Affordable Housing in New Bedford
Authors: Sayyida Jean-Charles, Michael P. McCarthy (Urban Initiative research assistant), and Ashley Hurley, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)
For our service-learning project, we focused on the effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford. We wanted to know how many affordable housing units are available for low-income families, and if these low-income families are benefiting from their subsidized housing. This led us to ask the question, does New Bedford have effective affordable housing programs? We started our research by identifying the two major types of housing assistance. The first type, “project-based” housing, is owned by the federal, state, or local government agencies. The second type is “mobile” subsidies. These are provided to tenants and homeowners to make independent housing more affordable. The New Bedford Housing Authority oversees about 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units in New Bedford. About a third of the 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units are project-based and approximately more than half are mobile subsidies, such as housing choice or Section 8.
The research for this question was based heavily on data provided by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For our research, we stayed away from survey questions, feeling as if the subject was too personal for the participants. We thought we could answer our question best by looking at New Bedford’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI). We examined the application public housing authorities use to evaluate a low-income family’s eligibility. By examining this data and researching literature relating to this issue, we felt confident that we would be able to suggest possible policy measures to increase the overall effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford.
In our examination of the literature surrounding affordable housing, its impact and effectiveness on the surrounding community, we frequently encounter the concept of a Neighborhood Condition Index (NCI). The NCI is created by comparing various indicators which are associated with healthy neighborhoods to the city baseline. In our case these were the poverty rate, housing burden rate, unemployment rate, the number of single parent families, rental housing stock, housing vacancy rate, amount of new residents (less than one year), as well as the neighborhood median income and rent. These ratios were calculated on a variable by variable basis, and then averaged by the total number of variables.
The resulting NCI number is then compared to the city average. In this case the city average is 1.0, and since we are dealing with variable which are mostly considered negative indicators of neighborhood conditions (meaning that a larger occurrence would be worse quality of life) any number larger than 1.0 means that the conditions of that particular area (in this case Census tract) are worse than the city as a whole. We adopted this strategy of analysis in order to examine the potentially adverse impact concentrations of affordable housing can have on the conditions of a neighborhood.
From our research, we know that New Bedford surpassed the state goal of having affordable housing represent 10 percent of the total housing stock. Indeed, New Bedford has an SHI of 11.8, meaning that percent its housing is considered affordable. However, this means New Bedford has 5,064 units of affordable housing. Our estimates, based on the Census’ American Community Survey, show that there are 8,325 extremely low-income households in New Bedford. Therefore, we feel it is safe to assert that only 61 percent (5,064/8,325) of them may be benefiting from the available affordable housing.
Affordable housing is not awarded to anyone there is an application process low-income families have to fill out. The Public Housing Authorities do full background checks on all applicants. This shows that not just any type of person can receive assistance.
New Bedford must make affordable housing an appealing place where people would like to live. In part, this can be accomplished by paying more attention to the city’s existing housing projects. It is important to make these housing projects more attractive and integrated into the surrounding community. Also, we feel that affordable housing should be made available for those who need it, where they need it instead of meeting a state minimum requirement.
We were able to answer our question on the effectiveness of affordable housing. However, due to our approach and limited time, the research lacks the view point of low-income residents. To hear what they believe would be beneficial to them would be an insightful way to measure the effectiveness of their housing and the role it plays in not only providing a shelter but also in increasing individual efficacy. Another limitation was that we were unable to interview people that are in charge of handling the cases for affordable housing. In sense, our research lacks a significant qualitative portion.
This research changed our views on affordable housing. Especially in regard to who receives low income housing; it has to be people who are clear of a criminal background and owe no more payments to previous housing authorities. Even though New Bedford exceeds the SHI goal, we learned that having this type of housing is beneficial to the family. Affordable housing is important because it can be used to place low-income families in better neighborhoods and integrated them into a mixed income community. Also, New Bedford’s affordable housing only benefits about 61% of its residents. The 5,064 affordable units do not satisfy the 8,325 extremely low income households, Therefore, we can expect the number of affordable housing units to further increase as Massachusetts implements more policies aimed at improving the quality of life of its residents who are stuck in a cycle of poverty.