New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillian and his “The Rent Is Too Damn High” political party grabbed hold of the public’s attention back in 2010. And nothing has changed since then to make the message any less pertinent. In fact, if anything, the problem has spread and gotten worse.
Report after report from states and municipalities nationwide show this country has a major housing crisis on its hands. But there seems to be a shortage of good answers on how to combat the problem. In New Jersey, for instance, the state Supreme Court this week stripped the body of its authority to address such issues because it has failed to developed rules on how localities should provide such housing.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, a new report by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute says soaring housing costs have led to a dramatic loss in low-cost rental homes over the past decade. That in turn is making it increasingly hard for working families to make ends meet.
While written about Washington, D.C. specifically, much of the document’s verbiage echoes more broadly. It states, “The loss of affordable housing threatens the physical and mental health of families, makes it harder for adults to find and keep a job, creates instability for children that makes it hard to focus at school, and leaves thousands at risk for homelessness at any given moment.”
Similar issues are being raised in Nashville, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore. just within the last month. So what are elected officials to do? Well, California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has a plan for the Golden State. And it could provide a roadmap for others to follow going forward.
Atkins is calling for charging a $75 fee on some real estate document filings. That money, in turn, would go to the California Housing Trust Fund, which is a pot of dollars used to encourage the creation of affordable housing in the state. Similar funds are used to facilitate the building of such homes across the country.
While two previous attempts to push a similar measure in California failed, this effort curbs the amount of fees that can be charged on a given transaction in an effort to make it more palatable. And it is badly needed in the state, given that there is a statewide shortfall of almost a million affordable housing units. It is expected the surcharge would fill the housing trust fund’s coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
In an era when income inequality has taken dignity away from many a low-wage worker, this is a way to help bring it back. Helping families keep a roof over their heads is in society’s best interest. Elected officials need to act to make it happen.