Adequate, affordable housing is a basic right that is critical for the well-being of individuals and families, it is recognized as a principle of international human rights law. Housing and community environments that meet the universal need for shelter, privacy, and positive social relationships are essential for stable family life, personal development, and health and safety. The lack of affordable and high-quality housing is associated with poverty, racism, and declining social capital as well as homelessness. (Press N.A.S.W., 2000)
In researching the social problem of adequate, affordable housing it becomes apparent that the history of public policy has helped contribute to current conditions. With each changing administration, policy has been amended to suit the views of the political party dominating government. Public programs and vouchers that are income-based have been funded and then funding is restricted compounding the cycle of poverty. Terms such as eminent domain and gentrification are explored further in the analysis but add to the perpetuating theme of discrimination towards the low-income, ethnically diverse populations that social workers are called to represent.
Currently there are 11.2 million extremely low-income (ELI) renter households, and they face acute shortage of housing options. For every one hundred extremely low-income renter households nationwide, there are only thirty-five affordable and available rental homes. Whereas some markets are more affordable than others, according to research, nowhere in the United States is there a sufficient supply of affordable housing. Extremely low-income renters (ELI) are defined as those whose household income are at or below the poverty level or thirty percent of their area median income. According to federal policy, the official threshold for affordability, is whether a family is paying thirty percent of its income on housing. A household that spends more than thirty percent of income on housing is considered housing cost burdened; spending more than fifty percent is considered severe housing cost burdened. The latest research shows that seventy-one percent of ELI renter households are severely cost burdened. Of those severely cost burdened ELI renter households, eighty-four percent are seniors, persons with disabilities, or are in the labor force. (National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 2018)
The research shows that families paying more than thirty percent of their income on housing costs have a shortage for other expenses. Children in these low-income families lacking affordable housing are more likely to suffer from under-development resulting from malnutrition and iron deficiencies compared with those living in subsidized, affordable housing. Adults show adverse emotional and psychological impacts of housing instability; difficulty in keeping up with house payments have been shown to lead to lower levels of psychological health and greater rates of engagement with medical systems. Residential instability, eviction, and doubling up induced by lack of affordability has also been linked to negative psychological outcomes. In the case of extreme instability homelessness, studies have documented the damaging psychological outcomes in both adults and children. Hypermobility can have negative effects on children; resulting in stress, behavioral problems, and poor performance in school. Frequent interruptions of education instruction make progressive learning difficult. Schools that serve a highly mobile student population and that take steps to respond to the needs of highly mobile students show slower overall rates of educational progress. (Goetz, 2015)
By the 1850’s, when massive job creation occurred in the cities and rural Americans and immigrants flooded the urban centers in great numbers, there was a critical housing shortage. Real estate developers were turning single family homes into subdivided living quarters; where one family had originally lived, now four and five crammed into every inch of the building.
Major crises related to housing led the United States government to initiate large-scale housing programs for low-and moderate-income Americans. President Hoover believed that insufficient housing would create a class system of tenants and landlords that would lead to widespread discontent and even possibly revolution. (Martens, 2009)
The New Deal initiatives that came with the Roosevelt administration brought with it more attempts at policy for affordable housing. Initially, the projects were well received by the public because they were well built and neighborhood friendly; integrating families of differing socioeconomic status because there was not an eligibility based on income. Catherine Bauer, a powerful visionary that worked behind the scenes of the housing movement in the 1930’s believed that housing created solely for poor people, built in isolation from the fabric of the neighborhood, and administered in a top-down government program would be politically unpopular. Bauer argued for a large-scale housing program created by non-profits and cooperatives, separated from commercial investments, and designed using an architectural style that would allow for a mixed income community. Bauer was an early advocate of a multi-family approach in which amenities could be shared by entire communities and efficiencies in construction and development would deliver affordability to all. Bauer teamed with political figures and made may attempts but ultimately what came next was the U.S. Housing Act. From that legislation, three significant compromises set the stage for what we see today; that public housing be eligible only to low-income families, that public housing’s cost be limited, and that the creation of new housing be tied to the clearance of existing highlighted properties. (Martens, 2009)
More recently, with the use of eminent domain and gentrification, affordable housing goals seem further out of reach. According to research, the link between eminent domain and affordable housing reveals a long history of cities use of their eminent domain power to advance development projects that rarely include affordable housing.
When cities condemn property through eminent domain to further new development projects, they often do so in a manner that undermines many of the goals of building more affordable housing. Condemned properties are almost always located in poor neighborhoods, many of which are populated by ethnic minority groups. Use of eminent domain in this manner directly benefits the wealthy and powerful at the expense of poor and often ethnic minority communities, compounding the concern that eminent domain will become an even more powerful land use tool of the elite at the expense of the poor. (Parlow, 2006)
One such example of eminent domain is the former Chavez Ravine, located in Los Angeles. During the 1950’s; 300 acres which was home to generations of Mexican-Americans that included homes, churches, schools, and even small farms were taken from residents. Essentially, the city used it power of eminent domain to gain the property with the promise of thousands of affordable housing units. After a new administration was elected, the city negotiated a deal with the federal government to abandon the public housing project with the stipulation that the nearly vacant land be used for public use. Public use is defined as public ownership or in the least public access such as a post office, airport, or highway. The land is now home to Dodger’s Stadium. The wealthy elite in the city, developers and other political powerful insiders saw an opportunity for their own financial gain and the city’s vitality through a different use of the property. (Parlow, 2006)
Gentrification is defined as an upgrading of a geographical space to reflect middle class values. It is a key redevelopment process that has gained popularity in the Denver area. Gentrification is described as a gradual process that happens over time, it involves middle-class moving into marginal, economically depressed areas, buying up real estate and renovating. In the process, as property values are raised; lower class households are historically displaced. According to the article, Gentrification Critics Demand To Be Heard As Denver Developers Ride The Boom, gentrification is bringing social justice issues such as housing affordability, the criminal justice system, and cultural preservation front and center. A Gentrification Summit was the topic of the article, in which recent events of community unrest were highlighted. The article stated that community participants are advocating for thoughtful integrating of new businesses and renovations that will preserve cultural aspects of the neighborhood.
