Federalism is a messy political system. Every state has its own housing policy, as does every city and county. Plus the federal government runs federal housing policies, enforces federal regulations, and offers state and private housing providers various housing subsidies.
For students debating the March/April topic–Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee the right to housing–the political and economic background to this value resolution is complex.
In addition to the horizontal separation of power across the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, outlined in the U.S. Constitution, “federalism” refers to the vertical delegation of powers to federal, state, and local governments. Housing powers and policies were not among the powers originally delegated to the federal government, but later legislation created federal programs and departments like HUD (Housing and Urban Development).
The resolution says “The United States” ought to guarantee a “right to housing.” Online resources offering an overview and history housing rights include the National Institute for Housing, “The Case for a Right to Housing,” which discusses limited codified housing rights:
How have housing rights evolved in the United States?
Some specific, although quite limited, rights/ entitlements exist in the housing area. Local housing codes (varying enormously with respect to coverage and standards) provide something of a right to decent physical conditions. But enforcement is a problem and market realities limit the benefits these regulations offer.
An essay in The Federalist (a conservative website) argues housing inequality and lack of affordable housing should be blamed on restrictive local housing regulations. “Local Governments Are The Source Of Housing Inequality,” reports on research by Matthew Rognlie on the key role of housing costs in the inequality debate (referencing Thomas Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century):
Matthew Rognlie, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral student in economics, dismantles Piketty in his paper, “A note on Piketty and diminishing returns to capital.” Rognlie’s contention: “Recent trends in both capital wealth and income are driven almost entirely by housing…” Ronglie deploys sarcasm with effect, suggesting Piketty’s book would have been more accurately named, “Housing in the Twenty-First Century.”
Federalism provides housing researchers an avenue to compare the impact of policies across U.S. cities, counties, and states. Scott Beyer’s “Houston, Dallas & New York City: America’s Great 3-Way Housing Supply Race,” (Forbes, March 20, 2017) argues:
…a look at the numbers shows that…housing construction (or lack thereof) seems to be the driving factor behind whether or not large U.S. metros remain affordable.
Beyer draws from Census Bureau housing data to show that fast job and population growth need not raise housing costs. Cost are way up in Seattle, San Francisco, and around the Bay Area not because of the booming job markets but instead because homebuilding is blocked or delayed. The housing story from Texas cities contrasts sharply with California cities:
Houston and Dallas are the most notable examples of where such scarcity has not occurred–in fact, it’s almost been the opposite. Between 2010 and 2015, these two metros had the most net population growth, at 736,531 and 676,582, respectively. They are also perennially among the leaders in corporate and business relocation, job growth, and wage growth. But they have the 2nd and 3rd cheapest median home prices of the 11 metros, at $176,000 and $202,000, respectively (all housing price figures are from Zillow). Atlanta–with the nation’s 5th most permits since 2010–was just under Houston at $174,000.
Even more crucially, the prices in these two Texas giants have stabilized even amid this incredible population boom–especially in Houston. …
The Center for American Progress offered “Expanding Opportunities in America’s Urban Areas” in 2015, outlines five areas for reform, including “Ensure access to quality housing and transportation” and “Expand access to affordable housing.”
Finland’s success in ending homelessness started nonprofit assistance to provide housing and rental contract rather than complex housing and homeless assistance programs. “What can the UK learn from how Finland solved homelessness?,” (theguardian, March 22,2017)
This week’s report by EU housing organisation Feantsa has found every country in the EU in the midst of a crisis of homelessness and housing exclusion – with one exception: Finland.
So how has the country done it? By giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, rather than muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation.