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Recycle houses to remedy the national housing crisis

by Nancy Welsh, Builders of Hope

NHC invites guest blog posters to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest posters do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

Vacant, foreclosed homes in the United States have been abandoned and left to languish. At the same time a dearth of affordable housing has left Americans—many of whom are college-educated, working-class people—struggling to put roofs over their heads.

More than a third of Americans spend more than 30 percent of their pre-tax household income on housing related expenses including rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, insurance and homeowner association fees, and in 2009, 19.4 million American households spent more than half of their yearly incomes on housing. Facing a housing cost burden often forces families to make sacrifices when it comes to other necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

There is a serious misconception that affordable housing is just for people who are destitute or living below the poverty line. Prior to the housing market’s collapse, there was already downward pressure on affordable housing. However, the housing crisis has exacerbated the situation and the situation continues to get worse.

According to recent Census data, from 2000 to 2010 the nation’s median income fell by 7 percent to $49,445. In addition, in the third quarter of 2011, the national median market-rate rent was reportedly $1,004, up from $981 a year earlier, while the national rental vacancy rate declined to 9.8 percent, down from 10.3 percent in 2010.

We have millions of people in need of affordable housing and millions of units of vacant housing available. Policymakers fantasize about tearing down as many as 3 million vacant and foreclosed homes in an effort to jump-start the housing market, but it’s imperative that we recognize these homes as valuable assets. It would be a critical mistake to tear them down.

Instead, it’s time to put this already existing stock to work. With quick and sustainable rehabilitation, we can offer affordable housing to our working class. If the average U.S. household is 2.63 people, then 3 million homes could shelter 7.89 million people. That’s roughly the population of Virginia.

The Builders of Hope home recycling model provides a logical, universal solution to the housing crisis. It’s sustainable and scalable for cities across the country. By rebuilding the nation’s existing stock of vacant homes, opposed to tearing it down, we can be socially, economically and environmentally responsible.

A study by North Carolina State University found that rehabilitating an existing home through the “Extreme Green” remodeling process, defers 19.36 tons of carbon-dioxide when compared with building a new home using traditional construction methods. This is equivalent to deferring the CO2 emissions from 1,979 gallons of unleaded gasoline. Tearing down a home also adds approximately 35,000 pounds of debris to our nation’s already overburdened landfills

By rehabbing and renting vacant, foreclosed homes, we can decrease blight and shift the paradigm for affordable housing by providing beautiful, energy efficient housing to working and low-income families.

Nancy Welsh is Chairwoman, Founder and CEO of Builders of Hope, a North Carolina-based nonprofit developer seeking to increase the availability of high-quality, safe, affordable and workforce housing options. Through innovative reuse and rehabilitation, Builders of Hope works to incorporate economic benefits, environmental stewardship and social solutions.

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