According to Paul Kivel (Kivel, 2000), the current economic pyramid has the top one percent of the population controlling about forty-seven percent of the net financial wealth, and the next nineteen percent controlling the additional forty-four percent of the net financial wealth, with the remaining eighty percent of the population to share the just nine percent of the remaining resources. Kivel analyzes that among the eighty percent at the base of the pyramid, there is a huge disparity between standards of living. This thought process is clear when taking into consideration the ELI renter households that are severely cost burdened, who fall in the base of this economic pyramid while the developers, corporate executives, and policy makers fall in the top one percent of the economic pyramid. Kivel states that the eighty percent, produces the social wealth that those at the top benefit from while being caught up in cycles of competition, scarcity, violence, and insecurity that those at the top are largely protected from. (Kivel, 2000)
In evaluating community practice models, looking at the social exchange theory, which is built on the operant conditioning aspects of social learning theory and an economic view of human relationships as concerned with maximization of rewards or profits and minimization of punishments or cost. Exchange theory underlies such skills as bargaining, negotiating, advocating, networking, and marketing; all of which are needed for the interventions that are discussed below. (Hardcastle, Powers, and Wenocur, 2004)
Matthew Parlow (Parlow, 2006) suggested that legislation could force private developers who gained land from the cities exercise of its eminent domain power to provide, at a minimum, the same number of affordable housing units that were eliminated due to condemnation. Such a law would force developers to replace affordable housing units on a one-to-one basis and prevent reduction in the supply of affordable housing, although it would not, by itself, keep up with increasing demand. (Parlow, 2006)
Research has also shown that on a Macro Level, Concurrency offers a different approach because it makes provision of affordable housing an explicit responsibility of local governments, with such responsibility tied to a local comprehensive plan prepared under a set of rules and regulations established by the state. The concept of concurrency is to provide public facilities to support new development and is based on tying the comprehensive plan to implementation at the local, regional, and state levels. Concurrency for affordable housing would thus incorporate many of the requirements of other forms of regulation. The local standards for the level of affordable housing could be based on a fair share allocation or other forms of needs assessment conducted at the regional or state level. (Smith and Steiner, 2002)
Community Benefit Agreements could ensure that developers who gain property for development through a city’s exercise of eminent domain build affordable housing. Community benefit agreements are legally binding contracts between a developer and a coalition of community representatives. The developer negotiates with community representatives to identify a series of concessions that the developer will provide to the community in exchange for the community’s support for the project as it goes through the political and land use approval process. Through these agreements, communities in need of more affordable housing units can prioritize the type of concession in negotiating with developers and can even actively enforce the building of such units. (Parlow, 2006) Jurisdictions could facilitate affordable housing developments through expedited permitting, higher densities, lesser requirements on infrastructure, lot assembly, waiver of permit and impact fees, and accessory apartments and other land use types. (Smith and Steiner, 2002)
Inclusionary Zoning or Inclusionary laws require developers to build and offer a certain percentage of affordable housing units when they build many market-rate homes in a redevelopment area, whether the city uses eminent domain or not to advance the project. In this way, if affordable housing units are taken off the market through the exercise of eminent domain, a developer receiving condemned property would have to build a certain percentage of housing units at an affordable level. (Parlow, 2006)
Housing is both a necessity and a commodity that has a powerful impact on the quality of life across the life span. The availability and affordability of a sequence of housing options is critical to the domain of life satisfaction. Being properly sheltered correlates with mental health and well-being. According to research on health and housing, factors of housing quality have the potential to help or harm health in major ways. Unfortunately, where people live or the absence of a place to live is too often determined by factors of race, income, and ethnicity. Therefore, social justice, a foundational value of the social work profession, is woven into the fabric of housing and must be a strong consideration throughout the life span in improving the human condition by preventing the loss of housing, lack of access to housing, and social isolation. (Press, N.A.S.W., 2000)
In analyzing the research, there does not seem to be a clear stated solution that has worked to bring lasting balance to the severely cost burdened ELI renter households that struggle to procure and maintain adequate, affordable housing. Cities are tasked with creating revenue to support social services that meet the needs of ELI renter households by bringing large employers to the area or creating tourist attractions that are often procured through eminent domain powers that displace these same residents which adds to the cycle of need for ELI renter households. Federal policy is often swayed by lobby groups that, acting in the best interest of the one percent adds to the need of the ELI renter households. The consequences of the lack of adequate, affordable housing discussed in the historical analysis also brings the issue back to relevancy in social work.
In Denver, with the boom of economic growth and legalization of marijuana creating an additional source of revenue, city officials have been able to recently create a local housing fund. According to the City and County of Denver website, the new housing fund will be used to create and preserve housing for households across a wide income spectrum, including people experiencing homelessness and the most severe households. The funds are said to support permanent housing and supportive services for at-risk residents, low- and moderate-income workforce rental housing, and moderate income for-sale housing. With about sixty-one percent of Denver households earning less than $50,000 and paying more than the federal threshold of thirty percent on housing costs; the housing fund is sure to provide some relief. The local fund is proposed to generate $150 million over ten years to support affordable housing and preservation. (Denver Office of Economic Development, 2018)
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