In the premier episode of Housing Uncovered, host, Kiersten Kampschroeder, prepares listeners to take a deep dive into affordable housing in the US, by first asking, “Why does it even matter?”
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: So I’ve been wanting to do this podcast for a really long time now, to talk about affordable housing. And now seems like a great time to broach the subject because housing plays such an important role in the economy. And you may have heard, we’re in the middle of an economic recession. More than that, this recession comes with a lot more immediate and drastic consequences because of coronavirus.
And if I’ve learned one thing studying housing it’s that its an incredibly complex issue. And it’s getting more difficult to access, not just for low income households but for middle income as well. So that’s why this podcast exists, to shed light on a major and wide-spread issue, and tackle it piece by piece so that y’all understand where you fit in and what needs to be done to make housing affordable for everyone.
So this first episode tackles a question that might have already occurred to you, why is this important? Why should you care about affordable housing beyond being able to pay for your own?
Right now many Americans are staving off eviction or mortgage lapses because of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, but the housing provisions expire either in July or shortly after, leaving millions in insecure housing situations.
But that might not apply to you and you might be wondering, if you can afford your housing, what else is there to know.
This brings me to my second point, and it’s that you might not actually live in affordable housing. The federal government considers affordable housing to cost less than a third of your income, and according to Harvard’s annual report, over 30% of American’s pay more than that, including almost 50% of all renters.
But these are just numbers right? What does it actually mean, and why should it matter that you and 30% of the rest of the country are considered what is commonly called cost-burdened by housing.
Well to help answer this question, I spoke with Sarah Jane Lowery, the Unit Director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Louisiana.
Sarah Jane’s organization serves primarily low-income households
SARAH JANE LOWERY: We serve 93% free and reduced lunch…Some own, some rent, some have just their own families in the house, be it parents and children. There are some families that are in one house with multiple generations, it’s across the board.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And what does free and reduced lunch mean?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: It means that they’re really close to the poverty level if not at it.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And what are the neighborhoods like for the families that you serve?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: The neighborhoods for the families that we serve definitely skew towards lower income and there’s not a ton of grocery stores, a lot of times depending on where they are it’s a food desert
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And what about their access to schools and education?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: We live in an area that does have public schools and a lot of those schools are not high quality schools. They’re failing in a lot of places and a lot of the kids at those schools are English as a second language. It’s hard to accommodate them with the funding they get. And because it is public schools and they go by neighborhoods it really impacts them in what they’re able to get in terms of education.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And Sarah Jane and I talked a little about the definition of adequate housing. By UN standards, adequate housing is a human right. And by the UN’s definition, adequate housing means it is secure from forceful eviction, it is affordable, it is habitable and safe, and is located where there is access to employment, healthcare, and education… among other things.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: Based on that kind of definition, do you think that a lot of your families have access to adequate housing
SARAH JANE LOWERY: The biggest issue that our families face in terms of adequate housing is their ability to get to other locations. We do have families that don’t have their own personal transportation so they rely on public transportation and public transportation.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And we didn’t just talk about the families her organization serves.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And what’s your housing situation like?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: It’s a converted house which is a lot of housing in New Orleans. Especially with the age of the city, if you’re in New Orleans proper its more… converting existing houses versus building new ones. In the suburbs there are a lot more building opportunities for that. I live in an apartment building. I don’t know a ton about it but we live in a nice neighborhood. I’m not ever really scared for my safety. We’ve had one break-in before but that’s not a big deal. I think that affordable housing is hard to find in neighborhoods that you feel safe in.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And approximately how much of your income goes to rent?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: Approximately, it’s between a third and a half and with my hours being cut back it will now be at least a half.
My hours were cut back due to the impact of COVID. I work at a nonprofit that relies on donations and we’re not getting a lot of those right now
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: Before coronavirus were you able to cover all of your other expenses besides housing pretty well, did you have savings?
SARAH JANE LOWERY: Before corona I was able to cover most of my expenses. I really didn’t have savings that were much to speak of and then having to have hand surgery this year wiped out any I had. My stimulus check went directly into paying for that.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: Have there been any trade-offs in your budget to kind of pay for both housing and the surgery
SARAH JANE LOWERY: It depends on what I make. I think, more with low cost staples like eggs and rice and beans as opposed to other things and it’s really hard for me with food allergies or intolerances. So I have to make sure that I’m keeping myself healthy while keeping these low cost grocery staples.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: And I ended the interview by asking if Sarah Jane thought her own housing qualified as adequate.
SARAH JANE LOWERY: I believe it qualifies as adequate. It is not necessarily in my budgetary restrictions of affordable.
KIERSTEN KAMPSCHROEDER: So why is affordable housing important? Not only is it an immediate issue of security because of coronavirus, many people don’t even realize they are cost burdened by housing. And even if they can pay more than a third of their income, this means they, or you, could be foregoing access to food, education, healthcare, or even safety.
But that’s not the whole story, in following episodes we’re going to dive deeper into affordability, and start talking about why the state of housing is what it is, all the ways government agencies, nonprofits, and private initiatives try to address the issue, and what you can do to make your city’s housing more affordable.
See you next week.