Hope for 2008?

Guest Columnist: Louis Tenenbaum, Independent Living Strategist

Louis TenenbaumThe Urban Institute’s report, “Housing in the Nations Capital 2007” is a breath of fresh air. The report starts in familiar territory describing affordability and homeless issues in the nation’s capital. Then this report heads into new territory. It extends it’s analysis first by exploring accessible housing availability. The report explains that this additional layer compounds the problem of finding housing.

Once the accessibility layer is explored the report ties aging demographic projections to show the huge significance accessibility issues will mean in the near future. The report doesn’t stop there. Rising medical costs and the low pay scale and shortage of caregivers are discussed next. The report explains that these factors, these additional layers, will further compound the problems of affordable and accessible housing supply. This report’s reach is novel and important to this point, but the report goes one step further. The report turns this circular problem into a feedback spiral by tying back to affordability. The caregiver shortage is compounded because the underpaid and often immigrant folks filling these important jobs cannot find affordable housing in the community. How can someone work here if they cannot afford to live here?

This report, issued jointly with the Fannie Mae Foundation speaks plain truth. Many hints to the situation have been published. We have serious problems and serious steps are needed to solve them. This report exposes the complexity, then faces the problem squarely with rigorous and urgent policy recommendations. Though data is centered on the D. C. metropolitan region the issues raised and the conclusions reached are common all around the United States.

The writers understand that our best chance of solving the housing and care disaster we face is expanding home and community based services. The strategic recommendations that conclude the report are excellent. I will mention those I know best:
1. Ensure that the private market can respond as efficiently as possible to current and anticipated demands for housing and accompanying services…. strategies that enhance efficiency and bring costs down….
2. Encourage the production of Universal Design housing
3. Identify and remove regulatory barriers that stand in the way of developing a wide range of …housing options
4. Reduce current biases favoring expensive institutionalization over community-based or in-home services

I encourage you to read this report. It is an important step in provoking the discussion and action we need. An article with many similar points appears in today’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. Maybe we can be hopeful that the lighted beginning of the long tunnel is beginning to appear. I sure hope so.

P.S. I had a chance to discuss the report with the author, Margery Austin Turner on NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi show. Have a listen!