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For the second time this summer, research suggests the band aid approach to curing affordable housing ills may not be sufficient if the underlying sore is allowed to fester.

Giving an earlier study's lone dissenting voice more credibility, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) on Tuesday said the nation's affordability problems may be more income related than due to the availability of housing.

"Housing Affordability: The Apartment Universe" found that despite the economic expansion of the late 1990s, little has changed in the way of housing affordability since 1989.

"The seeming intransigence of the affordable housing problem, even during prosperous economic times, raises an interesting public policy question of whether our affordability problem is caused by a lack of housing supply, or by a lack of income," said Mark Obrinsky, chief economist at NMHC.

Those were similar to the sentiments of the dissenting commissioner in the 17-month-long, 124-page study "Meeting Our Nation's Housing Challenges" by the 22-member Millennial Housing Commission. The commission was created by Congress in 2000 to develop recommendations to improve the housing delivery system and provide affordable housing for the nation, among other directives.

Despite its lofty-sounding name, the commission largely recommended a hackneyed, treat-the-symptoms approach to the high cost of housing when it should have focused more on a cure, according to dissenting commissioner Robert Rector, a senior research fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank.

"To improve affordability, we must increase family incomes and reduce governmental policies that restrain the housing supply and raise costs. The Millennial Housing Commission report proposes widely expanding housing programs, but, to a large degree, ignores these underlying factors that create housing problems in the first place," said Rector whose comments were largely overlooked by the mainstream media.

NMHC's new study focused on affordability problems of the nation's 15 million apartment renters, rather than lumping them in with home owners as most previous studies have done.

The report found that 26 percent of all apartment renters (3.8 million) received some sort of federal housing assistance in 1999. Of the 74 percent of unassisted apartment renters, 23 percent (2.3 million) were "moderately rent burdened" and 19 percent (1.9 million) were "severely rent burdened."

It wasn't a surprise that 90 percent of renters with severe rent burdens were very-low income households and more than half of all apartment renters with very-low incomes are severely rent burdened.

The study also found that moderate rent burdens were more widespread. Forty-seven percent of moderately burdened households had very-low incomes, but another 39 percent were low-income and 11 percent were moderate-income.

Finding relatively insignificant changes in affordability during the record economic expansion of the 1990s, the study said the number of low-income and moderate-income renters with severe burdens in 1999 was higher than in previous years, suggesting that in some areas, severe housing burdens are becoming a problem for more than just very low-income households.

"We cannot rely on economic growth and prosperity alone to solve the problem," said Clarine Nardi Riddle, NMHC's senior vice president.

She said government and business needs to address three key issues to reduce housing costs --public funding, regulatory reform, and "not-in- my-backyard" (NIMBY) opposition.

"NMHC and its joint legislative partner, the National Apartment Association, look forward to working with Congress as it considers recent recommendations from the Congressionally-chartered Millennial Housing Commission," she added.

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