Affordable Housing FAQ's
What Is Affordable Housing?
Affordable housing is defined as that which costs no more than 30% of a family's gross monthly income for rent and utilities. Costs for mortgage, utility, taxes, interest and insurance should be no more than 38% of one's gross monthly income for housing ownership to be considered affordable. At any level of income, housing can be affordable or unaffordable according to this definition. Issues of housing affordability are thus a matter of comparing the costs of available housing in an area with the incomes of the population of that area. In the case of housing, good policy would be that which produces housing priced in the range of affordability for the area population.
Generally, affordable housing programs target "low" or "very low" income individuals and families. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), low income persons earn less than 80% of an area's median income. Very low income persons earn 50% or less of an area's median income.
The 2011 Area Median Income (AMI) for Fort Collins is $76,700 for a family of four. AMI is set by HUD.
What Factors Affect Affordable Housing?
Fort Collins has for years been recognized as having a high quality of life. National magazines, such as Money magazine, consistently rate this area as one of best places to live. Some of the reasons include our beautiful natural environment and proximity to mountains and recreation, our strong economy, our excellent delivery of public services, our unique urban environment and our diverse mix of shopping and entertainment opportunities. However, our high quality of life has resulted in rapid growth and a consequential rise in housing costs. Single family housing costs rose significantly over the last 10 years, making Fort Collins one of the highest increased areas in the state. Rents have also increased rapidly.
The largest single contributor to the change in affordability was increases in hard costs for land and construction (Fort Collins Housing Affordability Index, July, 1996). Mortgage interests rates and increases or decreases in income also affect affordability. Development fees are also a factor in housing affordability.
Why Do We Need Affordable Housing?
Everyone deserves affordable housing. However, as the cost of housing rises, many of us are forced to pay more than we can really afford. Not only are people who are caught in or have slipped through the social safety net hurt but so are many others. People you rely on all the time - teachers, bank tellers, police officers, waiters and fast food clerks, dry cleaner employees, secretaries, nurses, firefighters and even many young professionals - may need assistance with housing. Someone we know or people just like us - a relative or friend - may be impacted by the scarcity or cost of housing. Rising housing costs are a concern for everyone for the following reasons:
- Over the last 10 years, The largest job growth occurred in the service and retail trade sectors. Service, retail trade and agriculture jobs on average pay much lower than other job sectors.
- Over the last 10 years, housing costs have significantly outpaced the increase in wages.
- Companies in the area rely on a mix of workers earning different levels of income. Without these workers, the companies could not afford to operate and would have to move elsewhere.
- People who cannot afford local housing costs are forced to commute from outlying communities which (1) exacerbates traffic congestion and air quality problem due to long commutes; (2) decreases dollars spent in Fort Collins on goods, services and entertainment; and (3) increases absences and decreases work productivity. Fort Collins cannot grow as a regional retail center without a local workforce.
As reported in our Priority Affordable Housing Needs and Strategies report, 3,500 owners (14% of all owners) have incomes less than 80% of the median and pay over 30% of income for housing costs. 6,300% (39% of all renters) have incomes less than 50% of the median and pay over 30% of income for housing costs. All families need affordable housing for a stable household environment. Stable households provide stable children in schools and families in neighborhoods, a stable quality of life and stable demand for goods and services which drives the economy.
- Your family, friends and neighbors may be low income residents.
- Families paying too much for housing create more need for public and private support.
- Insufficient housing choice also means a lack of diversity and community richness.
- As evidenced by the July 28, 1997 flood, the lack of affordable housing options places a strain on the housing market as well as impacting community resources.
Sources: "The Status of Housing in Colorado", Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, March, 1997. "Building Inclusive Community: Tools to Create Support for Affordable Housing", Homebase, 1996.
What Are The Opposing Concerns?
People usually raise of variety of concerns if they oppose new low income housing projects. These concerns are often unfounded. Today's low income housing is generally well-maintained, safe for residents and neighbors and attractive. A number of studies conducted by housing experts confirm this statement. The following are some issues to consider:
Property values: Factors such as neighborhood desirability, characteristics of particular housing units being sold, the overall area development and prosperity has more to do with property values than a single affordable housing development. Contemporary affordable housing is attractively designed, professionally managed and well-maintained. For these reasons it preserves its good appearance, usefulness and its value over time, and does not reduce the desirability of the surrounding area. Much of Fort Collins' affordable housing is indistinguishable from market rate housing.
Crime: Many of the affordable housing providers in the area carefully screen prospective tenants for criminal behavior. Much of the affordable housing developed today is managed carefully to reduce incidence of crime. It often helps reduce slum conditions by replacing deteriorated housing in concentrated areas.
Traffic: Affordable housing projects are reviewed for traffic impacts exactly the same way as market rate housing. Studies show that potential residents of affordable housing developments own fewer cars and drive less than those in the surrounding neighborhood.
Density: Affordable housing projects reduce overcrowded conditions by helping more people to live in attractive housing. Not all affordable housing is high density - contemporary projects can be single family or townhouse style living. Unlike overcrowded housing, higher density housing is designed to support more people by including amenities into projects.
Who Needs or Lives in Affordable Housing Projects?
Your neighbors, friends, family and people that you rely on need and live in affordable housing.
People who need affordable housing often cannot voice their support for more housing because they fear stigmatization or do not have the time to support housing projects. They need the vocal support of friends, neighbors, organizations, and other members of the community to ensure that housing remains affordable.