Taking Up The Challenge To Build More Affordable Housing In The U.S.

view of 5 storey apartment building under construction
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Mixed income publicly funded rental housing under construction in Montgomery County, Maryland. This building helped to allay fears about what publicly funded housing would be like.

With a limited number of builders in a local housing market, it is possible to build enough homes to sustain high profit levels1. The strategy that keeps profits high often doesn’t meet local housing needs though, and that troubles local governments.

Local governments may be happy enough with the increased tax revenue, but they also have to contend with growing homelessness. The results of the most recent point in time counts in the United States reinforce what people can see in parks and on the streets: homelessness is up2. Shelters are full and more need to be opened. The services that help people who are unhoused continue to move people into housing, but there isn’t enough housing to meet the need.

Although one might hope that a countrywide crisis would stimulate a national government response, it is local governments with their limited budgets that are under intense pressure to do something. Some are going the route of making homelessness illegal. Others are looking for ways to build more housing.

The article linked to this post reports on local and state governments in the United States that are looking for ways to invest public funds to build permanently affordable housing.

All of the models under discussion in the linked article do not rely on tax credits and are not expected to require ongoing subsidy. Ongoing operation will be based on rent revenues that come from the tenants, who will have a range of incomes.

A big question in this scenario has been whether tenants with mixed incomes will sign up to rent the homes. The linked article highlights the case of a sizable building in Maryland (268 homes), which has been built and is fully occupied. According to the public landlord, once the building was available for people to look at, fears about publicly funded housing fell away.

The linked article also talks about the limitations of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). As well, the people who were interviewed for the same article talk about whether publicly funded housing can be affordable for people with very low incomes.

The target audience is obviously the United States, but the critique of existing affordable housing programs may stimulate people in other locations to consider the possibility of publicly funded permanently affordable housing. You can check it out at VOX: What if public housing were for everyone?


  1. Try: Why Are Housing Starts Falling Short Of Public Targets?, and US Affordable Housing Supply — Sabotaged!
  2. From HUD: HUD Releases January 2023 Point-in-Time Count Report