I think in this country, since the 1970s at least, there has been this historic pivot in housing policy in which the federal government has decided it does not want to compete with the private sector by constructing hard units of housing or by investing in housing in the manner they were doing in the New Deal era, and instead what the federal government’s role is, is to fuel private housing production. That’s where you see the rise of the Housing Choice Voucher and the rise of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit in 1986. But these sorts of tools are inherently inadequate. They are not enough to ensure a unit for everyone who needs one.
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If you speak to an urban economist about why housing is so expensive, they will typically cite two gaps. [One is] the gap between the number of people who want an affordable unit and the number of affordable units that exist. They will also talk about the gap between wages and rent. Wages have eroded since the 1970s, but housing costs have risen exponentially since the 1970s. I think those types of explanations do get us somewhere, but I don’t think they are necessarily sufficient to explain our contemporary housing system. Do they speak to speculation? Do they speak to the historic rescission of the federal role in housing production? No.
I think that this re-conception of the state’s role in housing is driving so much of the affordable housing crisis in the country. I think that we need new approaches and new narratives as well to explain why we have the affordable housing crisis that we have. That will lead us to new solutions that will actually be sufficient to helping people.