affordable housing development, housing policy

Local Housing Needs: Where are We Now? Where Should We Go From Here?

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By Deborah Myerson

Last week, the Joint Center for Housing Studies released their 2018 State of the Nation’s Housing, a report the Center has issued annually for the last 30 years. The national trends and housing challenges in the report are reflected locally, as well.

National Trends

Almost half of all renters nationally, 47 percent, are cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. (30 percent of one’s income is the typical measurement for housing affordability.) More than half of these households pay over 50 percent of their income for housing.

  • The national median rent rose 20 percent faster than overall inflation between 1990 and 2016 and the median home price rose 41 percent faster. Today’s Herald-Times highlighted this issue locally: in the last year, for-sale home prices have risen by nearly 20 percent.
  • Factors include higher costs for building materials and labor, increased land costs, regulatory barriers, and growing income inequality.
  • In 2015, only one out of every four very low-income renter households nationally received rental assistance.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition also recently released their annual Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing report that compares rents and wages nationally and in every state, country, and city in the U.S. Out of Reach 2018 shows that both average renter wages and prevailing minimum wages are insufficient to afford modest rental apartments throughout the country. The disparity is severe for those with the lowest incomes.

Monroe County Housing Costs

  • In 2018, the two-bedroom Housing Wage is $17.69 per hour. This means that a local household must earn at least $17.69 per hour, or $36,800 annually, to afford a two-bedroom rental home at HUD’s average fair-market rent of $920 per month. Yet, the median income in Monroe County is $75,800.
  • An affordable rent for renters in Monroe County earning the average hourly wage of is $10.08 would be $524 per month. This is 43 percent less than the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

So clearly, we have dire housing needs in our community that are not being addressed by the market. As you may have guessed, Monroe County is the most expensive housing market in Indiana.

Yet, as complicated as housing issues can be, there actually only two ways to improve housing affordability: increase household income, and/or lower housing costs. My comments below address only the latter.

To lower housing costs for low- and moderate-income households there are two important considerations: increase the supply of housing, and provide subsidy for new construction to lower the cost for renters and homebuyers.

Proposals for Bloomington and Monroe County

  1. Prioritize the public interest in the development of publicly owned land. It is urgent to target the production of housing for the low- and moderate-income households that are not being served by the market. Public ownership is a valuable form of subsidy that should be used to leverage housing affordability. The City of Bloomington has some specific upcoming opportunities coming up to do this, including commercial land acquired along Walnut Street near Switchyard Park, as well as the eventual redevelopment of the old hospital site.
  2. Adopt a non-binding resolution that recognizes housing as a human right. Cities such as Madison, Wisconsin (in coordination with Dane County) have done this successfully as a way to drive policy considerations.
  3. Explore how to secure a dedicated source of local revenue to support a meaningful increase in the supply of affordable housing. Bloomington’s Housing Development Fund is an important first step, but is not a guaranteed source of revenue. If we truly want Bloomington and Monroe County to be home to people with a mix of incomes, we need a dedicated and consistent source of funding for affordable housing.
  4. Implement Affordable Housing action items in the City of Bloomington’s adopted Comprehensive Plan (pp. 64-65) to help direct the city’s housing needs productively. This includes:
    1. Establish a City Housing Commission. This body can acquire information on and study residents’ housing needs and opportunities, make policy recommendations to the Mayor and City Council regarding issues affecting affordable housing and supportive services in the community. The Monroe County Commissioners recently authorized an Affordable Housing Advisory Commission for the county. (I will admit that an intergovernmental city-county housing commission is ultimately on my wish list.) A Housing Commission could help direct the next two items, which are also in the city’s Comprehensive Plan:
    1. Conduct a residential market analysis and housing inventory. This will help identify gaps in current and future market demand for all income levels. Good examples include Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Madison, Wisconsin.
    2. Develop a detailed local housing strategy based on findings in the completed housing evaluation, residential market analysis, and housing inventory.

Please join us to advocate for these elements that will create a strong foundation that can build inclusive and sustainable places to live for everyone in our community.

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Deborah Myerson is executive director of South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities (SCIHO). SCIHO is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to expanding housing options for low- and moderate-income households in Bloomington, Monroe County, and surrounding counties. SCIHO accomplishes its mission through a variety of programs, ranging from new construction of Switchyard Apartments to expanding resources for low-income renters, such as with our new Housing4Hoosiers.org tenant resource website.

Ms. Myerson is also Advocacy Co-chair for the South Central Housing Network, a group of regional social service organizations that aims to provide, coordinate, and advocate for the best possible housing resources and supportive services for those in need in South Central Indiana. The South Central Housing Network adopted an Advocacy Agenda in 2017, focusing on housing needs in Monroe County.

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