The following are excerpts from editorials published in other newspapers across New England:
A study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies has thrown important light on the nation’s affordable-housing problem. Released this month, the study focuses specifically on rents, which have been soaring over the last few years, even as the median income of renters has fallen. The supply of available units has failed to keep up with growing demand.
The collapse of the housing bubble worsened the supply problem, as foreclosures forced many homeowners into the rental market. Tighter credit standards have restrained home purchases, so home ownership remains down. Builders of new rental units, meanwhile, target wealthier customers, frequently forcing those with low incomes into desperate straits.
“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known,” summarized Shaun Donovan, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The squeeze has forced more people into homelessness. Both Rhode Island and Massachusetts have been feeling the effects, with greater numbers flocking to homeless shelters rather than face rents of $1,000 or more per month.
In Massachusetts, one of the few states to offer emergency shelter to anyone who qualifies, spending on motels has soared, costing taxpayers more than $46 million over the past five years, The Boston Globe reports. The number of homeless people in the state shot up by nearly 14 percent between 2010 and last January, to 20,000.
Nationally, more than one in four renters spend more than half their income on housing. To be considered affordable, housing should typically consume no more than 30 percent of a household’s pretax income.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, one of the tasks still before Congress is reshaping the housing market. The federal government currently plays an outsized role in home purchases and must find a way to scale back its involvement. At the same time, as the Harvard report urgently demonstrates, it must find ways to improve rental opportunities. Tackling both sides of the housing coin should be a priority in the coming year.