Millions of Americans struggle every day, often not knowing where they’ll sleep at night, whether they can put food on the table, or have enough money to pay for needed medications.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition

“They are one broken down car, one missed day of work, one sick child away from a financial emergency, from not being able to pay their rent,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the Washington D.C. based National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “There is no doubt we have a housing crisis in our country. The bad news is the crisis is getting worse.”

The Coalition is among the leading organizations nationally advocating for the lowest income Americans at a time when the nation faces an affordable housing crisis.

We spoke with Yentel just after the organization released its annual report in March, “The Gap, A Shortage of Affordable Homes,” a report that defines the severity of the problem, one impacting some eight million households.

WhatsUpNewp has been following the affordable housing crisis in Rhode Island. We’ve detailed the problem and frustration among several advocates as most of the state’s cities and towns are woefully short of affordable and available housing, failing to meet the 10 percent minimum mandated by the state legislature decades ago.

While we’ve highlighted the affordable housing crisis in Rhode Island, it is a major national concern.  A survey that NLIHC will release at its annual conference next week finds that well over 80 percent of those responding see safe affordable housing as a priority, and more than 80 percent support an increase in funding for section 8 vouchers for rental assistance, Yentel said.

“There is a growing political will, a sense of urgency,” Yentel said.

“There is no state, there is no major metropolitan area that has a sufficient supply for the lowest income people,” Yentel said.

Affordable housing is defined by individuals paying no more than 30 percent of their income for rent or mortgage. Those characterized as “severely cost burdened,” the eight million households, are paying “50 to 70 percent of income to just keep a roof over their heads.”

The NLIHC annual report contains valuable and important information about the underpinnings of the crisis, and the possible solutions:

  • “Extremely low-income renters in the U.S. face a shortage of seven million affordable and available rental homes. Only 37 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.”
  • It dispels the myth of those living below the poverty line, finding that 48 percent of extremely low-income renter households are seniors or disabled, and another 44 percent are in the labor force or in school, or are single-adult caregivers.
  • The shortage of affordable homes ranges from 5,800 in Wyoming to one million in California.

Finding a solution comes back to political will, and Yentel believes there is growing bi-partisan support to find solutions, with perhaps a major exception in the current administration in Washington.

President Trump’s budget proposal seeks an 18 percent decrease in funding for HUD, which would slash important programs that are already underfunded.

Both Section 8 rental vouchers and the National Housing Trust Fund are severely underfunded, Yentel said. She said only one in four households eligible for Section 8 vouchers receive them.

Nationally, she said, there are several bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate that would add funds for critical programs, provide tax credits, and “face the problem head on.”

“There’s more to come,” Yentel said, “and they’re working on a bi-partisan basis. I don’t think any of the bills on their own will pass. But it will spark the national conversation, and we’ll see parts of these bills moving forward.”

For more on our coverage of Affordable Housing, click here.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....