It’s easy to become bogged down by the challenges and demands of our day-to-day lives: grocery shopping, navigating snowy streets, finding a place to park in a crowded lot, juggling conflicting social and work events. But I am reminded that these are “first world problems,” the ones that plague me because I don’t have more pressing concerns. I have a wonderful home that I can afford to live in.
Many of our neighbors must instead choose between paying high housing costs and other necessities, like food, heat and health care. Today in Connecticut, one of every four working households (129,000 families) pays at least half of their income on their housing costs. For extremely low-income households – those earning about 30 percent of the area’s median income or less — the percentage is a shocking 61 percent, or 77,425 households. That’s a lot of people who face difficult choices every day. That’s a lot of families that are just one medical bill or job loss away from losing their homes.
In a Dec. 4 speech, President Obama declared income inequality to be “the defining challenge of our time.” Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in housing.
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released a report titled “America’s Rental Housing: Evolving Markets and Needs,” which states that, since 2001, the number of renters with extremely low incomes has increased by 3 million nationwide, while the supply of affordable housing has remained virtually unchanged. The private market simply does not meet the need for housing for about one in every four families.
Significantly, Gov. Malloy and the state legislature have allocated considerable funds to build and renovate affordable housing — $500 million to be used over the next 10 years.
But federal cuts to housing programs have, for years, offset many of the gains made at the state level. The National Housing Trust Fund, authorized with so much promise in 2008, has never been funded. Local opposition or NIMBY-ism (not in my back yard) continues to block development and opportunity for new affordable housing.
But we should remember that there is a “triple bottom line” associated with creating affordable housing: new jobs through construction, additional local revenues generated through new taxes, and more disposable income available to the people who live in the housing. And that’s good for Connecticut.
Increasing Connecticut’s supply of affordable housing should be at the top of everyone’s 2014 “to do” list. We need to collectively commit to advancing affordability in housing, and especially to creating and preserving housing for those who can least afford it.
We need to reach a little deeper to include units for extremely low-income families in the housing we create, and to preserve affordability when we revitalize our precious existing housing stock. We must work to expand access to housing so that families at all income levels can experience the stability of an affordable home and participate fully in the communities in which they live.
Betsy Crum is executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition (www.ct-housing.org).