The United States has been struggling through an affordable housing crisis since about 2019. The origin of the problem stretches back to the 2007–2008 financial crisis, which triggered a period of significant “underbuilding” of housing units that continued into the 2000-teens. This resulted in a gap between the number of homes for sale and the number of potential home buyers in the United States.
The gap is estimated to be somewhere between 3.8 million and 5.5 million housing units, meaning that many families and individuals in the United States are currently unable to secure housing, and the housing that is available is very expensive.
So, are there ideas or solutions out there to alleviate this crisis? Yes, some new and innovative ideas have been advanced, and in this article, we’ll take a look at a few of them.
In a recent opinion piece published by CNN Business, Janneke Ratcliffe (vice president for the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute) suggests that one solution to the crisis is incentivizing the construction of homes for first-time home buyers. She says these incentives could take many forms, “from federal supports and subsidies to better terms on construction lending, to fewer local regulations and restrictions that significantly add to building costs.” Ratcliffe states that improving lending terms for purchasing condominiums, manufactured homes, and older existing homes would also help first-time home buyers.
Some solutions are slightly more radical than tinkering with construction and lending terms. In an article published by tech news site Fast Company, James Stockard (former commissioner of the Cambridge (Mass.) Housing Authority) has this take: “If we really want to solve the housing problem in this country, we have to get as much of the private housing stock as we can out of the hands of for-profit owners and turn it over to nonprofit owners and public owners.” In other words, cities, housing authorities, and nonprofit organizations should be buying up property and offering it to those most in need.
Furthermore, Stockard suggests that municipal housing authorities, which provide millions of Americans with low-cost housing, should be freed up to be more creative in their efforts to increase the number of housing units they can develop. “There is no question that housing operated well by a public agency or by a nonprofit body is less expensive than housing operated by a for-profit organization,” said Stockard.
An article published by The Conversation agrees that simply building additional housing units will not help those hardest hit by the crisis–low incomes families and individuals. The article explains that “in much of the country, there is actually no shortage of rental housing. The problem is that millions of people lack the income to afford what’s on the market.”
Approximately 45 percent of renters in the United States spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. This number is significant because 30 percent is the widely recognized level for affordable housing. Those who spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing are considered “cost leveraged” and are financially hampered.
Experts seem to agree that the housing gap and housing costs will likely subside eventually. The number of homes for sale may in fact increase noticeably during the summer of 2022. However, as demonstrated the crisis is more complex than a mere housing shortage, and the affordability crisis is likely to continue, or at least linger, for several more years.