What happens when new housing production slows down and the majority of residences being developed are luxury apartments with sky-high prices? Well, affordable housing opportunities go out the window.
Chicago, Boston and Oakland are just a few cities out of many across the country that are seeing a severe decrease in affordable housing—but it’s not the cities that are suffering, it’s the residents.
In November, a Boston nonprofit offered 73 rental subsidy vouchers to those in need of affordable homes, and over 10,000 people applied, some homeless and others living in dismal situations.
Massachusetts is producing new housing slower than most other states in the U.S.; its homeless population is increasing faster than those in other states and its shelters are spread thin. A shocking 40 percent increase in homelessness in Massachusetts over the last seven years has left the state with 21,000 homeless residents.
Why is Affordable Housing Diminishing?
There are reasons beyond a lack of new developments that affordable housing is diminishing, though. In Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and other large cities, the lack of affordable living is being created by developers who are taking over single-room occupancy, or SRO, hotels and buildings that offer affordable housing to those can’t afford anything else.
They’re then turning these buildings into trendy luxury apartments (and calling them vintage) and then charging the young renters who want to live in them astronomically high rent prices.
So what’s happening to the current renters? A few landlords are doing anything and everything they can to get them out and make room for renters who can pay more. Landlords are raising rent prices, but some residents have even reported that their landlords are shutting off some utilities, refusing to fix maintenance issues and otherwise harassing them.
So What’s Being Done to Help Save Affordable Housing?
Chicago and Oakland both recently passed legislation to try to remedy the affordable housing situation: Chicago’s new law is hoping to protect SRO units, of which there are only about 6,000 left (in a city with more than 44,000 homeless people!).
Oakland’s is focused on protecting the tenants from harassment that could lead to them wanting to move out. The Oakland legislation was made to help tenants fight against 16 different types of abuse, including taking personal property away and failing to make repairs.
The legislation is far from flawless, though, with developers and other council members debating about which tenants and buildings the bill covers. It does not apply to buildings constructed within the last 15 years, for instance. But it does beg the question, what rights do tenants automatically have, and how can protecting tenant rights better help to increase affordable living situations?
Unfortunately, both pieces of legislation have a long way to go, and they likely won’t be able to turn the affordable housing issue around within the next couple of years. Many cities are quickly losing their affordable housing options, so only time will tell what is going to fix the situation.
Whether it’s several other cities enacting similar legislation, developers building brand new affordable housing buildings or some other solution, it’s clear that many cities need help.