- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2017


Finding ways to put hard-working, low-income and fixed-income people into affordable housing may not be as difficult and costly as some politicians and advocates would have you think — if only they would think smaller.

They and you already are acquainted with the tiny house movement and the downsizing of older Americans and homeowners who lost their McMansions.

Forget “House Hunters International” and look to the apartment finder RentCafe.com for cases in point.

What can $1,500 in monthly rent get you in the nation’s capital? A 350- to 600-square-foot unit.

If you’re more interested in the far-left coast, your sons or daughters who want to be stars can rent a 530-square-foot apartment for $1,500 in the City of Angels. They still might have to sustain themselves on a diet of Ramen noodles, but affordable housing might help them stave off hustling on Sunset Boulevard.

For sure, RentCafe’s hustle is hustling apartments, and it does a good job on the global level.

What’s important, however, is that the affordable housing hustle is so incredibly relative until federal, state and local leaders lose sight of the real issue.

And not to digress too much, but the media plays the game too. For example, if the news of the day were that Donald Trump and Housing and Urban Development chief Ben Carson walked across the Anacostia River to announce a new affordable housing policy, the headlines would read, “Donald Trump and Ben Carson can’t swim.”

I mean, hello, people! They walked on water.

So here’s the deal: Why are politicians forcing developers to wedge affordable housing in market developments instead of rewiring their policies to accommodate the markets?

Other examples are the size of single-family homes and the market.

The average size of a new single-family home grew from 1,780 square feet in 1978 to 2,479 square feet in 2007. By 2013 the average size had grown to 2,662 square feet.

What did the pols do? Establish affordable housing policies whose funding rose to accommodate home-buying programs for people who could not ordinarily afford a house.

Now reality has kicked in. People are buying smaller houses, lofts and condos.

People are building smaller houses of less than 1,000 square feet. People are building tiny houses, most less than 400 square feet.

Older folks downsize, and when the housing bubble burst, many homebuyers were whacked with the same reality: Can we really afford that house?

Policymakers need to ask that question, too — and D.C. policymakers should be particularly mindful as budget discussions and the 2018 election cycle take shape.

Here’s a view that signals a U turn:

“Only a very small portion, around 15 percent of the new rental units that the city has created, has been available to folks who make under 30 percent of the area’s median income. People making around minimum wage can afford around, say, $800 a month. A lot of the new apartments the city is subsidizing are maybe $1,100 a month. So that’s obviously out of reach of the typical minimum-wage worker or someone who relies on Social Security or disability payments. And these are the folks who not only are most likely to be homeless, but are more likely to have to leave the city.”

That’s Claire Zippel speaking, a policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, who was interviewed by The Washington Times for an affordable housing story this summer.

Here are some of the problems with that view:

1) The city cannot create enough affordable housing to meet the perceived demand. (Nor should it.)

2) There is no such thing as a “typical minimum-wage worker or someone who relies on Social Security or disability payments.”

3) There is nothing wrong with people leaving one city and moving to another when they no longer can afford to live there. It’s called choice.

Affordable housing isn’t hard to find; indeed, the RentCafe.com study of 30 magnet cities around the world reveals where $1,500 can get you more than a matchbox. (And, by the way, D.C. holds the 17th spot.)

Vincent Orange was spot on a couple of years ago when, as a D.C. Council member, he proposed the city join the tiny house-affordable house movement.

The Council should dust off his initial proposal as soon as possible.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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