Principles of Affordability

Last updated: November 2, 2009 – 2:15 PM

What is affordable housing?  Perhaps it is having access to the many options about location, size, nearness to schools and other amenities, cost, etc. When we look at affordability we need to first ask the question affordable to whom?

In Mayor Daley’s set-aside proposal, housing is considered affordable if a person making 100% of the area median income can pay the rent or mortgage. This means affordable to a family of 4 making $77,000/year. This translates to $1900/month in housing payments being the proposed definition for “affordable” in the city of Chicago.

The Federal definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30% of its annual income on housing. In MTO’s experience, this standard remains too high for many families living in poverty.

The Chicago Community Congress of Tenants has developed the following principles to create a realistic and sustainable definition of affordable housing.

  1. We believe that affordable housing programs need to be targeted or focused on families whose primary wage earner makes minimum wage or to household whose primary source of income is Social Security or other fixed incomes or to individuals who have no steady job or those that become ill or lose their job.
  2. We believe that affordability needs to be based on a sliding scale.  Household making only $500/month should not be paying more than 15% of their income to housing.
  3. Housing costs should be calculated on take home pay and any medical expenses should be deducted from that.
  4. Housing size needs to be based on family need.  It is unacceptable for a family of four to live in a one bedroom apartment simply because that is all they can afford.
  5. Tenants should have a choice about location and not limited to certain areas of the City or County.  Every community, neighborhood, and suburb needs to have affordable housing.  At a minimum, communities should have to define affordable housing as the lower of the area median or city median.
  6. Affordable housing needs to be stable.  Tenants should have access to long-term leases that include a ceiling on rent increases and not be faced with eviction because their housing is being converted to condos or ever-increasing rents.
  7. Affordable housing must meet stringent housing quality standards.  Housing must be more than just a shelter from the rain.  Affordable housing should be a place families can gladly call home.
  8. It must be something that people living on a fixed income can pay.  We believe that affordable needs to be based on the income of the individual and area mean income of families.
  9. Affordable housing residents should have the same rights, responsibilities, and respect as other housing residents.  No one should have to jump through any additional hoops just to live in housing that is affordable.
  10. Additional fees need to be reasonable and there should be no additional fees just for the privilege of living in affordable housing.

We believe that housing is human right.   It should be the priority of all governmental agencies to ensure that everyone has a decent, safe, accessible place to live.