Opinion: How we solve the housing crisis might be more important than what we do

Housing. It's the most complicated relationship we have in this area.

It is an interesting juxtaposition at play creating what is commonly referred to as The Housing Crisis. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines juxtaposition as "the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side, often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect." On one hand, we (the collective societal we here) say the housing prices are out of control, it costs too much to buy a home and the rent is too high. There have even been calls to have Jimmy McMillan, who famously ran for mayor of New York City in 2005 and 2009 and ran for Governor of the State of New York in 2010 as a part of the "Rent is Too (blank) High" Political Party speak in the area about rents being too high. If you have not seen him, please look up his debate performances on YouTube.

The juxtaposition comes from comparing this view with the market view, particularly of that of owners and funders who need housing prices to continue to rise. If a home is a part of your portfolio or your retirement, you want that value to rise. Funders will not provide capital if real estate prices are projected to fall. This is the juxtaposition. Housing in the area is becoming less affordable for many, yet we have a system designed for housing prices to rise.

What do we do? This is the question that is always asked along with how do we solve the homeless crisis and how do we have more affordable housing? There are many people doing great work on these questions. Many attended the East Metro Economic Prosperity Forum on May 4, at the Rockwood Boys and Girls Club. They discussed these questions and looked at collaborative ways address them.

My words to this group and to all of you is "how we do" is more important than "what we do." If you have a puzzled look on your face right now, that is fine. Many of the attendees did as well. I went on to explain that it is to do something. It is easy to say that we have a homelessness problem, so let's open more shelters. It is easy to say we have a low-income housing crisis so let's open more low-income housing. All of these are important strategies for relieving the symptoms, but what if we could collaborate and work to cure the disease? What would it look like if we could work to lower the cost of things like food and medicine so there is not as much financial pressure on low-income families? What would it look like if we could create or attract more middle-skill and high-skill jobs to the area and connect education and training so current low income and homeless citizens have a clear path of upward mobility?

What it would look like is a change in how we view housing and investments. In some cases, it may even be uncomfortable or unpopular. An example of something uncomfortable may be encouraging more executive or high-end housing. This would encourage more entities to locate corporate offices here in the area and control the costs of middle to upper-middle housing while bringing jobs to the area. This is uncomfortable because no one would have a press conference to announce they are bringing more executive housing to the region.

The symptom of the housing crisis is that the price is to high when the real illness is affordability. We can work to bring the price down with how we add to the housing supply. We have all seen the amount of construction happening in the area, particularly multi-family housing (apartment, condominiums, co-ops, etc.). We are adding supply, but we also must address affordability and we must take an economic development approach to this crisis and address it holistically and collaboratively. We must be willing to do things thing that may be unpopular. We must be willing to do things that are uncomfortable.

Our Facebook relationship status with housing is "it's complicated" because it is. If it was easy, I am confident it would have been solved by now. I am also confident there are many great people working hard to address this crisis, and many are working in the East Metro Region. One day, we will align the perspective of renters/buyers and owners/sellers/investors and remove the juxtaposition so all benefit and share in the prosperity of our area.

Jarvez Hall is the Executive Director of the East Metro Economic Alliance and an Instructor of Social Entrepreneurship at Warner Pacific University. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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