It’s come to me that my recent posting on President Obama’s affordable housing budget skirted the heart of the issue: What do we mean by affordable housing?
When I talk about affordable housing I generally mean housing that’s affordable for poor people. These are the people that federal housing programs classify as “extremely low-income”–those with household incomes at or below 30% of area median income.
But there are also “very low-income” households–those with incomes at or below 50% of the AMI. And then there are just plain low-income households, whose incomes can be as high as 80% of AMI.
There’s obviously a wide spread here. To illustrate, in the District of Columbia, an extremely low-income family of three has an annual income not exceeding $27,700. The maximum for a low-income family of three is more than twice that–$57,600.
Affordable housing programs can be exclusively for extremely and very low-income people. Housing Choice vouchers, for example, are only for them, and 75% of the vouchers must go to the former.
But affordable housing programs also extend to just plain low-income people. For example, homeownership assistance under HOME Investment Partnerships grants is available to anyone with an income no greater than 80% of AMI.
And then there are programs folded into the dialogue that are intended to make home ownership more affordable for moderate, as well as low-income households–FHA home loans, for example.
So it’s easy to see that policymakers and advocates can be talking at cross purposes. We’re all for affordable housing. But affordable for whom?
The National Low Income Housing Coalition has addressed this issue by spearheading an open letter to Congress and the Administration. “What we mean by housing,” it says, “is enough homes renting at affordable rates so that our nation’s lowest income families and individuals are assured of safe and decent places to live.”
That will require funding commitments that are not in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. But I think I understand how the Administration can claim leadership on affordable housing anyway.