America’s dual housing crisis and what Democrats plan to do about it, explained
A crisis of low incomes and a parallel crisis of tight supply.
Matthew Yglesias, Vox, July 30, 2019. Available Here.
Housing policy is back on the national political agenda for the first time in several generations, with multiple candidates rolling out housing policy plans and others at least paying lip service to the idea.
That’s a smart response to an economy in which the labor market has at long last recovered from the Great Recession, but where many families struggle to cover the costs of necessities including health care, child care, college tuition, and the most basic household expense of all, housing.
Census data indicates that nearly 40 percent of renter households are paying more than one-third of their income in rent, up 19 percent from the level seen in 2001 — even as the renter share of the population has grown. And a bit more than 10 percent of the population finds itself spending over half its income on housing, way above the 30 percent or so that the Department of Housing and Urban Development sets as a standard benchmark for affordability.
As Brookings Institution housing economist Jenny Schuetz observes, these data points somewhat understate our housing problem. For one, households living in expensive metro areas have average commutes that are nearly 50 percent longer than those in low-cost metro areas. Similarly, while relatively few Americans are experiencing what’s considered overcrowded housing — defined as more than one person per room — 5 to 10 percent of households with children are overcrowded. Not entirely coincidentally, Americans are having fewer children than ever before.
In other words, many of the people who aren’t cost-burdened in their housing are paying the price in other ways through longer commutes and smaller families.
But just as real estate agents emphasize the overarching importance of location, location, location, the housing landscape in the United States is quite varied. Central cities are experiencing different economic conditions from exurban fringes; whole metro areas differ enormously from each other; the Silicon Valley suburbs of San Jose look very different, cost-wise, than the suburbs of San Antonio.