Pulitzer Prize winning author discusses America’s alarming housing affordability crisis

June 5, 2017 | By

A day after accepting a Pulitzer Prize for his book Evicted: Profit and Poverty in the American City, author and researcher Dr. Matthew Desmond spoke about housing affordability at the Fannie Mae Multifamily DUS® Meeting 2017.

The annual meeting brought together Fannie Mae’s Delegated Underwriting and Servicing (DUS) partners and Fannie Mae Multifamily leadership for discussions about affordable housing, technology and innovation, and the future of multifamily lending.Dr. Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Evicted," speaks at Fannie Mae's DUS 2017 Meeting.

Working in the Field

Desmond spent years researching poverty in Milwaukee before writing Evicted. He shared some of his first-hand experience with low-income renters in that city. “I started this work the old-fashioned way,” Desmond says. “I moved into a trailer park in the far south side of Milwaukee.”

Throughout his presentation, Desmond (pictured on right) interspersed stories from people he met in Milwaukee with his research and findings into housing affordability. One main takeaway Desmond impressed upon the audience is the skyrocketing housing costs among low-income Americans.

“Today the majority of poor renting families are spending at least half of their income on housing costs,” Desmond says. “And about one in four of these families are spending 70 percent of their income just on rent and utilities.”

Some ideas Desmond listed for how to help ease the housing affordability crisis include extending tenant rights and changing rent levels in poor neighborhoods.

“For folks who are in the affordable housing business, there’s an opportunity to invest more in poor neighborhoods, charge a lot less, and still remain solvent,” Desmond says.

During a question-and-answer session following his presentation, Desmond added that he’s encouraged by what he sees as a growing awareness of housing affordability challenges.

“I’m hopeful that we’re having this conversation,” Desmond says.

Healthier Places to Live

Shortly after Desmond’s discussion, Fannie Mae Multifamily Executive Vice President Jeff Hayward (pictured) took to the stage to announce a new initiative called Healthy Housing Rewards™.Fannie Mae Multifamily EVP Jeff Hayward announces Healthy Housing Rewards at Fannie Mae's 2017 DUS Meeting.

Healthy Housing Rewards provides financial incentives for borrowers to incorporate healthy design features in their newly constructed or rehabilitated affordable multifamily rental properties. These features can encourage physical activity, and support improved air quality by incorporating community gardens, playgrounds, and common spaces.

“We believe that we should strengthen the connection between affordable housing and the long-term health and well-being of the people and families who live there,” Hayward says.

To participate in Healthy Housing Rewards, borrowers are required to demonstrate that properties meet or exceed the minimum achievement score of 90 points on the Center for Active Design’s Healthy Housing Index, as well as other affordability requirements defined by Fannie Mae. Healthy Housing Rewards targets properties where at least 60 percent of the units are serving tenants at 60 percent of average median income or less.

The Fannie Mae Multifamily DUS Meeting 2017 took place May 22-23 in Charleston, SC.

Read more about Fannie Mae’s efforts to support affordable housing at fanniemae.com.

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