Tackling the Affordable Housing Crisis

A panel of industry veterans offered a sober assessment and strategies for progress at the Institute of Real Estate Management’s annual summit in Chicago.

Chicago—What’s ahead for affordable housing? A panel of industry veterans offered a sober assessment and strategies for progress on Wednesday afternoon at the Institute of Real Estate Management’s annual summit in Chicago.

Affordable housing panelists at IREM Summit meet audience members.

Panelists discuss affordable housing with audience members at IREM Summit in Chicago.  From left, speakers included Gwen Volk, David  McGuill, Eileen Wirth and Pamela Monroe.

Funding poses a significant challenge, reported Eileen Wirth, president & CEO of the Octavia Hill Association, a century-old Philadelphia nonprofit. “Unfortunately, moving forward, it’s not looking much brighter,” she said. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget hits calls for flat funding, so that operators will be unable to count on increased payments to offset rising costs. “It will be a bit of a challenge,” she noted. “Hopefully, we won’t run into any major capital needs.”

The decades-old formula for determining eligibility bears reconsideration, said David McGuill, regional vice president for Related Management Co. Many of those who could benefit from workforce opportunities, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters,  earn considerably more than the 60 percent of  area median income. “They’re left in a position where they don’t necessarily have access” to designated affordable housing, he noted. Raising the threshold for eligibility to 90 percent or 100 percent of AMI “would be a huge push in the right direction,” McGuill contended.

Common Myths

That said, affordable housing advocates continue to face widespread misconceptions. Gwen Volk, a longtime executive and consultant, cited a long list of myths: that affordable communities are characterized by inferior construction, crime, increased traffic, burdened public schools, declining property values and lazy, unemployed residents.  But a series of studies from government agencies, non-profit organizations and academia show that the opposite is true, she contended. For instance, the presence of affordable communities enhances family stability. That, in turn, helps improve student performance and test scores by attracting talented teachers to school districts. And since affordable apartment residents are more likely to use public transportation and less likely to own cars, the contention that affordable communities make traffic worse is untrue, Volk said. 

During the next several decades, affordable housing for seniors will become an increasingly important issue, noted Pamela Monroe, vice president for National Church Residences. Seniors will comprise fully one fifth of the U.S. population by 2030. In 38 percent of households covered by Section 202, the principal federal housing program for low-income seniors, annual income is less than $13,000.

She urged service coordinators to carry out health assessments of residents and share data with healthcare providers, government officials and other stakeholders. Hospital stays by residents of the group’s properties have declined 5 percent in the past year. “Take advantage of your partnerships that can help,” she advised the audience. “Moving forward, take care of your seniors and let them age in place at home.”