Affordable Housing in California and SB 31

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All people need stable, safe, affordable housing and not all people have access to it. Indeed, some people argue that we should conceptualize a right to housing in much the same way that we conceptualize a right to the freedom of speech or religion. Indeed, FDR, when he was outlining the necessities for a secure life in a free society, isolated the “right of every to a decent home” as critical for human happiness (Bratt et al. 1). For many vulnerable members of our society, the housing crisis isn’t over and might never be over unless there is systematic state support. There are about 800,000 homeless people at any given night in the United States and it could be within the space of a day that more vulnerable, renting families join them. Three in ten US households have housing affordability problem. Indeed, rents have risen due to the large influx of people having to enter the rental market, due to the lack of markets and the foreclosure crises and despite rent control policies. In 2012, the rent that was affordable for extremely low-income households was $505 a month; the fair market rent of a typical one-bedroom apartment was $797 a month (Bravve et al. 3). Wages are insufficient and rent is expensive; despite the immense need for low-income housing, the supply is actually shrinking.

Particularly in California, affordable homes are rare and the previously allocated funds to help create affordable housing have dried up. Working full time, Californians would have to make $26.02 an hour in order to be able to afford a two-bedroom fair market value apartment, which is the third most expensive market in the country, after only Hawaii and the District of Columbia(Bravve et al. 9). A new legislative route to helping support those who need us most is absolutely critical, and thankfully, the California Homes and Jobs ACT of 2013 (or SB 391) moves us in the right direction. SB 391 imposes a fee of $75 whenever an individual files legal paperwork related to real estate. According to the author of the law, DeSaulnier, it will create 29,000 jobs annually, mostly in the construction sector and leverage an additional $2.78 billion in funding for the creation of affordable housing. It is broadly supported by over 600 different organizations, including business associations, veteran and senior organizations, labor groups, real estate brokers, law enforcement, health care organizations, construction companies, and many other community organizations.

Supplying access to affordable housing is a moral imperative. California does not have enough money to increase the supply of low-income housing to a level that would help mitigate the shocking burden housing is on California’s vulnerable. Building additional low-income housing means that more people have stable housing that they can afford. The empirical research suggests that increasing low-income housing is good for communities on multiple axes. Without the assurance of being able to afford one’s living space, it is often necessary to move extremely frequently. Children who move frequently do not do as well as school, even when controlling for the effects of poverty itself. They are more likely to drop out of school, they are less likely to find jobs that will allow them to improve their class position, and they are more likely to be unemployed. (Mueller and Tighe 375). Dropping out of high school doesn’t just mean that the child’s life will be more difficult; it also costs the community money. One estimate in the mid-1980s suggests that high school dropouts were costing Los Angeles $488 million per year (Mueller and Tighe 375). And, students who move frequently are more likely to act out violently in high school, causing ripple effects that hurt everyone’s children. Increasing the supply of affordable housing decreases violent crime in general, even. Authors Matthew Freedman and Emily Owens found that for each new unit of low income housing built, county-wide aggravated assaults fell by 3% (Freedman and Owens). That includes rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods; the positive externalities of additional housing affect the entire neighborhood.

Even if it weren’t for the benefits accruing to the whole community from affordable housing, it would still be morally necessary to spread the cost of housing such that more people can access it. The harms to our fellow citizens from not being able to afford a place to live are so devastating that it is the duty of those with more to help. Homelessness or having mobility issues makes it very difficult to maintain a stable job, go to school and learn, or do any of the things that would make it possible for someone to become more economically comfortable. The housing crunch in California is so severe that it is impossible for truly low-income families to improve their lot and for medium income families to save for long term plans. This bill adds a reasonable, small amount of money to the filing of paperwork by those who have the capacity to purchase their home. The burden on any individual person is not large. Indeed, the law even targets those who are more economically comfortable, by the simple fact that if they can purchase a home and be approved for a mortgage in today’s market, they have stability that most lack. Additionally, there have been decades of subsidies for home ownership in the United States. Tax money has already gone to establish home ownership, both federally and statewide. Everyone’s tax money has gone to making home ownership more accessible; now let’s work on allowing people to have homes at all.

Works Cited

Bratt, Rachel G, Michael E Stone, and Chester Hartman. "Why a Right to Housing Is Needed and Makes Sense: Editors’ Introduction." The Affordable Housing Reader. Eds. Tighe, JR and Elizabeth J Mueller. New York: Routeledge, 2012.

Bravve, Elina, et al. "Out of Reach 2012: America's Forgotten Housing Crisis (Washington, Dc: National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2012).

Freedman, Matthew, and Emily G Owens. "Low-Income Housing Development and Crime." Journal of Urban Economics, vol. 70, no. 2, 2011, pp. 115-31.

Mueller, Elizabeth J, and J Rosie Tighe. "Making the Case for Affordable Housing: Connecting Housing with Health and Education Outcomes." Journal of Planning Literature, vol. 21, no. 4. 2007, pp. 371-85.