project comprises of about 82 single family and 30 two family houses. The homes are arranged in detached, semidetached and fully attached configurations.

If housing became nationally accepted by the middle class, there would be more and better areas that would host subsidized homes.

This would help alleviate the stigma behind public housing and help increase the number of available housing units. As a result less families would be homeless, which would prove social housing to be much more efficient than our current housing programs.

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