Affordable Housing

Reality: A number of studies have documented that contemporary affordable housing developments have no impact on nearby property values, and in some cases contribute to increased property values. One study conducted in Minneapolis found that “proximity to nonprofit-developed subsidized housing actually enhances property values.” A recent study of four very low-income family housing developments in suburban Chicago revealed that affordable housing can have a positive impact on surrounding property values.1 Numerous studies over time from around the country support the general notion that affordable housing has no negative impact on surrounding property values.2
Reality: This objection is often a code term for racist attitudes against blacks and Latinos since the media paints people of color, particularly those in public housing, as “the face” of affordable housing. In most cases, however, people who need affordable housing are already members of the community no matter what their race. They are senior citizens living on fixed incomes and families working entry-level and low-wage jobs. They are preschool teachers, travel agents, food service workers, clergy, and medical assistants. There is no evidence that affordable housing brings crime to a neighborhood. Whether a development will be an asset or a detriment to a community more often turns on basic management practices: careful screening, prudent security measures, and regular upkeep.
Reality: The largest subsidy for housing in the United States is the federal homeowner mortgage interest tax deduction which totaled $108 billion in FY 2003. This is more than three-and-half times the entire budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and larger than the budgets of every state except California. And it’s high-income families who benefit – approximately 50% of these benefits went to the top 11% of all U.S. taxpayers.3 Homeownership, therefore, is not the embodiment of self-sufficiency and independence from public subsidy as the rhetoric purports. The reason units at a redeveloped or newly constructed “affordable housing” building can be offered at below-market rents or purchase prices is that the up-front acquisition and development costs of financing would be reduced by federal tax credits and grants from such sources as the Illinois Housing Trust Fund. In other words, the day-to-day operating costs and the rental income would not be subsidized by the municipality.
Reality: Expensive land doesn’t automatically exclude the development of affordable housing. Sometimes it’s a better bargain because the land is in better shape. Less expensive land is often in poorer shape and requires more site preparation and increases the overall development costs.
Reality: Affordable housing must comply with the same building restrictions and design standards as market-rate housing. Because it is often funded in part with public money, sometimes it needs to comply with additional restrictions and higher standards than market-rate housing. Affordable housing is not affordable because it’s built with “sub-quality” materials; it is affordable in the sense that it is less costly to live in because it is supported by additional public and private funds.
Reality: Studies show that affordable housing residents own fewer cars and drive less often than those in the surrounding neighborhood.4
Reality: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, rental apartments have fewer children per unit on average than owner-occupied, single-family housing; rental apartments contain a lower percent of units with one or more school aged children; and rental units have a lower average number of motor vehicles per unit.5 Although not all multi-family rental units are affordable, they make up the bulk of affordable housing.
Reality: Nationwide, the effective tax rate (property tax paid relative to the market value) for multi-family complexes is significantly higher than single family homes.6 Thus, multi-family developments pay their “fair share” in local property taxes. Furthermore, as stated above, multi-family housing actually produces less burden on the local tax system in terms of new services generated than single family homes.

Getting to Fair Housing

The Five-Session Journey

Session 1 Sets the Stage

Before embarking on the specific issue of housing, a theological context for the primacy of community and of welcome are set.

Session 2 is the “What.”

Fair and affordable housing is defined in this primarily instructional segment. A resource person from Open Communities or similar housing organization will assist.

Session 3 is the “Why.”

With the first two sessions having brought participants to an understanding of community and specifics about housing, this session expresses the religious underpinnings for action for housing justice. How do different faith traditions address housing? What is different and what do they have in common? A panel of religious leaders will share their teachings.

Session 4 is the “How.”

What can people, working as individuals or in a group, do to further fair and affordable housing? What are the options for action?

Session 5 is the “Call to Action.”

Finally, what will we choose to do? What concrete steps will we as individuals or as a group commit to doing? The timeframe would be specified by the individual or congregation in this session as well.

Each session is designed to encompass the following:

Reflection: What does it mean to do justice as guided by my faith?
Study: What is fair and affordable housing? What are the housing challenges in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and in my community?
Action: What can I do? What can my congregation do? What are we pledging to do henceforth?

The End

We end this series of sessions with a joyful celebration of accomplishment in learning, spiritual growth, and commitment to ourselves and others.

All 5 sessions plus appendices and adaptable handouts for your advocacy and education efforts are in one document. One version is for the participants of your sessions, and another version has the five sessions annotated for the facilitators. Enjoy!

Online Resources

  • Center for Responsible Lending Works to preserve homeownership and family wealth through investigation of predatory lending practices.
  • City of Evanston Foreclosure Counseling Provides information for Evanston Residents about foreclosure prevention counseling and education.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development Provides tips for preventing foreclosure.
  • HUD Certified Housing Counseling Agencies in Illinois
  • If you are at risk of foreclosure or are having trouble paying your mortgage, visit the Governor’s Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network website at www.keepyourhomeillinois.org The Network is a FREE, one-stop resource that links homeowners to state agencies and non-profit organizations that offer services designed to keep people in their homes. This includes the homeownership counseling or free legal advice offered by this agency as well as other help including temporary mortgage assistance.
  • Don’t be a victim of loan scams! As foreclosures rise, so do the numbers of loan modification scammers preying on homeowners in need. They will promise to modify your loan, then they will take your money, house, or both. Avoid their deceiving schemes by speaking to a trusted HUD-approved counselor such as the Open Communities. With HUD you have the power to stop them. File a complaint. Call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) or visit www.hud.gov/preventloanscams
  • Woodstock Institute Works to develop policy that levels the financial services playing field and ensures that families have the opportunity to build wealth through fair credit practices.