Of course we need more affordable housing in the U.S. In recent studies of the homeless crisis, for example, lack of affordable housing was by far the largest factor driving homelessness—not, as many believe, mental health, poor choices, addictions, etc. But there’s a problem with affordable housing, too, especially when affordable housing becomes an end in itself. When that happens people can become trapped in cycles of low income and poverty: a supposed cure becomes a mechanism for making it harder to move on. There’s an affordable housing crisis because there’s not enough affordable housing, but the deeper crisis is the way affordable housing is conceived of in the first place.
The VIDEO below shows Rick Guzman’s “visioin cast,” shown at this year’s Neighbor Project (TNP) gala. Guzman is TNP’s executive director. The Neighbor Project uses affordable housing, but only as a tool to help people move on to eventual home ownership. In doing this it attacks the root causes of our nation’s incredible and shameful wealth gap, not just its symptoms.
Many years ago a colleague of mine, the sociologist Doug Timmer, opened a conference on urban crises that I helped run by saying, “I’m just crazy enough to believe that the main difference between poor people and not-poor people is that poor people don’t have money.” More accurately, they don’t have wealth, which is a deeper thing than money. In the U.S, owning a home is the surest way to build wealth and strong ommunities.
Many believe the concept and mechanics of affordable housing are broken. They’re inefficient, for one thing. For example, because TNP just uses affordable housing, one of its affordable housing units can serve five families per decade, while in the usual model of affordable housing one unit might serve just one family per decade, and sometimes just one family for many decades. It doesn’t help families build wealth so they can move on. Worse, the standard model of affordable housing builds wealth for the wrong people. Government tax credits finance well over 90% of affordable housing development today. This creates loads of wealth but only for those who already have wealth: namely, big developers and corporate tax credit investors. Poor people remain at the subsistence level, getting along perhaps but not building assets that will help them move on. Cycles perpetuate; they don’t get broken. That’s a primary reason poverty is a wheel that just keeps going round and round.
♦ Go to The Neighbor Project website. Read about and watch executive director Rick Guzman receive the Emerging Leader Award earlier this year.
♦ Read about our country’s incredible wealth gap, and the relationship between that wealth gap and the ability to own a home.