Affordable Housing Development

The local affordable housing narrative in Memphis, TN is quite depressing and is very unsettling.  Memphis is one of the most affordable cities in which to live in the U.S., according to the Council on Community and Economic Research.  And yet, the overwhelming majority (79 percent) of households earning below $20,000 per year spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a Tennessee Housing Development Agency report.

All the new market-rate apartment buildings in Memphis awarded public subsidies must meet certain affordable housing requirements. But, the structure of those stipulations means people in poverty won’t likely live in them.

Even with Memphis’ relatively low cost of living, low-income households don’t have many attractive choices.

The best low-income housing option is often the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program (aka, Section 8), administered locally by the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA). The problem is, the waiting list to get a voucher according to MHA is five years long.  The need is so much greater than the inventory in Memphis.  MHA states that there are currently approximately 15,000 people on the MHA waiting list.  This means that the people on the MHA waiting list often are forced to have to settle for “naturally occurring affordable housing”.  This is affordable housing that has become substandard which means that it now has low rents due to being substandard and is no longer quality housing.  This is generally Class C or lower apartments.  These apartments that are the housing options to many Memphians including the ones on the MHA waiting list that are affordable are old and/or located in high-crime areas.

In Memphis, it is a location and quality mismatch rather than just a pure quantity mismatch.

Memphis’ poverty rate is 27 percent. A higher income is not the only solution to poverty. In Memphis, 58 percent of the average median household income is spent on housing and transportation. This is one of the highest rates of America’s 51 largest cities. Poverty is a result of low-income jobs combined with housing and transportation costs.