A new law in Albuquerque will soon prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to people based on their source of income.
The ordinance is designed to help low-income seniors, people with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness find safe and stable housing.
Supporters of the new ordinance, set to take effect in September, say many of the city’s most vulnerable residents have been turned away by landlords when they offer a Section 8 voucher or other public subsidy to pay rent.
Albuquerque Managing Assistant City Attorney Torri Jacobus said, like many other communities, Albuquerque has a housing and homelessness crisis.
“Housing vouchers have been proven to be one of the ways in which people are able to either leave homelessness,” said Jacobus, “or prevent homelessness and maintain stable housing.”
To receive Section 8 assistance, a family’s income must be at or below 50% of the area median income – which means many have difficulty affording basic goods and services, including housing.
Section 8 vouchers allow people to pay 30% of their income toward rent, with the federal government funding the rest.
In Albuquerque, Jacobus said 72% of Section 8 voucher holders are seniors, children and people with disabilities.
“Households with extremely low incomes make up about one-in-four households in Albuquerque,” said Jacobus. “That then converts into households where monthly rent is more than half of their monthly income.”
The ordinance also includes $150,000 to develop a “landlord incentive” program, and another $50,000 that Jacobus said will be allocated for education and technical assistance.
“To make sure they understand their rights, their responsibilities and the processes,” said Jacobus. “And the Office of Civil Rights for the City of Albuquerque is going to provide those resources.”
Prior to passage of the ordinance, a survey of 176 landlords by Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless found 65% refused to take housing vouchers.
At a public hearing, some property owners argued vouchers would create new burdens and financial hardships, but the ordinance ultimately passed on a 5-to-4 vote.
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Not long after the Reagan administration’s massive cuts to public housing and housing assistance, John Parvensky saw a need to help people facing homelessness. After 36 years leading the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Parvensky has announced his retirement.
He said the number of people experiencing homelessness has varied over the years, but the root causes remain. Denver, for example, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new convention centers, sports stadiums and other infrastructure.
“Yet when it comes to human infrastructure, for housing and the support services,” said Parvensky, “the dollars are a fraction of those amounts and a fraction of what’s needed to meet the needs of the community.”
Looking ahead, Parvensky said he hopes funding recently approved by voters for services can be put to work redirecting pipelines to homelessness, for example, by helping youths aging out of foster care and people discharged from criminal-justice and mental-health systems access transitional housing.
Denver estimates it has a shortage of 27,000 housing units considered affordable for families earning less than 30% of the area median income, about $33,000 a year for a family of four.
Parvensky said ramping up nonprofit development is key to meeting demand. When housing is treated as a commodity, property owners win when home values and rents go up, and developers only want to build high-end units for high-end profits.
“If you don’t own housing, or if you’re a renter, you fall further and further behind as those costs go up,” said Parvensky. “That gap can’t be solved by the market alone, it needs to be solved with community and public investment.”
Parvensky said he also sees opportunities to build on successful efforts connecting people with medical, mental and behavioral health services, and safe housing for partners fleeing domestic violence.
He said while no one wants to see tents lining city streets, most people realize that homelessness is a complex problem and requires complex solutions.
“It requires a lot of collaboration,” said Parvensky, “and it just requires more investment across all communities to be able to meet the level of need that we are seeing on the streets and in our shelters.”
Disclosure: Colorado Coalition for the Homeless contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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By Sarah Melotte for The Daily Yonder.
Broadcast version by Eric Galatas for Colorado News Connection for the Public News Service/Daily Yonder Collaboration
Migrants to Pitkin County added a quarter billion dollars to the county’s Adjusted Gross Income in 2020. Pitkin’s recreation economy is thriving, but what does that mean for middle- and low-income families?
Outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world visit rural Pitkin County for year-round recreation. Skiers and snowboarders flock to Aspen’s world-famous slopes in the winter and the summer months bring even more opportunities for outdoor adventure. Tourists engage in hiking, tubing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, and camping in the Rocky Mountains that tower over the rural town.
From 1998-2019, industries related to travel and tourism increased 12% in Pitkin County. Some reports cite the benefits that recreation bring to a rural economy, such as economic diversification and the migration of young workers into the area. A 2018 Pew Trust analysis found that a recreation county in Montana had more high-paying full-time employment and a 29% increase in jobs from 2000 to 2015 all due to recreation. Recreation-dependent counties, which are defined by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) as having a certain share of their economy dependent on recreation related industries, also have lower persistent poverty levels. But the effects of recreation are complex and vary county to county.
Recreation Can Dislocate Residents
Recreation can cause dislocation, which occurs when people who can no longer afford to live in an area move, according to a recent Daily Yonder analysis.
A 2005 ERS report stated that although recreation can attract permanent residents and produce a diverse economy, it can also introduce seasonal, low- wage and low- skilled jobs while simultaneously increasing housing prices. Aspen, one of Pitkin County’s resort towns, was named the most expensive neighborhood in the country in 2020.
Over 900 households migrated to Pitkin County in 2020, resulting in a net gain of $283 million in Adjusted Growth Income, when factoring in the income lost when people left the county.
The migration of high-income residents and rising costs of living, combined with the share of homes intended for seasonal use, increases housing competition in rural recreation counties. Workers from outside the county could be commuting into Pitkin County for a variety of reasons, but often it is because of an increased cost of living, said Megan Lawson, Ph.D., of Headwaters Economics in an interview.
“In non-metro counties, as the net migration rate increases by 10%, the share of wages spent on mortgages increases by 7%” Lawson wrote in a 2020 housing analysis on rural recreation communities. As Pitkin County grew 1.2% in the last decade, households struggling to pay rent increased by 3.7%.
A five-year estimate of the American Community Survey (ACS) released in 2015 found that 3,219 workers commuted to Pitkin County from Eagle County, while 4,201 workers commuted from Garfield County. ACS 5-year estimates are data collected over a 60 month period and describe the average of that period. The population in Pitkin County 16 years and older during the same collection period was about 14,911, meaning that the number of commuters into Pitkin was equal to about half the population that was of age to work.
Pitkin County has more employees that commute from outside the county than the state average. The average percentage of people who work outside their county of residence in Colorado is 22%. But only 11% of Pitkin County residents commuted outside the county for work.
Pitkin County has a lower percentage of people who commute outside the county to work than the state average, suggesting that Pitkin County has a higher share of employees that come from outside the county than other Colorado counties.
While recreation is often touted as a cure for rural poverty and economic stagnation, locals can find themselves pushed out of their homes to make space for new development. Experts suggest there are solutions to the problem. Constructing new housing priced for low-income families can reduce the burden of competition for those experiencing housing insecurity, for example.
Other solutions include revising zoning policies that regulate the supply of housing for low – income households, giving tax credits for more densely developed housing units, removing square footage requirements for units, and eliminating impact fees (fees developers pay a local government for infrastructure offsets) for affordable housing.
These solutions can be hard sells because people who own homes in a neighborhood of single family units often resist affordable housing developments, citing fears of urbanization and decreasing home values, among other things. Community development specialists suggest that circumventing a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude is easier than fighting it. Purchasing buildings for units that accept housing vouchers (instead of constructing new ones) is one approach, says former director of The National Housing Trust Michael Bodaken in an interview with Shelter Force. Some states also enact Fair Share laws that require municipalities to provide enough affordable housing for middle and low income residents or risk losing zoning and permitting privileges.
Local housing authorities and non-profits can organize to provide affordable housing as well. The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) provides Pitkin County workers affordable housing by offering deed-restricted units – units that must be sold or rented to qualified individuals at an affordable price. Residents may be eligible for the bidding lottery if they have worked in Pitkin County for at least four years. APCHA also allows employers to buy affordable units to rent or sell to their full-time employees. Their interactive map shows units organized by APCHA for interested participants.
Rural recreation communities confronting the prospect of affordability issues may plan ahead to protect their long-term residents. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies provides information on how communities can create incentives for affordable housing.
Recreation-dependent counties are defined using a weighted index that considers three components – 1) jobs; 2) earnings in entertainment, recreation, accommodations, food/drink, and real estate; and 3) the percentage of housing set aside exclusively for seasonal use. Recreation counties are counties with a weighted index one standard deviation or more above the mean.
The tourism data was compiled and organized by Headwaters Economics, which provides a free tool to download socioeconomic data by county. Data sources include Census Bureau, American Community Survey annual and 5-year estimates, and Zillow housing data. To review their full methods, download a report.
Sarah Melotte wrote this article for The Daily Yonder.
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Higher mortgage rates and skyrocketing rents have fueled the nation’s housing crisis. In states like Iowa, rural communities deal with the same market issues, but they point to existing efforts as a blueprint to increase access.
In the past decade, housing growth in rural areas was roughly 3%, which is far below suburban areas.
Alissa O’Connor, director of the Humboldt County Development Association, said over the years, they have established programs to help smaller towns in their area counteract housing shortages.
“We do have a very successful building trades program,” O’Connor pointed out. “We utilize the high school students to construct new, or renovate existing, homes.”
She noted they have purchased land to spur development in subdivisions. But groups tracking the efforts say not all areas have equal resources, and detailed planning is needed to see what fits. Rising construction costs are seen as another barrier to building more homes in rural settings.
Johnathan Hladik, policy director at the Center for Rural Affairs, said small communities also may not have as many contractors available for new development. But in his view, it should not stop local leaders from being proactive. He noted the remote-work movement is adding to competition for residents.
“This is the moment where people are interested in living in a rural area, and a community needs to do what it can to attract them,” Hladik explained. “You need to have housing stock, and you need to have a good broadband. And if you combine that with good schools and a good quality of life, you’re going to be in a really good spot.”
There are existing government programs towns can use to help increase housing stock and attract developers.
Sara Barron, executive director of the Johnson County Affordable Housing Coalition, said a lot of federal assistance often goes to large cities, leaving a local funding gap.
“Some of that can be funded by local and county governments,” Barron acknowledged. “But especially for rural, smaller communities, it really requires that state investment.”
Disclosure: The Center for Rural Affairs contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Environment, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, and Rural/Farming Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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