An affordable housing crisis looms despite cranes soaring over the skylines of U.S. cities. According to a Harvard University report, nearly 21 million households pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, and nearly 11 million of those pay more than 50 percent of their take-home pay.
Though many city governments tout the need for more more affordable housing, policies to effect change are elusive.
In the nation’s largest cities—from No. 1 New York to No. 151 Salem, Ore.—a shortage of affordable housing exists even after 2017 apartment building completions skyrocketed by 46 percent since the previous year, MSN reported.
The Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies found renters “in all markets face affordability challenges,” according to its 2017 report, America’s Rental Housing.
“While the market has responded to rental housing needs for higher-income households, there are alarming trends that suggest a growing inability to supply housing that is affordable for middle- and working-class renters,” said Christopher Herbert, the center’s managing director.
Many development costs are nearly the same for high- and low-end buildings. But spikes in the cost of labor, land, and lumber have pushed developers to build luxury units instead of affordable housing. Developers say only luxury apartments command the rental rates that will make new housing developments break even.
Residents of North Charleston, S.C., have noticed their city’s swelling population—28th nationally for mid-sized cities—but income growth there ranks 513th of 515 cities surveyed. Neighboring Charleston, the 20th fastest growing mid-sized city, is short of cheap housing despite “building like crazy,” said Gary Long of Construction Management Charleston.
He told me a major bottleneck is the government. “For developers to get financing, affordable housing has to be in government-approved jurisdictions. And the only approved parcel I know of in the county is an old mall area no one wants to develop.”
When asked what needs to change, he said, “The government needs to approve new jurisdictions and work with municipalities on local zoning changes. With huge costs for a developer, the economics also have to work.”
Charleston’s Department of Housing and Community Development in its mission statement says affordable housing remains one of the most pressing issues facing the community.
“But the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth,” Long said.