Idea for Cheap Homes in Philly: Rent Rooms Cheap

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The government is not the only source of solutions to the housing crisis. A little extra love from landlords can make a huge difference and is an easy solution to implement.

I overheard a conversation recently. Two friends discussing what it looks like homeowners in Philadelphia are talking endlessly about right now: house prices, selling their homes, renting rooms.

Here is the highlight of the conversation:

“I have to get all this work done on the spot before I sell it,” the woman said. “What I have to do is find a pacifier to rent the place for a really high rent so I can pay for the repairs.”

“That,” said her friend, “would be the perfect tenant.”

It was the kind of conversation you wish you had not heard.

The two seemed neat enough. They held onto paperbacks and looked as if they were taking their grandchildren for a pumpkin patch. They probably donated to a food bank this year to help people in their communities.

But when it came to housing, they were stone-cold predators. Merciless capitalists who maximize their profits, even if the poor “sucker” had to pull around all winter and run a Lift without health care.

It’s just the rules of the game!

Of course, the rules change when we rent to family or friends. We give them breaks. We cut them a little. Could we consider extending the same courtesy to strangers?

There are plenty of ways the public sector can deal with Philadelphia’s cheap housing crisis, and all are the subject of heated debate. But there are also private solutions – which have the advantage that they are much easier to implement.

Could landlords step up on their own and lower rents by $ 100 a month? Or $ 200?

For landlords whose rental income is just the icing on the cake, it’s not such a big deal. They have benefited from several years of rising rents. The median rent in the entire city increased 7% between 2009 and 2019, according to Pew – and in northern Philadelphia, where residents have some of the city’s lowest household incomes, there was a jump of 29%.

Many people who rent in Philly have trouble making ends meet.

According to Pew, 40% of the city’s tenants are “costly”, which means rents eat more than 30% of their income. And the less you earn, the worse the situation gets. Among renters who earn $ 30,000 or less a year, 88% is cost-effective. There just is not a supply of cheap devices they can jump to.

For these residents, a $ 100 rent reduction can mean the difference between eating healthy food or buying groceries at the dollar store. This does not mean saving up for retirement, not being able to afford the deductible or finding time to get a mammogram – things that have major consequences (and societal costs) along the way. That means a degraded quality of life with the stress that comes from bill juggling.

The effects of poverty accumulate slowly, at $ 100 a month, over the years.

It can be difficult for many homeowners to understand what it is like. Our capitalist friends who go on pumpkin patches may not even realize how badly wage stagnation has hit. Workers’ purchasing power has been flat for 40 years, and the minimum wage has been the same in Philly for over a decade.

I suggest we need a new movement. The ethical landowner movement.

Or at least the introduction of a new idea: That lowering the rent can be a form of charitable action. Instead of donating to the food bank, disconnect someone so they do not end up going there in the first place.

I have seen this done proactively, with very positive effect.

One of my friends in West Philly rents rooms for below the market price – $ 300 to $ 600 a month – with the intention of subsidizing low-wage work in non-profit organizations, political action, or creative endeavors. When I lived there, I lived between a DJ, a political science writer, and a guy who tanned animal shelters in his room. It was brilliant.

If you add up the savings compared to the market rent in that neighborhood over the years, it comes out to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It makes my friend’s house, for all intents and purposes, a charitable effort.

It is an alternative to providing grants, which by default require paperwork and bureaucracy. Charging low rents to local organizers or musicians lowers their living costs so they have more time to do magic for the rest of us.

This has happened in various cities around the United States successfully. The examples we hear about are usually larger projects like the huge NYC Westbeth complex, but this is a social innovation that can happen on the smallest scale.

Just a reconsidered lease would make a difference for anyone. Students, seniors, artists, local helpers – there are so many groups that need the boost.

It would give the whole city a little more respite, no new rules are needed.

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