How to help 250,000 households find affordable housing

The Problem.

In 2013, a little over 10 million low-income households paid more than half of their income for rent, a 24 percent increase from 2007 when that number was just over 8 million.

And it’s getting worse.

The latest figures show that in 2014 there were 11.6 million people paying over half of their income in rent, an increase of 1.6 million people in a single year.

This is not to mention that the single-night census in 2014 found that 578,424 people in the U.S. were homeless or living in shelters, including 49,933 veterans and 216,261 people in families with children.

Another 1,001,652 school-age children lived in unstable housing, such as doubled up with other families, during the 2012–2013 school year.

If only there were public housing programs to help with this epidemic…Wait, there are.

The Program.

The Housing Choice Voucher program, the nation’s largest rental assistance program, currently helps more than 2 million low-income families rent modest units of their choice in the private market.

And it works well too. Here are some compelling stats confirming the House Choice Voucher Program’s Success:


In addition, NYU Professor Ingrid Gould Ellen has research that demonstrates that housing subsidies improve communities — not just individual households.

Unfortunately, this program has its own problems.

The Problem with the Program.

Due to funding limitations, only about one in four families eligible for House Choice Vouchers receive any form of federal rental assistance.

You may be inclined to ask, “well, how is federal housing spending allocated ?

Oh, thank you for asking…This is what I found:

“Federal housing expenditures favor higher-income households. Most homeownership expenditures go to the top fifth of households by income. More than four-fifths of the value of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions goes to households with incomes of more than $100,000, and more than two-fifths goes to families with incomes above $200,000, according to estimates by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Overall, about 60 percent of federal housing spending for which income data are available (counting both tax expenditures and program spending) benefits households with incomes above $100,000. The 7 million households with incomes of $200,000 or more receive a larger share of such spending than the more than 55 million households with incomes of $50,000 or less, even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.”

As if this wasn’t enough, it is crazy hard to get on the waiting lists for you to even be considered for House Choice Voucher assistance. As an example, Chicago opened its waiting lists in 2014 for the first time in over four years. More than 280,000 people registered and only 96,000 were added. You can find out more about how insanely difficult it is to get into those programs in the HuffPost’s excellent article “Housing Programs Are So Strapped For Cash That Millions Of Families Can’t Even Get On Wait Lists.”

Here in San Francisco, the waiting list was opened in 2015 for the first time in six years.

“enough about the problems, let’s talk solutions.” -Marlon J. Frausto, PublicBnB founder.

The Platform

We are developing a community-centric solution for the public housing market .

We want to modernize the public housing system and fix some of its problems along the way. To do so, we are creating a marketplace where hosts and program applicants can come together to meet and contribute to each other’s success, making the process of participating in affordable housing programs simpler, more transparent, and more accessible than ever.

“But what about the 250,000 households that you said you were going to help ?” -savvy reader

I thought you’d never ask.

The Participants.

While we can’t increase the amount of HCV vouchers overnight, at least without your help as advocates and registered voters (hint, hint), we can help those that already have vouchers but haven’t been able to find housingwe can help them immediately.

There are currently around 2,164,252 families using HCV vouchers, while 2,413,335 families have already been authorized vouchers, leaving approximately 249,083 households that have vouchers in hand but have not been able to find housing.

We believe it is possible to match 250,000 hosts with 250,000 prospective tenants. We just need your help to get the word out.

The Process

PublicBnB is taking a four-fold approach to this initiative’s administration:

  1. Community Cultivation.

We sure could use everyone’s help. Designers, Developers, Photographers, Advisors, Attorneys, Investors, Advocates, Volunteers, Facebook sharers….everyone.

If you feel inclined to be directly involved, you can reach out to us here (we’d love to heard from you):

PublicBnB Website

2. Work Group

We are working hard to establish a working group with local/state/federal agencies, housing authorities, legal advisors, and the general public to identify what we need to do to be in full compliance with regulations, how we can simplify the process as much as possible for hosts and program participants, and how we can create a solution that can scale nationally.

We are currently focusing our efforts in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, as that is where we are currently based and are poised to launch.

3. Case Study

We are reaching out to the academic community to help guide us in creating a case study for the PublicBnB program. Our next post will include full details on how we are approaching the case study, what our assumptions are, and how we are setting off to test and validate them.

4. Product Development

We are currently taking an agile approach to product development with the help of a volunteer team of product designers, software engineers, and a few others creatives. We are validating our product’s development with the community we are cultivating, the work group we are organizing, and the case study we are building.

Precedent: AirBnB as an existing case study

Prof. Ellen said it best in her interview written up by The Atlantic, Airbnb’s Lessons For Affordable Housing.

“The Airbnb model suggests there’s some excess capacity in our housing stock, and people are willing to take in boarders on a temporary basis, as it gives them additional income. Especially in higher-cost cities.
I think it’s an interesting question: Would people be willing to take on boarders on a more permanent basis, rather than visitors?”

In 2015, research firm Airdna identified a total of 550,000 Airbnb listings in the Unites States. California leads all states with 125,803 total properties listed, with New York in second place at 94,976 Airbnb rentals.

In other words, AirBnB has already opened up more than twice the amount of excess capacity that is needed to serve every single House Choice Voucher recipient currently in need of a home.

The Prospective Future.

Stay tuned. For now, please share and let us know your thoughts !

PS. Almost forgot to mention that today, September 15th, is International Day of Democracy. PublicBnB is essentially democratizing the public housing system and so we wanted to commemorate the occasion by designating today as the official PublicBnB birthdate.

Thank you for helping us celebrate !

Cheers.

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