By Jim Weill | FRAC President
The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has joined with a diverse group of national organizations to launch a new Opportunity Starts at Homecampaign to expand affordable housing options for America’s most vulnerable communities.
This multi-sector campaign launched on March 20 at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) Housing Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. In addition to NHILC and FRAC, other partners include the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Catholic Charities USA, Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS.
The campaign seeks to mobilize constituencies beyond housing to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.
The U.S. has a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters, and 11 million ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. Just one out of four eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.
The long-term goals of Opportunity Starts at Home are to promote federal policies that
- bridge the growing gap between renter incomes and rising housing costs;
- provide aid to people experiencing job losses or other economic shocks to avert housing instability or homelessness; and
- expand the affordable housing stock for the lowest-income renters.
Anti-hunger advocates know well the unmanageable balancing act many low-income families face in meeting both their shelter and nutrition needs. When families spend half or more of their incomes on shelter, they can’t afford other basics, including food. Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted on the housing crisis for low-income families, describes this conundrum as “the rent eats first.” The end result is the family’s income for food, including SNAP, is too small for an adequate diet for the month when they pay the unaffordable rent.
Anti-hunger advocates also know that the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul problem runs in the other direction as well: the cost of food makes meeting rent obligations impossible. The shelter deduction calculation that determines a household’s SNAP allotment (and the amount of other income the family is expected to use for food) often undercounts families’ real shelter costs, because the deduction is limited by a cap. The family spends more on food, and falls behind on rent.
Opportunity Starts at Home is also working to strengthen the capacities of multi-sector state coalitions that share the campaign’s goals.
FRAC looks forward to working with the other Opportunity Starts at Home campaign partners to make housing more affordable for low-income families and to address the unmanageable financial squeeze on housing and other basic needs that too many low-income households are facing.