Inaccessibility of Affordable Housing

In recent years, as housing prices have fallen across the country, so have incomes. This means that, despite the availability of cheaper housing, low- and moderate-income families are struggling with housing costs just as much as they ever have. City and state agencies have taken the problem seriously, looking for creative solutions to increase accessibility and affordability.

New York City is in the midst of an aggressive campaign - building or preserving 165,000 affordable housing units by 2014. The city is more than halfway to its goal, and on-track to complete the campaign ahead of schedule. However, low- and moderate-income residents face other challenges related to affordable housing.

Though there are agencies that exist to help families locate and apply for low-income housing, those agencies often struggle to keep track of available units. At the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, for example, employees often have to resort to skimming newspaper ads and websites to find affordable housing. They call property managers and staff members from other government agencies, all in an effort to provide their clients with the most accurate, up-to-date information possible.

Finding accurate information is as hard for potential residents as those working to serve them. Local newspapers have interviewed several people who spent months looking for apartments priced at below-market rates. One of them described the process as "a maze," and the director of the City Council's Policy Division admitted many housing applicants never get responses to their applications.

Despite significant technological advancements, New York City has yet to develop a system for aggregating information related to affordable housing. Development agencies know when housing projects are approved and completed, but they don't share that information with other departments. Welfare-related agencies know when low-income families need places to live, but - again - they don't share information. In addition, agencies are not consistently notified when existing units become available. The result is that agency employees must resort to a hodgepodge system of finding and updating information.

New York City is, of course, not alone. Many cities struggle to accurately track affordable housing units. The result is that benefits of increased availability may be lost because both residents and service providers can't find the open units. It's a common problem that housing developers may be uniquely qualified to solve. Because they are responsible for the creation of most low-income housing, they may be able to incorporate a notification system into their proposals - a simple process that quickly and effectively notifies the appropriate government agency of units that are available or about to become available.

Along those same lines, housing agencies would benefit greatly from developing systems of their own and requiring compliance from both developers and property managers. Though establishing the system would initially take a lot of time, once set in motion, much of it could be automated.

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