A passionate but well-reasoned call to reinvigorate federal support for affordable housing.
In this tour de force debut, Shashaty, a journalist-turned-advocate who has covered housing and urban policy since 1979, combines encyclopedic knowledge, real-life stories, and a point of view that’s equal parts data-driven pragmatism and enlightened moral outrage. His central thrust: the lack of affordable, safe, and decent places to live imperils the American dream of generational upward mobility. The book examines the successes and failures of federal housing programs since the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. Shashaty unleashes a virtual fire hose of statistics and examples of successful multi-income, multifamily communities across the country to counter the stereotype of failed, crime-ridden, high-rise public housing projects. Erosion of political support at the national level and federal budget cuts have reversed previous gains in reducing segregation and concentrated poverty. These shortsighted cuts hinder low-wage workers from saving for down payments and becoming homeowners. Worse, poor housing conditions drive up federal costs elsewhere, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. As federal funding evaporates, the surviving tax credits cannot bridge the gap. At the local level, affordable housing initiatives are often stymied by other municipal policies, like exclusionary zoning. Shashaty warns that stagnant incomes and rising housing costs now set the stage for a new housing crisis in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the recent foreclosure debacle. His nimble prose keeps the narrative from drowning in a flood of numbers. Color charts visualize data, sidebars expand key concepts, a bibliography offers further reading, and an appendix outlines practical actions for individuals or groups. Ideologues who reject any federal role in affordable housing will dismiss the book out of hand, but thoughtful readers will be hard-pressed to challenge the facts, figures, and logic. Housing and urban development issues are complicated, and Shashaty doesn’t pretend they can be made simple. But by articulating the many interconnected components and identifying concrete, proven approaches, he offers a blueprint for converting retreat into progress.
A must-read for policymakers at all levels and recommended for anyone who wants to understand housing problems while working toward solutions.