One element typically ignored in housing policy: helping low income families stay in their homes via repair assistance
Rebuilding Together is a national organization, dedicated to providing housing improvement assistance ("critical repairs and renovations") to low income households, via more than 150 locally based programs scattered around the US.
The organization terms April as "National Rebuilding Month" (the organization used to be called "Christmas in April"), and encourages affiliates to focus their service efforts then, culminating in "National Rebuilding Day," held on the last Saturday in April.
Local affiliates are a mix of either all-volunteer organizations or some with paid staff. Funds may be a mix of government grants and locally raised donations, depending on the group. Affiliates with paid staff tend to undertake more projects and do projects throughout the year, rather than just in April.
Last year, collectively they repaired 10,400 houses with the involvement of 100,000 volunteers for an equivalent value of $90 million of output.
In addition to the national conference, RT national also organizes some "national" events. For example, over Martin Luther King Jr. Day Weekend in January 2014 (January 18th-20th), RT affiliates from around the country will join together in working on a slew of projects in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Meeting Tomorrow's Housing Challenges.
The document is superb, and brings together a lot of academic research on housing practice and policy into one document.
One of the conference presenters was Kermit Baker of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. He runs their Remodeling Futures Project, which collects data and makes policy recommendations about the housing remodeling industry.
His presentation was fascinating in how it contrasted overall housing remodeling statistics with statistics for lower income households.
Most households do one major remodeling project annually, targeting one key element of the house, either a repair or maintenance, or the creation of a new feature. Annually, the average household spends $2,400 on improvements and $700 on repairs.
Their research finds that a disabled household spends 10% less than the average, senior households 20% less, minority households 30% less, households with houses under $100,00 in value 50% less, and households with under $20,000 annual income spend 50% less.
Households with all of these characteristics spend an average of $500 year on repairs and improvements, less than one-sixth of the national average, and a majority of these households spend no money at all.
These are the kinds of households that are helped by Rebuilding Together. But the demand is much greater than they are able to address.
And it is growing.
1. Income inequality is increasing and poorer households have a disproportionate need for repairs, especially because the problems of deferred repairs get worse over time.
2. The housing stock is aging, and older houses require more repair, not less.
3. The population is aging and older households are the fastest growing segment of the housing market. Plus as people are living longer, one-half of households 75 years of age and older have disability and access issues.
Clearly, local housing policies need to address these issues more than they do, in addition to how some communities, having more housing than the current demand will support, are demolishing housing stock (Planetizen webpage on shrinking cities), and how programs exist to support the rehabilitation of existing multiunit housing:
-- Multifamily Housing Preservation, US Department of Housing and Urban Development
-- past blog entry, "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia"
I also see this as the source of some of the tension and resentment concerning what many people call gentrification.
When I saw the documentary "Flag Wars," about the Olde Towne East neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, how it experienced housing in-migration into a traditionally African-American neighborhood by gay households with the economic means to restore very large and often dilapidated properties, I was struck by the thought that a lot of the resentment had to do with the fact that many of the existing households lacked the means to properly address their repair issues, and in fact were overwhelmed.
People needed help and lacked the money to take on daunting projects. Sicking code inspectors on them wasn't helping them.
I thought a lot of the resentment could have been addressed through a neighborhood-city project comparable to what Rebuilding Together does.