Category Archives: Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing

On Affordable Housing

Jurisdictions in Washington State and in particular Western Washington are beginning to realize that a serious problem is facing many communities, which is encapsulated in the question: “why am I unable to afford a house or apartment?” That simple question is not pondered by those who purchased houses 40-years ago or even in the early 1990s. No, it is the question on the minds of the Millennials and Gen X aged members of our population or generally any families who make less than $73,026. On a per capita basis the number is $35,908.These are 2017 numbers and reflect the whole of the county to include Bainbridge Island where the median household income is $116,845 per their housing study published in 2018.

In 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was updated from the earlier version adopted in  1964, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made an  assessment of how much families could afford to pay for housing. The framers of that legislation determined it should be no more than 30% of total household income. Any amount higher than that would create a “cost burdened” situation for those households. Meaning that if the individual or family had to spend more than that for housing there would not be enough money for other necessities such as light and heat, repairs and maintenance, food to feed the family, clothes or transportation.

This same act addressed also issues related to discrimination and how to provide for the very poor in our communities. Regarding the latter, The FHA-1968 set standards for Section 8 rent subsidies.

Leaving alone the issues of discrimination for the moment, what kind of house can the median household income family can afford? Starting with the $73,000 number and applying the 30% factor, there would be $21,900 per year or $1,825.00 per month  available for housing. Of course, any household that does not make $73,000 per year, such as would be true for individuals they are out of luck or they require subsidies.  For example, the single person making only $36,000 would have $10,800 per year or about $900 per month to spend on housing.

Read the full Letter Housing Affordable to All & Fair Housing Act of 1968

Conservatives are Nudging the Supreme Court to Dismantle Affordable Housing Policy

When it comes to conservatives and the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion and labor rights are often considered among their prime targets. Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the court last fall, though, opened the road for a host of other challenges for which conservatives have quietly been laying the groundwork for years. This month, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm based in California, made moves on one of those fronts, asking the Supreme Court to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of inclusionary zoning — a popular tool cities and states employ to increase affordable housing and promote residential integration.

Inclusionary zoning generally works by requiring real estate developers to reserve a certain number of units in new housing complexes for tenants who live on more modest incomes; some jurisdictions also allow developers to alternatively pay a fee so the city can construct more affordable housing elsewhere. Conservatives argue that the policy effectively violates a provision of the Fifth Amendment that says private property cannot be taken without just compensation. Continue reading


One of the main indicators used by economists to measure the health of the nation’s economy is housing starts – the number of private homes being built around the nation. In 2018 housing starts fell in all four regions of the nation, representing the biggest drop since 2016.

While many economists point to issues such as higher material costs as a reason for the drop in housing starts, a much more ominous reason may be emerging. Across the nation, city councils and state legislatures are beginning to remove zoning protections for single-family neighborhoods, claiming they are racist discrimination designed to keep certain minorities out of such neighborhoods. In response to these charges some government officials are calling for the end of single-family homes in favor of multiple family apartments. Continue reading

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Urban planners predicted that Millennials would prefer renting apartments in dense cities over owning homes in low-density suburbs. So they told regional governments to restrict low-density development and promote high-density housing instead. Now, Millennials are 18 percent less likely to own homes than their parents did when their parents were young: in 1990, 45 percent of 25-34-year-olds owned their own homes; by 2015, it was just 37 percent.

Were urban planners correct? No, says a report from the Urban Institute. Instead, Millennials just prefer to live in expensive cities, and that has depressed their homeownership rates.

I don’t think the report is quite right. According to the American Community Survey’s table S0101, which breaks down population by age groups, Millennials a little more attracted to large urban areas than others, but the difference isn’t enough to account for an 18 percent decline in homeownership rates. The data show that 13.7 percent of Americans are Millennials (which the Urban Institute defined as ages 25 to 34 in 2015), while Millennials make up 15.1 percent of urban areas of 1 million people or more. That’s a significant difference, but certainly not enough to reduce homeownership by 18 percent by itself.

The real problem is that urban planners convinced cities to apply their prescription to nearly half the housing in America. Combining American Community Survey tables B19113 (median family income), B25007 (median home prices), and B25003 (occupied homes) on a county level, the median value of about 45 percent of American housing is more than three times median family incomes. With few exceptions, prices rise above three times incomes only when government policies make it difficult for homebuilders to meet demand. Continue reading

The Boom in Urban Housing Prices is Holding Back Economic Growth

The evidence suggests the main factor constraining housing supply in today’s star cities is increasingly burdensome land-use regulation. Critics point to a variety of rules, including minimum lot sizes (as in Boston’s suburbs), urban boundaries (as in Portland), stringent environment rules (especially in California), long building permit times, and caps on the number of permits. 

Last year the New York Times ran a story on Ms. Sheila James, a 62-year-old woman who commutes two hours and 50 minutes each way between her home in Stockton, California, and her $81,000-a-year government job in San Francisco.

The number of Americans like Ms. James with extreme commutes is growing, but their stories represent unusual exceptions that illustrate a larger pattern. More and more Americans are moving to less expensive regions of the country, or, more commonly, settling for the limited opportunities available in struggling communities like Stockton. These changes in the economic geography of American cities have far-reaching implications for upward mobility and economic growth. Continue reading