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Fair Housing

What Is Affordable Housing?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gauges affordability as the housing that can be obtained by spending no more than 30% of gross annual household income on housing and utilities. What is affordable to various households differs. The percentage of people who are spending more than that 30% of their income has been growing. Wages are not keeping up with increases in housing costs, a trend that has particular impact on residents of the Lower Hudson Valley, where housing and the cost of living are high. This trend applies to both homeowners and renters.

In its annual study of housing costs, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that, in 2013, there was not a single county in the U.S. in which someone earning minimum wage full-time could afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment, let alone a two-bedroom unit, at what HUD deems fair market rent (FMR) for the area. That study shows that to afford a two-bedroom rental unit in the Lower Hudson Valley at 30% of income before taxes, a household would need to make $27.69 an hour in Putnam and Rockland counties and $27.87 in Westchester County.

Homes that have been developed with some type of public subsidy are meant to be affordable to people at specified income ranges. These incomes are in comparison to the median income across an area’s population, or AMI (area median income). The subsidies, which are generally offered to private developers in exchange for their agreement to rent or sell the homes at certain prices, may come from federal, state, and/or local governments and private sources. The subsidies may be in the form of tax credits or low-interest loans.

Affordable housing tends to be developed for households earning from 50 to 80% of AMI. Some local programs may be for people at higher incomes; others may focus on people at extremely low incomes. Residents must qualify financially, go through credit checks and regular approval processes, and pay for their housing. Affordable homes may be interspersed among market-rate dwellings, for example, 10% of apartments in an otherwise market-rate building.