A Unique Opportunity to Think Long-Term

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

How can housing policy be responsive to today’s urgent needs (e.g., foreclosures, a sluggish housing market, affordability, etc.) and simultaneously address long-term trends (e.g., an aging population, growth of younger households)?

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Treating this as a question about where the commission should devote its energy and resources, I recommend that it focus not on the immediate issues but on longer term issues, including demographic drivers and their consequences for housing demand and public support. At the same time, the commission's bipartisan composition creates a rare opportunity not just to study the very long-term, but to develop recommendations on which Congress, the administration, and the other key players can begin to act in the next few years. Many aspects of our current system are bent or broken and this is a unique opportunity to design solutions.

The long-term demographic projections, including immigration and the burgeoning number of poor and frail seniors, make clear the growing need for affordable rental housing for low-income Americans.  What is ultimately important is enabling these residents to improve their lives and, for those with the prospect of increasing incomes, to put themselves in a position to afford market rate housing, freeing up assisted housing for others.   

For those with acute needs for services, shelter alone is not enough—housing can be a key part of the solution. Placing residents at the focal point of our approach can lead to reduced costs and improved outcomes.  These residents need access to other support systems to achieve their goals, and using housing to enable them to be successful often reduces the overall financial burden on government and the rest of society.  

If, as this analysis suggests, we will need an increasing number of housing "platforms" to improve outcomes and save costs, policy should continue to value preservation of the housing stock we have built at great expense and with bipartisan support over several decades.  Going forward, in addition to greater support for affordable rental housing as such, we should explore ways to gain resources for housing from other siloed programs that, as a result of our supporting housing platforms, will experience cost savings, ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to prisons and jails, 911 response systems, and foster care programs.

Bill Kelly is President and Co-Founder of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).


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