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Housing Opportunity in a New Environment

October 11, 2012

The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC) is a subsidiary of The Actors Fund that offers a vital service to the entertainment community by working to develop high quality, affordable, supportive and senior housing. The staff knows how important it is to stay on top of important industry news, so recently AFHDC’s Project Analyst Rebecca Sauer attended a conference, and shares her thoughts with the community in this week’s blog.

Housing Opportunity in a New Environment

AFHDC’s Rebecca Sauer

The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC) knows it’s vital to keep up with trends in housing, so in September I joined policy analysts, academics, government employees, and other real estate developers for a conference at The New School: “After the Crisis: Housing Policy and Finance in the US and UK.” There were countless discussions, but the one I found most fascinating was about opportunity and particularly how, in the current economic environment, housing is connected to opportunities that might improve one’s life circumstances. The discussion largely centered on homeownership vs. renting. As AFHDC’s current focus is on rental housing, I don’t typically consider the concept of homeownership in my daily professional life – but this reminded me that the relationship between the two types of housing is close and significant.

Andrew Jakabovics of Enterprise Community Partners noted that, traditionally, people have been renters until they can become owners, and have rarely gone back. But now, as a result of the millions of foreclosures in America, former homeowners are retreating to rentals, either permanently or until the markets stabilize. In this context, he asked, how can we make homeownership less risky and more accessible?

The discussion also touched on why society cares so much about homeownership. Nicolas Retsinas of Harvard University noted that although buying a home is typically not a great investment for the average American, it allows for greater control of the household budget. (For example, you can refinance your mortgage, but not your rent payment). Eric Belsky, from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, added that homeownership is the only leveraged investment that most Americans can access, so it’s many people’s only opportunity to build wealth.

Clearly, the prospect of homeownership continues to resonate; despite foreclosures, tight credit markets, and falling home prices, one survey reports that close to 90% of Americans still expect to be homeowners. Temple University sociology professor Anne Shlay suggests this is cultural, not economic, and critiques the embedded notion that owners are in some way morally superior to or have more rights than renters. In her eyes, the renting/owning dichotomy is a tool of social exclusion.

Given this background, what do you think housing opportunity looks like for the performing arts community? Do you think artists want to own homes as much as everyone else? Is it time for more policies promoting homeownership, or should we start a new dialogue about renting and society?  (See here for some testimonials from tenants of Actors Fund buildings). Whatever your view, the housing choices we make are some of the most important and complex of our lives. We have to inform ourselves, particularly as options shift with the economy.

Visit the Actors Fund Housing Resource Center for links covering topics such as foreclosure assistance, subsidized rental opportunities, and tenants’ rights in NYC, Chicago and LA. If you’re in New York, you can attend our upcoming seminars on Finding Affordable (Rental) Housing, and in January 2013, learn about how to prepare yourself for homeownership and take advantage of first-time homebuyer programs at the next Homebuyer Readiness Seminar. Another piece of this puzzle is a healthy relationship with your finances, so visit the Actors Fund Financial Wellness Program for information about one-on-one counseling, seminars and group workshops.

And please, let us know what you think!

Rebecca Sauer has devoted her professional activities to the development of inclusive and prosperous urban communities. As a Project Analyst, Rebecca brings to the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation experience in community development and housing policy in Buenos Aires and New York City. Immediately prior to joining the AFHDC, Rebecca worked as the community development officer for operations at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) New York City. There, her responsibilities comprised management of HUD funding, organizing workshops for community development corporations, and coordinating a housing program for youth aging out of foster care. 

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