By Bambie Hayes-Brown, PhD, ThD., President and CEO, Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Inc.
The recently released report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Housing, documents a shortage of 207,244 affordable and available rental units for Georgia’s lowest-income renters, who make up a quarter of all renters in the United States. The severe national shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental homes is forcing 71% of our poorest families – the elderly, disabled and low-wage workers – to spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities, leaving them unable to afford food, transportation, medical care and other basic necessities. These households have little or no savings to meet the smallest emergencies. The pandemic has only made the need for affordable housing more evident.
The greatest need for affordable housing is concentrated among very low-income renter households, who earn no more than the federal poverty level or 30% of their regional median income. There are only 36 affordable and available housing units for 100 very low-income renter households nationwide. No state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing available to very low-income households. 39 affordable and available housing units exist for 100 of the lowest income renter households in Georgia. As a result, 73.1% of these tenants are heavily cost burdened.
Renters with the lowest incomes were particularly well placed to suffer disproportionately from the effects of lost income and housing insecurity during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, 60% of renters with the lowest incomes in the labor force worked in industries identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as most affected by pandemic shutdowns. Even before the
pandemic, the lowest-income renters have faced the greatest affordable housing shortages, the most severe cost burdens, and, as a result, the most severe housing instability. At one point – in January 2021 – almost 8 million tenants were in arrears with rent.
The federal government has taken unprecedented action to protect low-income renters from housing instability. These actions, however, were temporary. Most eviction moratoriums have been lifted, and resources such as federal emergency housing assistance are running out in many areas. Longer-term federal investments in affordable housing are needed to address the underlying shortage of affordable housing that exposed low-income renters to housing instability in the first place.
Longer-term federal housing subsidies are needed for low-income renters because the private market alone fails to produce an adequate supply of affordable housing. The rents that the lowest-income tenants can afford to pay usually do not cover the cost of building new housing or even maintaining older housing. Because the market constantly
fails to provide adequate and affordable housing to these tenants, government has a critical role to play in correcting this failure.
Congress must make significant, long-term investments in deeply affordable housing programs such as the National Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers and public housing. Congress should retain in a new reconciliation package the historic investments in these programs that were included in the “Build Back Better Act” passed by the House. As The Gap demonstrates, the housing crisis for lower-income renters will persist long after the pandemic without such investments.
Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown is from rural Georgia and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration, Masters of Business Administration, Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Biblical Studies, a certificate in nonprofit management, a graduate of the Center for Civic Innovation’s Fellowship Program and RLI of the Atlanta Regional Commission. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of South Florida. Dr. Bambie is President and CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together, Inc., a state organization of housing and community development agencies, based in Atlanta. She has 25 years of experience in rural and urban housing, community and economic development. Dr. Bambie is a Registered Lobbyist, Real Estate Broker, Certified Economic Development Finance Professional, and Co-Chair of HouseATL’s Policy Committee. In addition, Dr. Bambie sits on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Rural Prosperity Council, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations, Up for Growth Action, NAACP DeKalb County Branch, ATL Airport Chamber of Commerce and Fitzgerald for Change. Formerly homeless and a former resident of public housing, Dr. Bambie is a much sought-after speaker who has testified before the United States Congress, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Georgia General Assembly on affordable housing.