Exploring the American housing crisis
Jamie Speka delves into the complex issues behind the American housing crisis and the resulting state migration phenomenon. Speaking to a resident of Texas, she investigates the sacrifices of quality of life that millions of Americans are facing.
Owen Bosser* was born and raised in Northern California. He worked a part-time job and lived throughout his small town sometimes with his family, sometimes with roommates before deciding to live alone to gain his independence. Amidst the pandemic, he joined the 8.9 million Americans participating in the great migration to different states. The prohibitively high housing prices in the state meant he would be unable to afford an apartment on his own – let alone afford basic living necessities along with it. He turned to Wyoming and subsequently Texas, where he found living and labour arrangements for higher wages. Affordable living had a price, however: he recollects his fear of experiencing transphobia and the complications associated with the move.
To combat the prospect of homelessness, citizens from states with high housing prices often have no option but to leave.
As a trans man, securing safe living arrangements in his communal work housing presented challenges. Bosser notes that he “had to get a letter from a therapist saying I shouldn’t share a bedroom because wearing a binder all day and all night would injure me.”
California represents a quarter of the U.S homeless population and the social crisis is only deepening, creating human rights violations on a large scale. Homelessness rates are increasing rapidly in the state’s largest cities: San Francisco saw a 30 per cent rise between 2017 and 2019. To combat the prospect of homelessness, citizens from states with high housing prices often have no option but to leave. Certainly, the current reality is untenable for a growing segment of the American population.
Many factors have contributed towards this situation. The pandemic led to millions of Americans being made redundant, which propelled an unprecedented mass relocation. Fuelling the fire of hardship, minorities often face the brunt of lay-offs and unaffordable living standards.
In addition, despite there being an overt need for more housing in states with booming populations and rising prices, city authorities are reluctant to build apartment complexes. Many of the reasons for this are related to cities’ desire to avoid lower-income housing encroaching on wealthier areas and lowering the value of housing. As a result, communities with higher incomes and rents tend to build fewer new apartments than those in lower-rent communities within the same metropolitan area.
America is in the midst of decisions that have momentous effects on its citizens.
To alleviate this ever-looming housing crisis on a larger scale, solutions must be implemented at both federal and local levels, such as government subsidies. Housing subsidies are not an entitlement for citizens, with only one in five eligible renter households receiving this assistance. Furthermore, another solution under consideration is Universal Basic Income, which could effectively eradicate housing cost burdens, thereby enabling an even playing field across the country.
Mainly, lower-income people (who due to systemic oppression, tend to be made up of minorities), are moving out of states such as California to cheaper states with lower demand, which are largely comprised of conservative majorities. These smaller populations perpetuate cycles of limited urbanisation, affluence and employment that require higher education. With the increasingly conservative lean within Republicanism in American politics, the cultural climate of these states is more restrictive for the expression of individuality that does not fit a traditional mould; hence, the freedoms marginalised groups are able to enjoy in Democrat states become all the more precious.
Bosser’s first-hand experience of reduced quality of life is one that is reflective of the millions of marginalised individuals. “I felt a lot more comfortable in California than I did in Wyoming or Texas,” he laments. Healthcare is especially concerning, as he comments that doctors treat him “a lot worse”, that he spends “three or four times as much on healthcare” and that the possibility of restricted access to healthcare is a constant worry. For example, “the governor here tried to make it so that identifying as trans as a minor resulted in a call to CPS (Child Protective Services)”. He recalls negative experiences, such as being “called slurs fairly often” and an unpleasant work environment where a manager “frequently said racist and sexist things and talked a lot about conservative commentators who had said explicitly transphobic things, and that definitely made me nervous”.
America is in the midst of decisions that have momentous effects on its citizens. Political culture and a lack of policy momentum are creating a perfect storm where citizens must make a damning choice between safety and shelter.