Letter to the editor: Nonprofits are better at keeping people housed

If you have spent any amount of time in the “affordable housing” rabbit hole, you are aware that research over the last 50 years has shown that nonprofit housing organizations are consistently better at keeping people housed than for-profit housing developers are. The conclusion seems obvious, that for-profit housing developers are in business to profit from housing human beings. Nonprofit housing developers are in business to house human beings. And yet our country’s insistence on the use of the Public/Private partnership to solve this housing crisis remains Vermont’s only idea for providing its citizens with the most basic human need: shelter.

Accessory Dwelling Units are the hot new method for creating “gentle infill (more housing units in town), and to do that, in Vermont, the state has decided to grant private homeowners public money to assist them in financing units that they agree to keep “affordable” for five years — after which, they can rent their units at whatever the market will bear. This is like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit given to developers in exchange for a percentage of its project units being held aside as “affordable” for a period of 20-30 years (while they continuously profit from the remaining units). What most people are not aware of is that approximately 40% of this country’s “affordable housing” units are occupied by a tenant who has a housing voucher. In effect, the government is paying twice.

This makes sense if the units are in a nonprofit development. That is how many of us would expect the government to use public money — assisting public housing organizations to do the work of housing our neighbors. However, it is estimated that less than 5% of all housing in the United States is nonprofit. Do you really think that all those vouchers (all that public money) are in the public housing sector?

If nonprofit housing organizations are better at housing people, and we are in a housing crisis, doesn’t it make sense that we would demand that as much money as possible be shifted in their direction? In most cases, these organizations work with for-profit builders, so no one is out of a job per se. Further, in a merit-obsessed society, why aren’t nonprofit builders given the lion’s share of our government’s business? Why is their path toward developing housing that is perpetually affordable marred with the same obstacles as those developing housing for the sole purpose of making money? 

When are we going to acknowledge that the public/private partnership is so flawed that it cannot be the primary solution to permanent affordable housing? 

Andrea Galiano


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