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9. U.S. Faces National Housing Crisis

Source:

In These Times
November 2000
Title: “There’s No Place Like Home”
Author: Randy Shaw

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Garfin
Student Researcher: Eduardo Barragan, Catherine Jensen

Corporate media coverage:
U.S. Newswire, 1/18/02
Other corporate coverage mostly limited to local and regional housing issues

The national housing crisis affects nearly 6 million American families and is growing worse. Over 1.5 million low-cost housing units have recently been lost, and millions of children are growing up in housing that is substandard, unaffordable and dangerous.

A new crisis in affordable housing is spreading across America. What was once a problem relegated to low income families along the east and west coasts, is now affecting the middle-class all across the country. Middle-class working Americans are having just as much trouble finding affordable housing as low-income families did ten years ago.

In San Francisco, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidizing housing for public school teachers. California business groups complain that the State’s housing shortage hinders their ability to attract skilled workers, and chambers of commerce link lack of affordable housing to a resultant slowdown in economic growth.

Julie Daniels earns $28,000 a year working full time as a certified nursing assistant for Stamford, Connecticut. A member of local 1199, Daniels and her three children have been unable to obtain affordable housing within traveling distance of her job. The family’s only available housing option has been a homeless shelter, and the prospects that Daniels will obtain safe and affordable housing are unlikely.

Still, politicians refuse to add federal funded housing to the U.S. budget. Low-cost housing programs are slowly being drained of funding. More than 100,000 federally subsidized units have been converted to market-rate housing in the past three years. While the $5 billion Federal Housing Administration surplus is tied up in Washington, neither major political party seems responsive to the current housing crisis. Neither party is addressing issues of living wage, adequate health care, or affordable housing.

Homelessness has become the result for many families across the nation. The economic slowdown, the welfare reform of 1996, and the events of September 11 are pushing hard working Americans into the street. In New York alone it is estimated that 30,000 people are living in shelters, and many thousands more live on the street.

In Chicago, over 20,000 units of public housing units have been removed from service and some 50,000 people now reside in the streets.

In an era when there is only one apartment for every six potential renters in this country, Congress has taken no action to address this problem. Corporate media has only covered this issue locally and few corporate media reports have recognized this as a national crisis.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR RANDY SHAW: My article, “There’s No Place Like Home,” highlighted the lack of public debate about the nation’s affordable housing shortage during the 2000 presidential race. Although millions of Americans lack safe and affordable housing, the federal government’s role in creating our national housing crisis was not discussed. The mainstream media often mentions the impact of the affordable housing shortage in stories about crime, education, welfare policy, or the plight of the working poor, but no congressmember, senator, or president is ever held responsible for perpetuating the problem.

Since Bush took office, mainstream media coverage of the federal government’s capacity to end the nation’s housing and homelessness crisis has become a subject non grata. The Bush Administration only talks about housing in the context of increasing homeownership. With no government reports or speeches about the rental housing crisis to cover, the mainstream media has felt free to ignore the issue. It has been difficult for all domestic issues to get coverage since 9/11, but housing has particularly fallen out of sight.

Fortunately, rising public clamor about the housing crisis has resulted in significant media coverage at the state and local level. Newspapers from New Hampshire to Seattle are describing increased homelessness among the working poor, and this trend has been covered in such national outlets as the Washington Post and New York Times. But the housing crisis remains a local, regional and state story, with mayors, county supervisors, and governors targeted to address the problem. Cash-strapped local and state governments lack the funds to build the millions of housing units required to meet the nation’s need, but local officials who try to shift the blame to the federal government are accused of passing the buck. The mainstream media coverage of the housing shortage thus contributes to the public sense that housing and homelessness are local problems, as the media steadfastly ignores the federal government’s historic responsibility for ensuring decent and affordable housing for all Americans.

The chief national agenda for ending America’s housing crisis is through enactment of a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will ensure that 1.5 million new units are built in the next decade. Sponsored by Rep. Bernie Sanders in the House and John Kerry in the Senate, the Trust Fund legislation is increasingly seen as the only means for building all of the units America needs. Those interested in learning more can contact the author at thc@igc.org or check the campaign website http://www.nhtf.org/

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