Affordable for whom?
What my recent tour of The Landmark reveals about how "affordable" housing actually works here and in America
On my tour last month of The Landmark building and its historic renovations, I ran into a tenant I’d come to know from my time downtown. I asked him how he liked the newly renovated space, and he gave a sort of non-committal answer with a sense of nervousness. I took note and moved on to the tour.
But after the tour I saw him outside downtown, and it being a nice sunny day I walked over for a chat. Without prompting he told me he usually tried to keep a friendly face for the management there because they were nice people. He didn’t think the company that employed them, Gorman and Company, was so nice.
He didn’t love everything about the renovations. The windows, which he claimed were 50-years-old, weren’t replaced. I took note of the windows and it was clear they weren’t the new, energy efficient kind but of course had no idea how old they really were.
I expressed surprise because more efficient windows would lead to lower heating bills and long-term cost savings. He relayed a theory that he didn’t think Gorman would hang on to the building for very long.
He told me last winter the heat had gone out and he was without heat in the worst winter months.
But one thing really struck me: He told me his rent had gone up $198 within a two-year time frame.
I asked, if he didn’t mind, how much he was paying in rent. He told me $908.
That seemed like a lot, I told him. I later took a look at online listings for The Landmark. Prices on apartments.com range from $775 to $1,050, so the rent price he quoted wasn’t terribly out of line. And a single person needs to make less than $36,840, according to a table included in an online listing for The Landmark.
I did the math - someone earning the max income allowed, around $36,000, would take home about $30,000 of that. That’s about $2,450 a month. Meaning rent is well more than the 30% of housing expenses experts tend to say is ideal for a balanced budget.
Oh, I thought, but don’t you receive some kind of subsidy?
He laughed. Oh, he was on a waiting list, and had been so for some time. I wasn’t taking notes but I think he had told me he’d gotten down to only a two-year’s wait.
For context, I bought my house in 2016, and thanks to refinancing when interest rates were at their lowest, I now pay about half of what this fellow pays at the Landmark. And I have my own house. (There are, of course, plenty of expenses that a homeowner pays that an apartment renter does not.)
This all seemed odd to me. So I decided to do a little digging…
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