U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke has spoken on affordable housing, homeownership and the effects of the homelessness crisis on the Black and brown community. She introduced the Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act to try and address some of these issues.
Homebuyers reportedly fled most northeastern markets during the pandemic in 2022, but Realtor.com reported that there was a small increase in rates of homeownership for people of color, except Hispanic households. Even so, Black homeowners “still remain the lowest of the groups studied despite significant growth in the last couple of years.”
“As we all know, it’s impossible to ignore the very real and ever-growing housing crisis, which continues to ravage Black and brown communities in particular, and devastate American lives. Cities, once the cornerstone of the American dream, are quickly becoming too expensive for too many Americans,” said Clarke. She recently spoke on the topic at the 51st Congressional Black Caucus Foundations’ Annual Legislative Conference on Friday, Sept. 30 in Washington, D.C.
Senior Executive Director Valerie White of LISC NY said that it’s likely that the ‘rebound’ in the housing market post-pandemic is not sustainable. She said there’s plenty of elderly Black, African, or Caribbean homeowners selling their properties and moving down South or to their native island. Her parents, who owned a home in the city, similarly moved to Florida. She’s hopeful that economic and homeowner equity will be pushed in the city to stave off the inevitable gentrification of neighborhoods.
“The question is if you’re there and you own a home, how do you maintain or transfer the home to someone that looks like that neighborhood. Something we’re seeing less of in recent years,” said White.
Clarke said that across the country, and in Brooklyn, soaring rent prices and the severe lack of affordable housing units continue to displace low-income communities, making basic housing needs unattainable for those who need it most.
The serious rise in rents has led to the deterioration of “affordability” in the northeast in the past 12 months. For example, the median asking rent in 50 of the largest cities decreased to $1,771. Meanwhile, the median rent for one-bedroom apartments in the New York, Newark, Jersey City, and Pennsylvania areas is $2,498 while the median asking rent of two-bedrooms is $3,107 monthly, said Realtor.com’s August Rental report.
The Affordable Housing and Area Median Income (AMI) Fairness Act examines the AMI statistic set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is used as the basis for income caps and rent pricing associated with affordable housing. The bill asks to reevaluate AMI and create recommendations for reforming or eliminating the use of AMI altogether.
“In cities like New York, the AMI is inflated,” said Clarke. “Units designated as affordable, may not be feasible to most renters of the community. More than one-third of families in East New York earn less than 30% of the AMI, making it even more challenging to access affordable housing.”
Clarke said that affordable housing units are extremely challenging to come by. Units that come up on the market often go to those who can present landlords with the best-looking application rather than to families who desperately need housing the most, she said.
The homeownership problem, coupled with the rise in rents, the difficulty in finding and qualifying for the affordable housing lottery, and the current migrant housing crisis overburdening the city’s shelter system, has led to a powder keg situation for the Black and brown community.
“As it relates to homelessness, that goes back to the housing insecurity issue. You’re housed and then all it takes is one crisis and then you’re not able to stay in housing. The pandemic contributed to that. There’s also individuals with mental health and other health issues that compounded their being unhoused,” said White. “And of course, the system is being swept with refugees that are being picked up regularly.”
White said another big part of the housing crisis is the erection of smaller luxury apartment buildings with amenities being easier to put up than ‘affordable housing.’ She said at any point for builders they need the rents to pay back loans in real estate, which is less favorable with non-competitive market units.
“It’s very expensive to build affordable housing. It is complex and takes a number of investors and staff to put together. I think that’s an issue from a policy standpoint in the city but also nationally,” said White. “Those who are in the business of building are not getting their capital. If they don’t have equity they’re not going to build it.”
A Citizens Budget Commission report on the city’s land use decision-making process also pointed out that the land use process itself is lengthy, costly, and often a “contentious” and political system that hampers affordability and job growth. The report added that housing production has categorically failed to keep up with population growth in the city.
White said there needs to be some housing development as well as equitable opportunities for Black and brown people to be in these homes and apartments. She said there needs to be more federal access to capital, fair appraisals for Black and brown homeowners, and more enforcement in fair housing laws.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w