April 5, 2017

Affordable rents scarce in Albany

This article originally appeared on timesunion.com

The search for a new place began after Tina Collins' daughter was poisoned by lead while living at a Benson Street apartment in March 2016.

Collins' then 4-year-old daughter was hospitalized for two weeks while the single mother of five frantically searched for a place that would accept $850 per month payment for rent from the Department of Social Services.

Within a month, Collins and her family were evicted and locked out of their home.

"I had nowhere to go," she said. She called Child Protective Services hoping to at least secure housing for her kids. "I was frantic. I was crazy. I had a nervous breakdown."

While thousands of households in Albany sit on waiting lists for public housing or Section 8 vouchers, rentable units considered affordable miss the mark for the poorest of Albany's renters.

Still other property owners won't accept public assistance, whether fearing tenants will damage apartments or wanting to avoid jumping through the hoops necessary to provide affordable housing.

My struggle with (finding housing) has been that no property owners in Albany County want to take DSS," Collins said. "I have been turned down by 40 property owners over the course of six months."

A household needs $36,000 annually in order to afford the median rent in Albany at $896 per month. However, 34 percent of all households in Albany earn less than $25,000 annually and this population makes up half of all renters, seeking rents of $625 a month or less, according to a report by the city's Housing Affordability Task Force.

The report estimated a deficit of 6,591 affordable units for households in this bracket. Housing is deemed affordable housing when it requires less than 30 percent of a resident's income to maintain.

Yet rental prices for much of the new housing that's come on the market in Albany in recent years has far exceeded what many can afford.

Erin Reale, executive director of United Tenants of Albany, said rather than seek out new customers, the city and developers should consider investing in the people who are already here.

"If we had more affordable options people would stay in the area they want to stay in," she said. "We're pushing poor people out of the city where they work and have services. We don't need to uproot people. We can accommodate them instead."

For full text: timesunion.com