By Anita M. Tillman, Policy & Governmental Affairs Director for the Louisiana Housing Corporation
In June of 2014, the Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC) received the results of a Housing Needs Assessment (HNA) performed by the Public Administration Institute at LSU. The HNA has shown us that although every region is impacted by a host of housing issues that are compounded in some census tracts, the singular issue that impacts nearly every corner of the state is rental affordability. When looking at overall housing expenses, including utilities, more than half of all Louisiana renters (53.1%) are rent-stressed – meaning that around 270,000 households spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Deeper study of the HNA data has raised the concern that even Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties, which are intended to relieve rent-stress, may also have a significant portion of renters who due to the effects of the recession on the housing and job market, are no longer able to afford to live in “affordable” housing.
Let’s plug in some real-life numbers in order to paint a clearer picture of rent stress:
The average median household income for the state of Louisiana is $44,164. This means that the average gross monthly household income is $3,680, leaving a net of about $2,750 after taxes. To live within a 30% housing budget, $825 would be the recommended maximum amount that should be used for household expenses including rent and utilities. According to realtor.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Louisiana is $1,141 which is already $316 above the targeted housing budget without adding in the cost of utilities. Clearly we can see why the population of rent-stressed households is so high. Even for the average household in Louisiana, affordability is a critical issue which deserves our undivided attention.
So often affordable housing is thought of a handout for those people who have little to no income or who refuse to work. It is an unfortunate stigma that manifests itself via NIMBY-ism and the spread of fear and misinformation. Consider that in the world of affordable housing development, 80% of the area median income is the upper income limit used when planning most multifamily housing projects. This means that on average, someone making $35,300 per year (80% of $44,164) in Louisiana could qualify to live in affordable housing. By doing a quick search of the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s career database we can see that the face of affordable housing could easily include your child’s favorite teacher, the college graduate just starting her career, the first responder who risks his life daily, the administrative assistant who keeps the company on the right track, the receptionist who greets you, the state worker, the city employee, accountants, supervisors, counselors, medical professionals, fire fighters, and the list goes on and on.
Improving affordability options for those most in need of decent housing is a core strategic goal of the LHC. The rehabilitation and preservation of existing housing units, increased layering of resources, along with community support are the basis for any and all solutions to improve and increase housing options statewide. As resources shrink and needs swell, we are working hard to implement solutions that are impactful and sustainable. The road ahead for LHC is paved with new technology, historical data analysis, leveraging public/private partnerships, and influencing state and federal housing policy. Our task is daunting, but our resolve is not diminished. With your continued support, we will successfully demonstrate that there is no place like a Louisiana home.
Anita M. Tillman is the Policy & Governmental Affairs Director for the Louisiana Housing Corporation. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by calling 225-763-8700. The Housing Needs Assessment and related data can be found at http://www.lhc.la.gov/aboutus/NeedsAssessment.aspx.