With the country up against an accelerating crisis of affordability in housing that has evolved both in its scope and complexity through the pandemic, Harvard University this week hosted a cross-disciplinary lecture and Q&A session with Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, Marcia Fudge, that highlighted policy solutions and challenges to providing appropriate, affordable housing for all.
Recently, real estate professionals have grappled with the specific ways other issues have fed into a lack of affordability, and Fudge, in her remarks, made it clear that the country at large needed to acknowledge the complex mechanisms that create these problems in order to solve them.
“We did not arrive at this crisis by accident,” she said.
As more and more data has shown that less affordability can have far-reaching effects through real estate markets as well as the broader economy, Fudge emphasized that acknowledging this problem and finding solutions is a responsibility we all share.
“As children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents, siblings, partners, friends and neighbors, do we want to be sure seniors can age with dignity and children can live in safe and healthy environments? Are we responsible at all for the world that we leave?” she asked.
A lack of wage growth, deemphasizing housing-related investments (HUD has seen its budget and staff shrink drastically and consistently over many decades) and a history of inequity have all contributed to unaffordable housing, Fudge said. Though estimates vary as to exactly how much new entry level and low-income rental housing will be required to meet the current need, the country continues to under build and under plan for this type of housing, according to the HUD Secretary.
“We need millions of homes today to take the pressure off the market so people can afford to live in a decent home,” she said.
In her opening remarks, Fudge also emphasized the degree of racial discrimination and inequality that has pervaded the housing market, both historically and currently, pointing out the homeownership gap between Black and white households has actually increased since landmark Civil Rights victories in the like 1960s.
“We have built a nation on free slave labor, free prison labor—a direct outgrowth of slavery—and free military labor, but there has never been a discussion about equity or fundamental fairness or justice,” she said.
Detriments—past and present—to affordable housing include restrictive zoning, Fudge said, and grassroots opposition to certain types of housing construction. Sometimes referred to as “NIMBYism,” Fudge cited these attitudes as hampering affordability in certain types of neighborhoods, as regions like the West and Northeast have struggled particularly with local opposition to housing growth and densification.
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