Policy position #1

A few days ago, I admitted I might like to run for political office. So if I am to run for office, I will need to put down on paper exactly where I stand on the issues. Of course, my current stance might change as I learn more about how things work in our particular community. However, I will at least attempt to delineate my core values, while also learning about what is important to my constituents.

I am going to begin with the issue of housing. I have stable housing: I own a house, albeit with a mortgage, so the bank can claim ownership if I fail to pay down my mortgage. Not everyone is so lucky to have this stability when it comes to shelter. Reliable housing requires reliable income, something not always available for various reasons. One’s ability to save money determines if one can save up for a mortgage, or will need to rent. Then based on one’s regular income, is determined the affordability of various options.

Right now, the options available, particularly for those who are unable to save money to obtain a mortgage, are severely restricted, if not non-existent, if one has a low income. In our area, the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is about $1,000. In addition to simply covering the amount of at least $12,000/year, many landlords require the renter  to have an income considerably higher than their actual income, so assuming roughly 50% in their income goes to rent, now we are talking about needing to verify income of at least $24,000/year. Of course this assumes that $12,000/year is enough to cover food, clothing, transportation and utilities that are necessities. Oh, I haven’t even included basic health care or child care costs ( or higher education costs, if you went to college and have a debt to pay back).

So let’s think about it. Let’s say you are a single parent, with two kids and work a minimum-wage job, 40 hours a week. You make $15,000/year. In our area, few if any landlords would accept your application, your children would probably go hungry and you would probably not even be able to afford child care to work those 40 hours/week. Now, if you are a parent with school-aged children, available hours to work would go down even further, but with no money left for food, clothing, and all the other necessities mentioned above.

So what do people in that situation do? Well, housing gets crowded and sometimes illegal. Desperate families move in with their relatives, who may not even legally be allowed to take in additional residents (many landlords and city regulations have restrictions on occupancy).  I know personally of such a case, and I tried to help by searching for local rentals, even tried to imagine how I could rent out a portion of my own home, but that would mean either lack of privacy for my own family, or allowing someone to take up residence in a basement without easy outside access and no bathroom or kitchen. So it could be done, if I had a walk out basement with at least a bathroom, which I don’t. This family is currently on a two-year waiting list for an affordable housing voucher, and meanwhile, would be homeless if not for relatives willing to risk their own housing by taking them in illegally.

If we go to the next level, a family that is making enough to afford basic housing, they are still unable to ever save up enough money to put down a mortgage for their own home. In the past, the American dream of owning one’s own home, was much more attainable, but no longer.

So what do we do about housing? First of all, half of the funds currently being spent by our government towards affordable housing subsidies are in the form of mortgage deductions. I don’t know about you, but if I can afford a mortgage, I can probably still afford to live in my house without that deduction. It doesn’t make housing more affordable for those who do not have reliable housing. If we got rid of the mortgage deduction, that money could be put to doubling the amount for housing vouchers. That would possibly cut my friend’s wait time in half, from 2 years to 1 year.

The next thing to be aware of is where these housing vouchers end up being used. If one lives in my area, it is likely that section 8 is looked down upon (landlords are not required to accept the vouchers), and therefore almost unusable. This has the effect of segregating low-income families to certain areas that have fewer economic opportunities, fewer well-paying jobs, struggling schools, less opportunity for upward mobility.

So what is the way forward for housing vouchers? Official public housing projects have been plagued by problems, but still there is a need. Public housing needs to be integrated into local communities in a way that doesn’t create problems for the neighborhood. One way of doing this is to require new housing developer to set aside a certain percentage of the development for affordable housing. This is being done in individual counties in Maryland, such as Montgomery county and needs to be a part of all city and county planning.

Okay, I’ve talked my head off about one issue that I am very concerned about. Many other issues such as income, education, child care, health care are intricately bound up with the issue of housing. So there really needs to be a comprehensive plan covering all these issues, but I will start by trying to address individual issues, and hopefully, over time a thorough, integrated plan will developed. For now, I would appreciate any thoughts and experiences that you would like share.

Some References:

Affordable housing program in Montgomery county: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dhca/housing/singlefamily/mpdu/program_summary.html

Mortgage deduction reform: http://nlihc.org/article/letter-editor-how-make-housing-more-affordable

Rent affordability: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/22/real_estate/rent-affordability-housing-harvard/

40 times rent rule:

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/011916/i-make-50k-year-how-much-rent-can-i-afford.asp

2.5 times gross income qualification : http://www.cbtownandcountry.com/rental-qualifications/

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