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America’s Housing Crisis: Why Should High Schoolers Care

Teenagers have an important role to play in mitigating America’s housing crisis, and can educate neighbours and lobby local governments, says Teddy Rotgin

The affordable housing crisis doesn’t only affect the homeless. About half of Americans say affordable housing is a problem in their neighbourhoods. As high schoolers, it is not long until we will leave the comfort of our parent’s homes and college dorms.

We will soon enter the housing market. Many of us, working entry-level jobs and carrying student loans, will be directly affected by the rising price of housing. It is our duty to lay the foundations for the society and policies we will inherit. Both for ourselves and for those already struggling with housing costs.

Home prices have been on the rise for many reasons, but the most significant factor is simply a supply and demand issue. We’re seeing a shortage, or housing underproduction, in all corners of the U.S., America has fallen 3.8 million homes short of meeting housing needs. And that’s both rental housing and ownership.”

Mike Kingsella, CEO of Up for Growth, a nonprofit research group made up of affordable housing and industry groups.

The government plays a role in this process by giving out grants and subsidies. However, major market change has to come from the private sector. Developers need to be incentivised to build affordable housing options. They have the capacity to build more than any government could accomplish.

However, in order to overcome construction costs and still make a profit, developers need to be able to reduce their costs per unit. To do this, they must build denser structures that contain multiple units. Zoning laws act as a legal barrier that makes this task extremely difficult, and in many cases, flat-out impossible.

Advocacy Opportunities & Zoning Laws.

Zoning laws establish the regulations that govern housing and assign limits to housing density, structure height, parking spaces, and more. In Los Angeles, for example, about 75% of residential land is zoned for single-family homes. In other words, it is illegal to build multi-family units like apartment complexes or townhouses in these areas.

However, splitting such lots up into two or allowing developers to build higher, would give them much more of a bang for their buck. If developers could build more homes, the supply would increase, and ultimately the demand would decrease, creating cheaper housing futures.

America’s Housing Crisis and NIMBY

Changing the zoning rules to allow increased density would bring many benefits. However, there is major opposition all across affluent America. Known as the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) movement: many residents oppose developments or construction in their local neighbourhoods.

The NIMBY movement commonly voices concerns that building in their neighbourhoods will increase crime and violence and decrease property values. However, there is little evidence to support this. The NIMBY mindset also disproportionately affects minorities and perpetuates the discriminatory effects of old American policies like redlining.

What can teenagers do?

The good news is that zoning laws are almost always decided by local governments. This gives each and every one of us a vital role in the fight for more affordable housing. If we develop a mindset of Yes in My Backyard, we can influence local governments to make the necessary changes to our respective local land use policies.

We have a responsibility to elect and advocate for local officials who support progressive housing regulations. We can also make an effort to talk to our NIMBY neighbours and explain the benefits that addressing the issue of affordable housing would bring to our shared society.

It is imperative that we as teenagers, take the time to understand the housing crisis, and educate those around us. This can be achieved through peaceful discourse, and lobbying for changed local zoning laws. Our actions can help end the affordable housing crisis. And we can contribute to making the society that we will grow up in more equitable for all.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Teddy Rotgin

Teddy Rotgin is a senior at Santa Monica High School in California with a keen interest in using effective policy tools to address the housing crisis in the United States. In addition to over six years of volunteering with the Upward Bound House (a transitional housing organisation for homeless families), Teddy participates in Habitat for Humanity builds, has been active in Youth and Government for four years, is on his school’s varsity soccer team, and plays the alto saxophone.

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America’s Housing Crisis: Why Should High Schoolers Care

by Teddy Rotgin Reading time: 3 min
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