What are some of the key characteristics of a healthy housing system? And how can the success of these features be measured?
View the full forum here. In my view, a healthy housing system provides meaningful choice, residential stability, and equal opportunity.
- Meaningful Choice: In a truly healthy housing system, everyone would have access to a range of housing options that are affordable, accessible, and of good quality. Housing should be available at a wide range of price points – affordable to families of all incomes – in different settings (urban, suburban, rural, etc.) and include traditional rental and ownership options, as well as intermediate tenure choices such as shared equity homeownership. To minimize energy use and traffic congestion and maximize time with family, individuals should have a choice of living close to where they work. It’s important to underscore the importance of choices being “meaningful” in the sense that they are both affordable and available. A family confronted with a range of choices they cannot afford does not have a meaningful choice. By reducing the costs of housing to affordable levels, government housing policies and programs help to expand the number of families with meaningful housing choices.
- Residential Stability: Children thrive on stability. This does not mean they need to stay in the same house without moving. But it does mean they are likely to benefit from an environment in which their parents have control over when and under what circumstances to move. This type of residential stability is likely of great benefit to older adults and others as well. A healthy housing system would help increase residential stability by preventing evictions related to short-term disruptions of income, managing transitions for those affected by a long-term loss of income, and reducing the number of homeowners who are unable to move because they owe more than their homes are worth. Under normal market conditions, long-term fixed-rate mortgages help to promote housing stability by fixing mortgage costs at affordable levels.
- Equal Opportunity: In housing, as in other areas, we have no right to expect equal outcomes. But we all deserve equal opportunity. I view this as removing unnecessary obstacles to the realization of individual housing goals. The classic example is the elimination of housing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics. Similarly, we should strive to reduce unnecessary barriers to homeownership so that more families have access to that opportunity. In many respects, maximizing opportunity also maximizes choice – for example, by giving everyone the opportunity to live in a safe neighborhood with good schools.
In the paragraphs above, I’ve provided some substantive suggestions for how to achieve these outcomes. But I will be the first to admit that we currently lack good metrics for easily measuring their achievement. This is a sign that we either lack consensus regarding the attributes of a healthy housing system or have not invested sufficient resources on the research needed to measure them. Or perhaps both are true. We are inundated with data on housing costs and housing prices . But we know far too little about how individuals really experience their housing choices.
Jeffrey Lubell is Executive Director of the Center for Housing Policy.
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