What is synonymous with the American Dream? Of course, the first thing that comes to the minds of many is a house or home. A home is a place where children play, families eat and life happens. Our fondest memories, loving relationships and reprieve from the outside world occur inside our homes, thus making it the foundational structure that encapsulates health and prosperity.
Unfortunately, however, millions of Americans struggle to achieve the American Dream due to an absurd housing marketand lack of affordable housing. Even worse is the fact that millions of Americans and their families are homeless and at risk of homelessness, struggling to pay rising rent and mortgage costs.
I often see too many families, children, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and elderly living on the streets or in emergency shelters. I work as an outreach worker providing services to the housing insecure. When my clients are posed with the question, “What would help you achieve a better quality of life and help you pursue happiness and fulfillment?” The answer is almost always “a home.” The place where every human being can rest their weary heads and take comfort in the walls safely surrounding them.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in California alone there is a deficit of 962,667 affordable and available rental units. More than one in seven (an estimated 11.9 million) renters are not caught up on rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with renters of color facing more hardship. Of those behind on rent, 23% are Black, 20% are Latino and 21% are Asian, compared to only 12% identifying as white.
In addition to facing rent hardship, many Americans are facing food hardship. Nearly one in five renters with children are not caught up on rent. An additional one in five children live in a household that does not have enough to eat.
Fortunately, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has proposed a solution to this problem: the Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021. This bill will invest over $600 billion into fair, affordable and accessible housing. It includes $200 billion for rental assistance, $20 billion to address hazardous and other unsafe housing conditions and $2 billion to address the tribal nation housing crisis. In addition, this bill will invest $45 million to build new, affordable homes and collectively create more than 1 million jobs.
Lack of affordable housing has an array of detrimental effects on individuals and families, including evictions, housing instability, homelessness and stress-related health problems.
For example, research by Enterprise shows that housing instability is associated with generally poor health, asthma and developmental delays in children. Among adults, unstable housing is associated with mental distress, incidents of depression, postponing needed health care and reduced access to care. Other evidence-based research shows that unstable housing negatively impacts children’s performance in school and can contribute to lifelong achievement gaps.
Research shows that affordable housing improves educational outcomes in vulnerable children. In addition, a study by Children’s HealthWatch found that subsidized housing served as a buffer against food insecurity. The pandemic has only served to exacerbate the myriad of problems caused by the housing crisis. With the eviction moratorium that ended Sept. 30, families do not have any protections against homelessness.
Evidence-based research shows that affordable housing increases local purchasing power, neighborhood vitality and improves neighborhood quality. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that annually, apartments that qualify for low-income housing tax credits generate approximately $7.9 million in income, $827,000 in taxes and create 122 new jobs. However, many people are wary of the effect affordable housing will have on the value of their property. Several studies show that affordable housing has either a neutral or positive effect on surrounding property values.
We are at a critical juncture in America, where the decision to invest in fundamental infrastructure conducive to every American’s livelihood is being presented in Congress right now. The American Dream should be made available to every American family and individual.
Recently in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several bills to create more affordable housing, but more must be done to stop the astronomical rise of housing costs. We urge you all to call, write and email your representatives to support the Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021. Better health, better education, increased city revenue and new jobs create no downside to expanding equitable, affordable housing for all.
Gerardo Roman and Jennifer Alvarez Rosas are graduate students at the USC Suzanne Dworack-Peck School of Social Work.