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Social Housing: Addressing America's Housing Crisis

Our housing system isn’t doing the job of making sure everyone has a home. Housing is a basic necessity, not a luxury. Housing should not be treated as a commodity, but rather as a common good that each of us is entitled to.

Learn about our current housing system’s problems and how social housing can provide a solution to the US housing crisis.

The Problem: America’s Housing Crisis

This country’s notoriously high rents and unaffordable housing are making it increasingly hard for the 102 million renters across the US to survive and thrive in their communities. This is where social housing can play a crucial role. Over the past five years, rents have increased by double digits, while wages have not kept pace. Almost half of renters nationwide are considered cost-burdened, meaning they spend over 30% of their income on rent and utilities, and almost a quarter of renters are spending over 50% of their income on their housing.

Couple standing in front of home for rent. Image for Social Housing: Addressing America's Housing Crisis.

The Impact of Inadequate Housing

Rent burdened households are also more likely to be living in unsafe housing — 3.3 million occupied rental housing units were considered inadequate in 2019. Not surprisingly, this is leading to an increase in unhoused people — in January of 2020, nearly 600,000 people experienced homelessness and this number is growing. The housing crisis is also a racial justice issue. People of color are much more likely to experience homelessness, to be renters, to have lower incomes, and to be rent-burdened. Women of color with children are more likely to be evicted than any other group.

The Cause: Profit Put Over People

Why is this happening? Policymakers have decided that the profits of a few are more important than the right of every person to have a safe, stable place to call home. Corporate landlords and private equity firms are at the forefront of the problem, taking over a larger and larger share of our nation’s housing. These Wall Street landlords’ first priority is increasing profits for themselves and their shareholders. To achieve this, they jack up rents, delay repairs, and evict their tenants at, in many places, three times the rate of non-corporate landlords, accelerating the commodification of our homes. Corporate landlords have an outsized influence over our housing market, driving up prices far beyond the properties they directly own, and controlling the direction of development.
 

For-profit developers overwhelmingly build unaffordable housing for the luxury market. We cannot rely on them to produce the affordable housing we need. We cannot continue relying on for-profit developers and corporate landlords to solve the problems they are creating.

The Solution: Social Housing Across the US

We need to build a housing system that puts people first — one that guarantees permanently affordable housing that is off the speculative market, with rents that are based on what tenants can afford. We need a housing system that allows residents to have a say in the future of their homes and communities that is owned by the public, a nonprofit that is accountable to residents, or the residents themselves. We need social housing.

Examples of Successful Social Housing

We know this solution works! There are many examples of social housing successes in the U.S. and around the world. For example, many community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit, democratically run organizations that provide permanently affordable, decommodified housing. Tenant cooperatives, where tenants own a share of their housing and can build limited equity, have successfully provided stable and affordable housing for hundreds of thousands of low-income renters and manufactured home owners.

Public housing is the original social housing; publicly owned and permanently affordable, with some structures for tenant-governance. However, a coordinated and concerted effort to discredit and demonize public housing has led to decades of deep disinvestment, loopholes in tenant protections, and eviction policies that leave people vulnerable to becoming unhoused. Finally, there are numerous varied and longstanding international examples of social housing. 

The Future of Social Housing

We must use our shared resources to invest in what works. We need a $1 trillion investment in social housing to begin building a  system that works for everyone. 

In order to truly shift our housing system away from a profit-driven one to one that puts the needs of people first, we need this kind of ongoing and major investment from the federal government. 

An ongoing investment can be used to:

01

Acquire and bank land for future social housing development

02

Acquire, rehabilitate, and support existing affordable and non-affordable buildings for permanently affordable housing

03

Rehabilitate existing public housing stock

04

Build new public and nonprofit owned permanently affordable housing

05

Provide planning and operations grants to support the infrastructure and support needed

The idea of social housing is catching. But we have a ways to go before we get there. To that end, members of Alliance for Housing Justice came together to outline basic principles that should inform our efforts.

Read more about each of the 8 basic principles for social housing in the US. 

Developed, owned, managed, and operated in a way that is accountable to residents, the community, and the public.

 

Residents should have a direct role in management and decision-making, including through tenant unions.

High quality and built to last. It should be accessible to all people regardless of age, physical need, or other factors.

Designed to promote racial and gender equity & end displacement of communities of color.

 

Immigration status & criminal records should not disqualify people from residence.
 

Social housing should be planned to advance the access of marginalized communities to greater social & economic opportunities, by equalizing these resources across geography.

Operated within a set of practices that protect tenants from evictions &  displacement, such as rent regulation, just cause protections, right to counsel, right to organize, and more

 

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Protected from for-profit investors and the speculative market. It must never be resold for profit.

 

It should be treated as a human need, not a commodity to provide profit to landlords or investors.

Built using green housing construction methods according to the principles of energy efficient design.

 

It should include the renovation and sustainable rehabilitation of existing buildings for energy efficiency and disaster resilience.

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