Industry Groups, Advocates Decry Apartment Squeeze

Though possibly strange bedfellows, apartment landlord groups and advocates for affordable apartment housing have been sounding some similar alarms lately about the squeeze on renters.Both are calling for more help from the federal government in dealing with the problem, which is regarded as worsening in the face of the current U.S. economic slowdown.The National Multi Housing Council, the apartment industry’s landlord trade group, joined with the National Apartment Association and the National Leased Housing Association in testifying before the Senate Banking Committee recently that tens of thousands of affordable housing residents are at risk of losing their housing if Congress doesn’t force changes at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Speaking on behalf of the three groups, Hector Pinero, senior vice president of New York-based Related Management, warned that the Section 8 housing program is now facing major disruptions.At the heart of the problem, he asserted, is that HUD is no longer making timely payments to landlords who participate in the Section 8 program, a situation that has gone from bad to worse since last summer. “Unless the industry has confidence that the government is committed to adequate and timely funding, the Section 8 inventory is likely to shrink in size,” Pinero testified. “Nor will it get the new investment needed to preserve these properties as affordable housing and to keep them affordable far into the future.”A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2007-2008, emphasized the same problem, a shrinking pool of affordable rental housing, though more from the renters’ perspective. In the report, the coalition noted that there is no metro area or rural county in the United States in which a full-time minimum wage earner by him- or herself can afford the rent on even a modest one-bedroom apartment.Most emphasis on federal and state efforts to build affordable housing is called for, noted the coalition, as rent costs outpace income and former homeowners are obliged to become renters again in the wake of the subprime meltdown. “The national two-bedroom Housing Wage climbed to $17.32, up from $16.31 in December 2006,” noted the report, which was released on Monday. “The Housing Wage is the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn in order to afford the rent on a modest two-bedroom home … the two-bedroom Housing Wage ranges from $29.02 in Hawaii to $9.10 in Puerto Rico.”