BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — While prices at grocery stores and gas stations have most of us tightening our purse strings as inflation hits record highs, it’s the rapidly increasing housing costs that will have the most repercussions on the working class.
To combat the issue, many advocate for the development of more affordable housing. But Deirdre Pfeiffer – a professor at Arizona State University for the School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning – said not everyone is on board with new affordable housing developments.
“Homeowners typically have a lot of their wealth packaged up in their homes. They are worried about losing their wealth, so they are highly risk averse when it comes to changes to the environment around their home,” she said.
Pfeiffer added homeowners’ worries that affordable housing would be detrimental to the worth of their home could stem from subconscious racial biases.
“Homeowners associate certain kinds of housing, like some types of affordable housing, with racial and ethnic minorities, sometimes not being fully consciously aware of it,” Pfeiffer said. “There is lots of discourse in media, politics, policymaking, etc. that historically has linked affordable housing with racial and ethnic minorities and racial and ethnic minorities with crime and poverty. Homeowners may be drawing on these stereotypes in opposing affordable housing.”
However, Pfeiffer said there is no evidence property values decline or crime rates increase when affordable housing is introduced to an area. Pfeiffer said taking vacant lots and filling them with buildings actually improves the look and continuity of the area.
Pfeiffer also suggested affordable housing developers are most often not targeting the demographic people associated with crime. She added most of the time, the people living in affordable housing make 80 percent of the local area median income.
“When you frame it as housing for seniors, teachers, police officers, etc., concerns about increased crime become much less. Let’s keep in mind that teenage and young adult men are most at risk of criminality; affordable housing is not usually targeting this demographic,” she said.
In a Nextdoor post discussing a proposed low-income project in Bakersfield, California, most homeowners in the area said they rejected the idea of bringing that type of property into the neighborhood.
Most said they planned on either objecting to the project at a city planning meeting or voicing their concerns to the city through email.
Some of those opposed to the project said moving ahead with it would bring down property values.
“This is an area where homes are all valued at $500,000 +. Think of the devaluation of the homes if this project is approved and completed. Not to mention that most of the folks who would live in these small units are mostly unemployed or living on government assistance, “ Mac Anderson wrote on the public forum.
But putting new affordable housing developments in more secluded areas away from existing neighborhoods may not be a viable option.
“Land prices, construction timelines and permitting costs tend to be higher and longer in existing neighborhoods, but the costs of connecting infrastructure to new neighborhoods can be expensive,” Pfeiffer said.
Looking to more secluded areas also keeps tenants from public transportation, a resource some rely on to get to work. According to the Department of Transportation, true affordability takes into account the cost of housing and the cost of transportation from that location.
Benefits of affordable housing
Pfeiffer said affordable housing is essential to a growing community. Without more affordable housing, rising housing costs could price people out of the communities they’ve called home their whole lives.
“Imagine growing up somewhere and not being able to afford housing when you leave your family home, so you have to move away from those you love and the place you want to invest in,” Pfeiffer said. “Think of how a lack of affordable housing creates a missed opportunity to cultivate lifelong investment from those who live in a place and support places where people know and care for one another.”
Local real estate appraiser Gary Crabtree reported in his “Crabtree Report” that list prices for homes currently on the market were up 32.2 percent year-over-year. ApartmentList.com found the average rent in the United States rose 16 percent year over year.
Advocates for affordable housing say without more units, buyers and renters will be pushed out of the area to more affordable places or forced to live beyond their means. This means people could be spending 50 to 70 percent of their earnings solely on housing. The unhoused population could also increase.
What is considered affordable housing?
Affordable housing is an umbrella term used to describe paying no more than 30 percent of a paycheck toward housing costs, according to Pfeiffer.
While some people think public housing–buildings built and managed by the government–is the only form of affordable housing, this is not true. This means privately owned buildings, not subsidized by the government, can also be considered affordable housing as long as they offer rents low enough for the average person in the area to afford.
Affordable housing also includes buildings built with federal and state funds on the condition they rent out some units to lower-income individuals and families, Section 8 housing–a voucher program in which tenants receive money from the government to pay for rent–and the aforementioned public housing.
“A lot of the subsidy programs attach income targeting requirements to this threshold, for instance to be eligible for a housing voucher you have to make under a certain amount of money, and the voucher makes sure that tenants don’t have to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent,” Pfeiffer said.
The waiting list for these programs is incredibly long. The Housing Authority of Kern County in California, for example, opened its Section 8 waiting list in January for the first time in 10 years.
Pfeiffer said that cultivating affordable housing is critical to a growing economy. When housing is affordable, the area becomes more attractive to prospective employees. People also have more disposable income to spend on the local economy when housing is affordable.
“Employers care a lot about housing affordability. Affordable housing is attractive in recruiting employees, thus it’s also important in recruiting employers. From this perspective, affordable housing is needed for a place to economically thrive,” she said.