So why are we concerned about ‘affordability’ ? Why isn’t the problem ‘just’ lack of money, in the same way that households lack money for decent food, decent clothes, decent leisure activities? Why is housing an issue that calls for public sector intervention, putting it in the same category as health and education?
The moral response to this question would argue that shelter is a basic aspect of human dignity, and a good society must ensure that everyone has basic human dignity.
Here are a few additional arguments:
· Cost: Housing is the single largest expense for most lower-income households. It is most often also the first expense – the rest of the household budget is calculated around how much is left once rent or mortgages have been paid. For most homeowners, their home is their single greatest financial asset.
· The importance of home: the home is where our children spend most of their time, where family life takes place, the one place where we expect to have privacy and security from the rest of the world.
· Neighbourhood and community: for many of us, neighbours, friends and relatives are those who live around us, in the same geographic community. Where we live determines a lot about the people with whom we go through our daily lives: waiting for the bus, finding parking, getting the common stairs cleaned….
· Local services and opportunities: where we live determines which nursery and elementary school our children will attend, and who their friends will be, where they will play, what public transport is available to us, what pollutants we experience, and also, often, which medical services, shopping and leisure opportunities are readily available. Housing strongly influences the opportunities available to us, particularly where neighbourhoods are highly segregated by income.
Should Decent Housing be a basic right? For a good argument, read ‘ The Case for a Right to Housing’ by Chester Hartman, in A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda, edited by Rachel Bratt, Michael E. Stone and Chester Hartman, (Temple University Press), 2006.