Amid turmoil in the U.S. housing market, one thing is clear: even in the face of sharply rising foreclosures, there still isn't enough affordable housing to go around in many areas. Now, experts are saying developers should take a second look at aging and damaged properties, and revitalize those in a bid to stabilize the market.
The president of the Partnership for New York City, Kathryn Wylde, recently told The New York Sun that there is "more pressure on the rental housing stock today than ever before. The biggest threat is conversion of rentals to condominiums. Also, all the initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s to support affordable housing are expiring simultaneously."
According to a report from the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, America's stock of low-cost rentals fell by 1.2 million units between 1993 and 2003. About a third of Americans live in rental dwellings. According to a disturbing report by the MacArthur Foundation, around 9 million Americans must spend more than half of their income on housing, an all-time record.
Not only does this striking situation hint at what many are calling the growing gap between America's rich and poor, but it also has significant implications for the environment. Instead of more diverse communities, we are seeing more enclaves of wealth, surrounded by lower-income zones. This means more people have farther to commute to work, whether they are a white collar professional traveling to a mixed-use setting or service workers traveling long distances to work in remote wealthy neighborhoods.
Encouraging rebuilding for affordable housing takes much less resources than constructing from scratch. That means lower carbon emissions and fewer materials. The MacArthur Foundation has estimated the cost of renewing rental homes at $81,000 a unit, or half the cost of new construction. The foundation is currently pumping $150 million to preserve and improve at least 300,000 units of affordable rental housing across the country.
As with most recycling, it's usually a good idea to remake something old versus starting from the ground up. But as with recycling, the process can require some education and inspiration to get started. Now if only more of that refurbishing also includes green building principles, things will really get moving.
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