When I was in college, one of my friends and I had a monthly ritual where we would head to McDonald’s on “Hamburger Tuesdays” and stock up on 100 or so $0.29 burgers that we would then turn around and distribute to the homeless living in Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. Turns out those niceties no longer exist in my hometown—Los Angeles was just ranked the meanest city in America when it comes to its treatment of the homeless. Must be ‘cause I don’t live there anymore. In all seriousness, that ranking is particularly disturbing when you consider that the number of homeless families (we’re not talking individuals here) grew by 9 percent nationwide in 2008 and a whopping 56 percent in suburban and rural areas between 2007 and 2008. Today, one in every 190 people in the United States is homeless, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
A closer look at the numbers reveals that the recent increase in homelessness directly correlates with the current foreclosure crisis. The lives of those who have found themselves laid off or overstretched financially are infinitely complicated by a nationwide shortage of affordable housing alternatives.
That’s why, this month, we decided to shine a spotlight on what we believe will be the next great housing crisis to face our nation—the lack of affordable housing. Specifically, we look at the demise of the entry-level and low-income apartment sector—that first foray into independent living by most individuals and families still years away from the American dream of homeownership.
What we found is both disturbing and disheartening. A lack of construction activity and multifamily starts today—coupled with a huge wave of demand on the horizon—is likely to leave the country without an adequate supply of quality, affordable housing. What’s more, as a country, we have an unhealthy habit of tearing down more affordable and public housing units than we build. And ultimately, we lack the financing vehicles and regulatory programs that would help offset the high costs of constructing low-income housing to close that gap.
It’s a problem I see every day in Washington, D.C., one of the most gentrified cities in the country. During a visit to the Nationals Ballpark neighborhood last year, I learned that the site, now home to robust mixed-use development, once housed hundreds of public housing residents. “Where did those families go?” I remember asking the developer who was guiding our tour. “Well, they all got vouchers, so I’m sure they found housing,” was the dismissive reply.
Not necessarily, as it turns out. Our research for this issue indicates that those residents may not have found a worthwhile replacement home. And as HUD’s report on homelessness seems to indicate, many of them will probably end up on the streets. And that’s a huge problem for all cities and states.
Our hope is that this issue will serve as a call to action for the industry’s movers and shakers. It’s time that the multifamily industry took a more proactive role in reshaping the policies and programs that shape affordable housing in this country. It’s our responsibility to deliver the homes that people want—and can afford—to live in.
Until that time, I’m thinking my new city could benefit from a revival of “Hamburger Tuesdays.”