Category Archives: Articles

Mapping American’s Rental Housing Crisis

The Urban Institute has published an interactive map that compares affordable housing data across the United States, displaying the affordable rental housing gap and tracking federal assistance for extremely low-income (ELI) renter households by county. America is currently in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, with rents having risen steadily since 2000, while the number of renters needing affordable housing has increased, creating critical challenges for the nation’s low-income households to try to find affordable housing.

In Snohomish County, there are only 40 units of housing for every 100 ELI households.  In total, there are 9,005 units for ELI households.  In the year 2000, there were 49 units per 100 ELI households, with 6,393 units total.  This shows that efforts to build affordable housing for ELI households is working – but growing need continues to outpace increases in supply.

NHLIC’s Analysis of Federal FY2017 Spending Package

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently published an analysis of the FY2017 spending package moving through Congress this week.  The analysis looks at issues related to housing and homelessness that receive dollars from federal funds.  Of particular interest would be any changes to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs.  In 2016, these two programs combined to bring $5.5 million to Snohomish County, earmarked for affordable housing development/retention, as well as general community revitalization.  Both the CDBG and HOME programs received the same funding they did in FY2016.  Considering both programs were said to be at risk of being totally defunded at the beginning of the year, maintaining status quo funding is a win for affordable housing and Snohomish County.

Read the NHLIC’s full report here, and view a budget comparison here.

Portland’s Backyards Tested as Option for Homeless

Portland, Oregon is rolling out the initial step in an  innovative new program where interested homeowners have a small  200 square foot home, built by the city, placed on their property.   The homes are fully heated and plumbed, and designed to house an adult and at most two children.  Additionally, all residents in these homes would receive the same social services the county delivers to all residents they house.  This program’s goal is to address the number of homeless families residing in Portland area shelters.  After five years of housing a homeless individual or family, the homeowner takes full ownership of the unit and may use it for their own purposes with no restrictions.

Read more about this program in the AP’s original article, found here.

Source of Income Discrimination in Washington State

The Alliance for Housing Affordability recently prepared a memorandum on the issue of Source of Income Discrimination (SOID).  You can now read the full report here.

Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) is the practice of a landlord choosing to not renew a tenant’s lease due to their source of income.  Often, but not always, the income in question is a Section 8 voucher that the tenant uses to help pay their monthly rent.  Other sources of income discrimination are from child support or disability payments.  Unless prohibited by city or county law, SOID is legal in the state of Washington.

Mayor Stephanson on Low-Barrier Housing

The City of Everett is moving forward with a partnership with Catholic Housing Services to develop a low-barrier housing facility to serve chronically homeless Everett residents. Mayor Ray Stephanson has written a piece for the Everett Herald that does an excellent job of summarizing the need for low barrier housing while addressing common community concerns with this specific project, along with the plans that paved its way. In his own words, “the people on our streets are Everett residents, and members of our community. For their sake, and for the sake of our entire city, we must take action.”

Housing and our “collection of band-aids”

NPR’s Planet Money podcast has cast its eye toward the “lottery” of Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. The episode offers an overview of the program, and breaks the illusion of the “social safety net” in the US – that instead of a cohesive net as an analogy, a “collection of band-aids” may be more appropriate. One young mother also shares her struggle to find housing assistance while not “homeless enough”. (Living precariously with friends, but not yet in a shelter) Highly recommended listening!

In yet more evidence supporting the importance of housing assistance, a new paper from the St Louis Federal Reserve finds that for every year that girls and women between the ages of 13 and 18 live in public housing, adult earnings increase by 9 percent; for each year that their families received housing vouchers, their adult earnings increase by 6 percent.

How can we fund more housing vouchers?

The HUD Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a major source of housing assistance for households with the lowest incomes in Snohomish County. It’s an excellent tool, as the vouchers can be used in any unit that accepts the vouchers and meets rent and safety standards, theoretically promoting mixed-income neighborhoods and providing deep assistance more affordably than through traditional public housing models. At the same time, this flexibility also limits the program’s use, as landlords will be less likely to accept vouchers in a tight market, and finding an acceptable unit that meets set rent standards can also be a challenge. In
addition, the program is limited by federal funding, so the supply of vouchers does not come close to the demand. In Snohomish County, there are currently 6,183 vouchers in use, compared to around 68,000 households earning less than 50% Area Median Income. (This is the line where it typically starts to become more possible to find an affordable rental unit in Snohomish County)

The program is essentially a lottery at present, with years-long wait lists, if a housing authority’s wait list is even open at all. Contrast this with the SNAP program (AKA food stamps), an entitlement-type program, where all who earn less than a certain income level can receive assistance. Could we do this with housing assistance as well? A post over at City Commentary makes an interesting case as to how it could be possible. For a summary, read on. Continue reading How can we fund more housing vouchers?