“America’s affordable-housing stock dropped by 60 percent from 2010 to 2016” (Washington Post) is kind of interesting on its face:
The number of apartments deemed affordable for very low-income families across the United States fell by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to a new report by Freddie Mac.
At first financing, 11 percent of nearly 100,000 rental units nationwide were deemed affordable for very low-income households. By the second financing, when the units were refinanced or sold, rents had increased so much that just 4 percent of the same units were categorized as affordable.
… affordable housing without a government subsidy is becoming extinct.
The study defined “very low income” as households making less than 50 percent of the area median income, and “affordable” rent as costing less than 30 percent of household income.
During the period in which the U.S. was a market economy this never happened, did it? People who were poor found crummy places to live. If poor Americans couldn’t could afford the rent on a crummy place then the landlord would have to reduce the rent.
Can we blame income inequality? Supposedly it was higher 100 years ago and poor people were able to afford crummy houses back then.
Can we blame rich people stealing all of society’s wealth? Again, wealth inequality was very high 100 years ago. In any case, a rich person may cause us to become sick with envy but he or she doesn’t usually occupy 50 apartments at a time. So it doesn’t make sense to blame rich people for reducing the housing supply, does it?
How about population growth? We’re stuffed with 325 million people now, with planeloads of immigrants arriving every day, and immigrants choosing to have lots of children once they’re settled here. (“Foreign-born Americans and their descendants have been the main driver of U.S. population growth, as well as of national racial and ethnic change, since passage of the 1965 law that rewrote national immigration policy. They also will be the central force in U.S. population growth and change over the next 50 years.” (Pew)) But we still have land on which we can build apartment buildings and, in a lot of cities, we can also build higher.
Finally there is government, which promises to pay for housing if a low-income resident of the U.S. can’t afford it (“means-tested public housing”). That’s a change compared to 100 years ago. Landlords can insist on rents higher than poor people can pay because they know that the government will pay. (“As a former affordable housing underwriter, I’d say that affordable housing is 1% altruism, 99% profit..” (Wall Street Oasis))
I’m wondering if the most likely answer is a change in the definition of “housing.” Americans live in roughly twice as many square feet per person compared to the 1950s. So the standard low-income unit today might be larger than the standard high-income unit circa 1950.
Could it be selective click-bait journalism? They picked 2010 as the base year because the economy was still sluggish after the Collapse of 2008 and therefore cheap housing was unusually cheap? 2016 is therefore less affordable than 2010, but not that different in affordability compared to 20 or 30 years ago?
Could it be that low-income Americans circa 1900 could afford housing, but it was so cramped that it didn’t meet our modern definition of “housing”?
What about blaming/crediting Malthus? On a planet populated by nearly 8 billion people, not everyone can expect to have his or her own room? (world population was roughly 1.6 billion in 1900) Evidence for a housing “shortage” being inherent given current population levels sharing only a single Earth is that newspapers in England are running the same stories, e.g., “Housing crisis threatens a million families with eviction by 2020” (Guardian): “Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords.” The situation seems to be similar throughout Europe, unless someone wants to live in a barn on a farm that is 50 miles from the nearest job: “Wild Rent Hikes Are Leaving Europe’s Cities Totally Unaffordable” (Vice)