You cannot afford to live here.

Author:Anderson, Courtney Lauren
Position:Special Issue on Affordable Housing


The simplicity of defining affordable housing at thirty percent of household income provides a uniform barometer by which to measure whether or not a family or individual is spending more than an acceptable portion of funds on housing. However, it fails to capture what tradeoffs are given in exchange for spending this thirty percent, which is particularly relevant when analyzing the type of housing available to low-income and extremely low-income renters. Furthermore, the shortage of government-subsidized affordable housing units means that private landlords are filling in the affordable housing gap. The housing provided by private landlords is, by necessity, usually located in low-income areas. While this is often true of government-subsidized housing, there have been recent developments of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), most importantly the recognition of disparate impact under the Act and the assertion that the perpetuation of segregation by concentrating affordable housing in low-income areas may trigger this disparate impact. Living in higher-income areas provides numerous benefits to families, including increased educational opportunities for children. Yet, the continued use of a binary and formulaic approach to determine if housing is affordable more deeply entrenches the divide between "protected affordable housing," the government-subsidized housing that is the subject of fair housing progression, and "unprotected affordable housing, " housing that is lower in price and outside of the reach of the FHA developments. Inclusion of unprotected affordable housing in data collection efforts by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other housing agencies will provide a more accurate picture of affordable housing in the Unites States, allowing for targeted solutions to address the affordable housing shortfall.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 248 I. Defining and Creating Affordable Housing 251 A. History of the Formula 251 B. Uses of the Formula 253 C. Critiques of the Formula 254 II. Fairer Housing: Call to Action to Decrease Segregation and Increase Healthy Communities 267 III. Education and Affordable Housing: The Thomasville Study 270 IV. Leaving Behind Unprotected Affordable Housing 273 Conclusion 275 INTRODUCTION

Thomasville Heights sits in a southeast corner of Atlanta, Georgia, one of the fastest growing cities in the country. While the rest of the metropolis has experienced positive growth and neighborhood revitalization over the last couple decades, the Thomasville Heights neighborhood remains plagued by a dearth of affordable housing, triggering long-term negative consequences in the area. Georgia is meeting only twenty-eight percent of the affordable housing needs of extremely low-income tenants--households with an income that is thirty percent or less than the area's median income. (1) One symptom of this housing crisis is high turnover rates in the public school education system. A study of Thomasville Heights Elementary School exposed the deterioration of the school system caused by the prevalence of unprotected affordable housing in the city. (2) Thomasville Heights is just one example that embodies the adverse effects housing instability can have on academic achievement.

Excessive evictions and substandard conditions have created hyper-mobile families, resulting in the extraction of children from their homes and schools. Unfortunately, the educational attainment, earning power, and quality of life that are positively correlated with it, suffer when families cannot afford safe housing. To comprehensively understand the affordable housing crisis, (3) the meaning of affordable housing and, specifically, the formula upon which this meaning relies, must be explored and questioned.

The Thomasville Heights study shows that impoverished families live in impoverished neighborhoods with impoverished schools. (4) While this troubling reality is not novel, the study made clear that affordable housing is as unstable as the availability of affordable housing. The adverse effects of living in a low-income neighborhood exceed physical housing, yet the definition of affordable housing fails to encapsulate this fact. This creates an inherent falsehood in the creation and labeling of affordable housing, which is particularly troubling for de facto affordable housing--meaning, "unprotected affordable housing." This is housing that is affordable to low-income persons only because its physical conditions and surroundings are repugnant and uninhabitable by those who can avoid it, but remain occupied only because of its price and because the government has failed to supply enough suitable alternatives. In recent years, even as government agencies and the Supreme Court increased and clarified the FHA's enforceability and expanded methods to challenge segregated housing, (5) this de facto affordable housing remains "unprotected," while government subsidized housing benefits from the increasingly progressive view of inclusive housing. (6)

This Article is the first to assert that these units of "unprotected affordable housing" remain susceptible to continued isolation and socio-economic harms. While "protected affordable housing" reaps the benefits of being affordable to low-income persons, receiving increased government attention on creating affordable housing outside of low-income areas, and being near amenities that enhance residents' quality of life, "unprotected affordable housing" must remain in lower-income neighborhoods to maintain a low monthly rate. At the center of this vulnerability is the stagnant, yet accepted definition of affordable housing. Despite the Supreme Court mandate to create more inclusive living patterns in the United States, (7) the basis of determining what Americans can afford remains dangerously outdated. (8)

The shortage of affordable housing in the United States remains pervasive. In 2013, thirty-four affordable housing units were available for every one hundred extremely low-income tenants, which represents a doubling of the affordable housing shortfall for this population in ten years. (9) The lack of affordable housing forces families into housing that fails to meet basic quality standards (10) and that is not part of a comprehensive government affordable housing policy. These housing units are examples of "unprotected affordable housing." Unprotected affordable housing is housing that meets the income-based definition of affordable housing, but only because the housing units lack basic amenities or have unsanitary or unsafe elements that explain the private landlord's lowering of the price. Unprotected affordable housing contrasts sharply with "protected affordable housing." Protected affordable housing units are subsidized in full or in part by the government, and benefit from increased scrutiny and safeguards instituted by the Supreme Court and HUD. (11) Protected affordable housing certainly can--and often, does--suffer from the dilapidated conditions and segregated nature that plagues unprotected affordable housing. However, the purpose of this Article is to explore how advances in affordable housing and fair housing policy fail to include unprotected affordable housing. This failure underscores how the affordable housing calculation is especially meaningless for the many who reside in this sub-category of affordable housing. Education is one example of an excluded area that has a profound economic impact on unprotected affordable housing residents.

Part I of this Article provides a historical overview and critique of the commonly accepted definition of affordable housing. Part II provides a brief overview of recent movements to increase the effectiveness and enforceability of the FHA, with a focus on how these policies impact affordable housing. The connection between education and affordable housing is well documented. However, by focusing on a specific neighborhood surrounding Thomasville Elementary, Part III illustrates the exacerbation of poor education on those residing in unprotected affordable housing. The prevalence and characteristics of unprotected affordable housing are described in Part IV, which also emphasizes the role of education in increasing the cost of this living environment to the residents. The conclusion looks forward, predicting how the affordable housing calculation may be revised and underscoring the need to assert a more comprehensive calculation and definition.


    Affordable housing typically signifies "housing that is available at a reduced cost for households with incomes at or below specific levels." (12) HUD defines affordable housing as "housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities." (13) This "thirty percent rule" is the current metric used to measure housing affordability--that is, individuals or families who contribute no more than thirty percent of their income towards housing costs are considered to be living in "affordable" housing. Conversely, households paying more than thirty or fifty percent are considered cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened, respectively. (14) The theory behind the thirty percent rule is that paying more than thirty percent of income towards housing fails to leave sufficient funds for other basic needs, such as transportation, food, clothing, and healthcare costs. (15)

    1. History of the Formula

      Although policymakers currently utilize the thirty percent rule to measure several forms of housing affordability, the evolution of this rule and housing affordability metrics generally are traceable back to federal housing policy. (16) In 1937, the first major piece of national housing policy legislation was passed by Congress to provide public housing to low-income families. (17) The National Housing Act of 1937 also provided for income limits for...

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