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How the Housing Crisis Erodes Community Wellbeing

The crisis of affordable housing in the United States extends beyond the realm of economics and finance, profoundly impacting the very essence of community well-being, mental health, and fundamental human rights. At the heart of this issue is not just the inability of many to secure housing within financial reach but also the profound effects such a struggle has on psychological and overall well-being.


Mental Health

A lack of affordable housing contributes significantly to a cascade of mental health challenges, including stress, anxiety, and depression. The relentless worry over making rent or mortgage payments and the prospect of foreclosure or eviction puts enormous strain on individuals and families. This chronic stress can exacerbate or lead to mental health conditions, negatively affecting people's ability to work, learn, and engage with their communities.


Community Stability and Wellness

Communities thrive on stability, severely undermined when affordable housing is scarce. The constant churn of residents moving in and out, seeking more affordable living conditions, disrupts the community connection, making it difficult to foster a sense of belonging and solidarity. This instability can increase isolation and diminish the support networks vital for individual and communal wellness.


Affordable Housing as a Basic Human Right

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being and that of their family, including housing. Yet, the reality of the housing affordability crisis challenges this fundamental principle, highlighting a glaring gap between ideal and practice.


To further illustrate the gravity of the housing challenges faced by many Americans today, here are some statistics that underscore the pressing need for more affordable housing:


- Rising Rates, Decreasing Affordability: Mortgage rates reached 7.79% in October 2023 — the highest in 20 years. As of November 2023, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 7.22%. [CNN, January 17, 2024: https://www.cnn.com/cnn-underscored/money/historical-mortgage-rates]


- The ALICE Population: The United Way reports that about 36 million American households, or 29%, were classified as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) in 2021, highlighting a substantial portion of the population that is financially strained despite being employed. [WSJ Story, April 6, 2024: https://www.wsj.com/lifestyle/poverty-america-low-income-emergency-services-d309a7a6]


- The Federal Poverty Line Disconnect: The federal poverty level for a family of four stands at $31,200, a figure widely criticized for not accurately reflecting the cost of living in many parts of the United States. In contrast, the United Way of Connecticut estimates a survival budget for a similar family in the state to be as high as $126,000, illustrating the disconnect between federal poverty metrics and the actual cost of living. [WSJ Story, April 6, 2024: https://www.wsj.com/lifestyle/poverty-america-low-income-emergency-services-d309a7a6]


- Housing Market Strain: The median sale price of homes in the United States began climbing again at the start of 2023 after a brief dip, reaching $365,000 in June 2023. This increase in home prices, combined with high mortgage rates, has made buying significantly more expensive than renting, exacerbating the challenge of finding affordable housing. [Bipartisan Policy Center, December 20, 2023: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/rising-rates-and-increasing-unaffordability-2023-housing-market-in-review/]


- Rental Market Pressures: The typical asking rent in October 2023 was $2,011, a 3.2% increase from the previous year. This continuous rise in rental costs, although slower than during the peak pandemic years, adds another layer of difficulty for those struggling to find affordable housing options. [Bipartisan Policy Center, December 20, 2023: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/rising-rates-and-increasing-unaffordability-2023-housing-market-in-review/]


- Racial Disparity: Only 7 percent of homes were affordable for median-earning Black households, and 10 percent for median-earning Hispanic/Latino households. But 22 percent of listings were affordable to median-earning white households and 27 percent to median-earning Asian households. [NYT, January 4, 2024: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/realestate/affordable-housing.html]


The strain on communities and the corresponding mental health challenges underscore the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to the affordable housing crisis. This necessitates a multi-faceted approach involving policy innovation, investment in affordable housing projects, and a reevaluation of priorities to ensure that housing policies are aligned to support human dignity and well-being.


By addressing the root causes of the housing affordability crisis and implementing targeted interventions, there is potential to significantly alleviate the mental and emotional strain on individuals and communities, moving closer to fulfilling the fundamental human right to adequate housing.

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