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Breaking The 65 Percent Barrier – The Impossible Dream

By Neil A. Stein, Esq., Kaplin | Stewart


The homeownership rate – currently around 65 percent, is a level first reached fifty years ago. This standard is broadly viewed as a measure of the quality of life for the typical American family. Homeownership is the primary mechanism for the typical family to build wealth for retirement and to help the next generation. Second, it brings social stability, as the homeowning family no longer is subject to landlord forced relocation or unreasonable rent increases.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in fifty years. The homeownership rate is unimproved, and the promise of an affordable housing stock remains unfulfilled. What are the barriers to improving the homeownership rate, and what policies could help overcome those barriers?

The Problem

As more people flock to cities in search of better opportunities, the demand for housing in urban areas has surged. This has led to skyrocketing property prices and rental rates, making it difficult for low- and middle-income individuals to secure affordable housing.

Income inequality also plays a role. The gap between rich and poor is widening, making it increasingly difficult for those with limited financial resources to afford a home. Stagnant wages and rising living costs, with rising interest rates, have created a situation where even people with steady jobs struggle to make ends meet, let alone save enough for a down payment.

Despite a boom in the development of multi-family housing, government has failed to invest in affordable housing initiatives. The lack of commitment perpetuates the shortage, leaving vulnerable populations at risk of homelessness. This shortage leads to increased housing instability by forcing families to move frequently, thereby exacerbating gentrification.

The Challenges

A myriad of challenges to affordability exists today.

• Land prices have skyrocketed in recent years, making it increasingly difficult to acquire land for affordable housing.

• Material and labor costs have been steadily rising. More stringent building code regulations and permit fees also contribute to higher construction costs.

• Zoning regulations in many areas restrict the types of housing that can be built. This can limit the availability of affordable housing options in desirable neighborhoods.

• The “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) movement is alive and well. Attitudes and opposition from local residents, usually based upon myth and rumor, can stall, or even prevent affordable housing projects.

• Adequate government funding for subsidizing affordable housing initiatives, remains elusive.

The Solutions

Addressing the shortage of affordable housing requires a multi-faceted approach that involves governments, communities, and the private sector. Some potential solutions include:

• Governments should allocate more funding to affordable housing initiatives, including the construction of new affordable housing units and subsidies for low-income renters.

• While not popular with the development or landlord community, even modest rent control measures and strong tenant protections can help stabilize rental markets.

• Governments must provide greater incentives and tax breaks to affordable housing developers, encouraging private sector involvement in addressing the crisis.

• Local government must get more creative in establishing zoning districts that allow flexibility in housing type.

Conclusion

The shortage of affordable housing is a complex issue with wide-ranging consequences. Governments, communities, and the private sector must collaborate to develop comprehensive solutions to ensure that affordable housing is accessible to all. Without a concerted effort, the dream of affordable housing for all will remain an impossible dream for many years to come.

Neil Andrew Stein, Esq. is a principal of Kaplin, Stewart, Meloff, Reiter & Stein and a member of the Land Use, Zoning & Development Department.

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