This story originally appeared on KERA News.
To stay financially stable and continue to pay rent, it’s a good rule of thumb to spend no more than a third of your income on housing.
According to Harvard’s Joint Center For Housing Studies, 50 percent of renters spend more than that. One in four tenants turn half of their income over to the landlord on the first of every month.
“Housing is too fundamental a human need, it is too central to human flourishing, to children’s well-being and health to be treated just as a commodity,” says Matthew Desmond, Harvard Professor and MacArthur fellow.
‘Central To Human Development’
Speaking to Krys Boyd on Think, Desmond outlined what he considers a serious problem: the lack of safe, affordable housing available to renters in the United States.
“We’ve affirmed provision in old age, 12 years in education, basic nutrition to be rights in this country, because we believe that those things are central to economic mobility and human development,” he says. “And it’s impossible to argue that shelter is not central to those things too.”
Tarrant County resident Keyanah Jones agrees. She used to have a full time job and an apartment, but she’s spent the last two months living in a Fort Worth emergency shelter. When the government program she worked for lost its funding, Jones lost her job, and everything else.
“My unemployment ran out, it was a hard time finding a career, the money wasn’t coming in, so I ended up getting evicted from my apartment,” she says.
Jones has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and never imagined she’d be in this position. She’s got a new job now, but says the eviction on her record follows her everywhere.
“It goes on your credit and it’s just hard finding a place,” she says.
Too Many People, Too Few Apartments
When it comes to finding affordable housing in North Texas, the numbers are bleak. In Fort Worth for example, about 24,000 households are consideredextremely low income. Those households are competing for 5,200 affordable apartments.
“Right now what we’re seeing is occupancy rates in Fort Worth in January of 2016 were around 95 percent, 96 percent in Parker County. And for very low-income renters that’s catastrophic,” says Otis Thornton, Executive Director of Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.
When there aren’t enough affordable apartments to go around, he says people have to move into places they can’t keep up with in the long run. And when too big a chunk of your paycheck is going toward rent, everything else takes a hit.
“That squeezes your ability to put food on the table, to pay for medications, childcare is out of reach at that point, so just being able to make it through the day becomes almost impossible,” he says.
More Than Just A Place To Live
Until eventually the bottom falls out, and a tenant gets evicted. And most people who get kicked out of their apartment can’t afford a storage unit, which means they lose what was in the apartment too.
“People actually lose their belongings, their possessions, their sense of place and their sense of security,” Thornton says.
Harvard’s Matthew Desmond goes even further. He says an eviction could end up costing someone their livelihood.
“We have good evidence that eviction causes job loss, and anyone out there listening who’s been evicted knows why,” he says. “It’s such a consuming, stressful, drawn out event it can cause you to make mistakes at work, lose your footing in the labor market.”
And because housing can touch everything from an adult’s ability to work to a child’s ability to learn– experts say living in a safe, affordable apartment, is far from a luxury.