Influx of Immigrants Causing Housing Shortage in American Cities

Home prices and rents in major U.S. urban areas pushing many lower-income citizens out

The Los Angeles Times, in a June 18 article, highlighted the growing number of Latinos in Los Angeles who are homeless and sleeping on the streets or in their cars — and pinned the blame on the high cost of housing.

But the paper declined, as so many other media organizations have, to address one of the main causes of the severe shortage of affordable housing in many large American cities: the large influx of immigrants into those cities.

Of the four million residents of the city of Los Angeles, 38 percent are foreign-born. In New York, 37 percent of those living in the city are foreign-born. In Boston, it’s 27 percent; in Chicago, 21 percent. In Miami-Dade County, it’s almost 52 percent. And these are the official U.S. census estimates. No one knows the real numbers, as millions of illegal immigrants likely go uncounted.

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The number of foreign-born people in the United States, according to the U.S. census, has more than doubled just since 1990, and quadrupled since 1970. Most of those immigrants have stayed in the large cities, where the jobs are, and where they have access to services and transportation.

In Atlanta and other cities, the increase in the number of foreign-born residents has been rapid, and recent, rising more than 20 percent between 2000 and 2010.

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But middle-class Americans, we’re told, can no longer afford to live in the big cities.

“The Year in Housing: The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live in Cities Anymore,” was in fact the headline on a Dec. 31, 2016, Wired article that looked at Boston (foreign-born population of 27 percent) and the sky-high rents and home prices there.

“The casualties in this war are mostly the middle class,” the story says, going on to talk about the teacher who can’t afford to live in the neighborhood where she teaches.

“A family that makes $100,000 can’t afford to buy a house in most U.S. cities,” Mechele Dickerson, a housing expert with the University of Texas, says in the article.

In Los Angeles between 2011 and 2015, the average price of an owner-occupied home was $471,000. In New York City, it was $494,800.

The Wired piece, like many others, turns to the need to build more affordable housing, and to zoning laws in cities such as Boston and New York that make it difficult, expensive, or impossible to get building going – and to objections of neighbors who want to maintain exclusive neighborhoods and high prices.

But are more buildings really the answer?

Such cities as New York and Boston are more or less “built out.” The farther out you build, the farther people are from jobs, and the more time they have to spend away from their children, commuting.

But there’s another aspect to the effect of rising immigration on housing costs in big cities: Not only are the poor having their big-city rents subsidized, if not fully covered, by a federal government program, but illegal immigrants are also getting housing help.

In April, a Republican state representative in Massachusetts tried to amend a budget bill to require people applying to live in state-sponsored public housing to provide their Social Security numbers or alien registration numbers, saying that housing authority directors in the state had asked her to do it to align the state’s requirements with federal requirements. The current law, she said, was allowing people who are in the country illegally to be given preference over U.S. citizens and legal residents and be given free or low-cost housing.

“Think about how many constituents call your office desperate for housing and they cannot get in because there are waiting lists of two, three, five years long,” said State Representative Shaunna O’Connell. “This is the right thing to do.”

Democratic legislators disagreed, with one calling the amendment “mean-spirited” and another saying the state housing directors “ought to be taken to court” for revealing how many people applied for housing assistance without giving a Social Security number.

And while applicants for federal housing assistance in the form of Section 8 vouchers and spots in public housing projects (where residents may live for free) must provide a Social Security number, an article in Polifact revealed that this does not mean illegal immigrants aren’t getting housing assistance.

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As with Medicaid and Food Stamps, the illegal immigrant parents of U.S.-born children can apply for housing assistance, and provide the Social Security numbers of their children. The Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed to Polifact that the families can then get Section 8 housing or other housing assistance, with only the children technically qualifying as getting the benefit, with the benefit amount for the parents subtracted…but that the whole family can then live in the unit. So U.S.-born children and their illegal immigrant parents can live in Section 8 housing or a public housing project. It is not known how many do.

In Palm Beach County, part of the densely populated South Florida metroplex and home to high numbers of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba and Haiti but also Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, waiting lists for Section 8 housing had become so long that a freeze was placed on the program — with no new applications are being accepted.

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