There have been many conversations in Atlanta about affordable housing. Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens is seeking policy change to include more affordable housing units in the city. Our building neighbors at the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a well attended session just yesterday evening that focused on affordable housing as part of their Social Studies series. The name of the event was aptly named: “Who can afford to live in Atlanta?” And when we asked artists during a recent survey what concerns they have about Atlanta, affordable housing topped the list (under transportation and in line with [fair] wage).
What is affordable housing? Is it cheap rent? Is it a low mortgage? What if you just don’t make a lot of money? What is affordable then?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):
Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
Want to have some more fun? Remember the question about wage? Here is a neat little Housing Wage Calculator for you to play with. As I played with the calculator, I discovered that the average rent within 10 miles of Atlanta is $1376/month (probably for a family?). If I am not spending more than 30% of my income on rent, I would need to earn $26.46/hour or $55,040/year. Now, my family pays about that for our mortgage. But my husband and I earn more than that combined, not just with my salary alone. Ahem. (I know what you are thinking, “but you run an nonprofit, you must be rolling in the dough!”). I don’t make enough alone to afford $1000/month.
The good news is that I get paid these days on salary. Many artists have a combination of jobs that either pay under the table, or the artists are 1099 contractors. This can affect what rental properties are available to them (not to mention money for the deposit and first month’s rent). Purchasing a property becomes even more of a challenge.
Underwriters invest in low risk. If you cannot demonstrate a consistent income, you are not low risk. You may earn more as a freelance artist than a person who works in retail; however, the person in retail is likely a W-2 employee. He/she has proof of regular income.
I know that policy change is sometimes linear. I also know that there are ways in which we as a community can help artists and freelancers find affordable housing. Even better, I know artists who own homes. But it is going to take more understanding on the part of elected officials, lenders, and policy makers to truly understand the connection between wage and housing. I will not get into fair valuation of artists in this blog. I am speaking more about institutions and gatekeepers. And this isn’t an issue that just artists face. In fact, Forbes reported in 2015:
Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs.
This IS startling. As the Forbes article points out, contingent workers have less access to affordable healthcare, living wage, job stability and access to resources.
Atlanta: thank you for recognizing the need for affordable housing. It will ensure we compete nationally for workers.
So now what?
I have been grappling with this. Perhaps, there are resources we (C4 Atlanta) can help connect artist to that ameliorates the situation. Maybe that is helping artists become aware of the programs that are out there that can assist artists in the search for affordable housing or even home ownership. I think we also need to educate our friends in other sectors about what it really takes to make it in Atlanta as a freelance artist. I am trying. I have talked to anyone who will listen about these issues. I have talked to officials in DC and I have talked to officials locally. They are willing to help. But this isn’t going to be a quick fix.
We are living in the gig economy. It isn’t just artists. Atlanta: we want to live here. Help us do that. Or else…or else you will lose us.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Photo – Flickr: “Middle Class Home In Sweet Auburn” by joaquin uy