Housing Vulnerability Analysis

Evictions. Foreclosures. Disasters. Rising taxes. Rising insurance costs. Unsafe conditions. Overcrowding.

Sadly, there are many different ways in which people can lose their homes.

In recent years, I have led a collaborative project with housing activists and academics which aims to develop a new means of assessing housing vulnerability, which can vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

Housing Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) is a straightforward method for understanding the degree to which any given housing tenure in a community is vulnerable to displacement. The HVA project website introduces this analysis, provides an initial pilot example for the City of Oakland, and provides general guidance to the housing community who are interested in developing more nuanced and complete protections for existing residents.

Click here to visit the Housing Vulnerability Analysis website, which includes results from the Oakland, CA pilot study. You can also read about HVA in this roundtable in Shelterforce.

While renters are generally more vulnerable than owners, the foreclosure crisis showed clearly that owners can be vulnerable as well. To understand the risk that each household has when it comes to losing their home, we must ask what kind of renter? What kind of homeowner? Renting from the housing authority, or renting in a rent regulated building, is different from renting on the open market, or renting in an illegal warehouse or your cousin’s garage. Owning a home that has a monthly HOA fee is different than owning without an HOA – you can lose your house if you don’t pay your HOA fees, even if you pay your mortgage.

More and more, housing advocates and policymakers recognize that most of us are vulnerable to losing our homes, at least to a certain degree. While vulnerability is certainly connected to issues of age, health, race, class, etc., our specific vulnerability depends in large part on our housing tenure – the complex mix of financial, legal and contractual arrangements we each have that bind us legally to our home. Housing tenure is much more complicated than simply renting and owning – in our Oakland pilot study, for instance, we identify 56 distinct forms of tenure in that city. These include innovative alternative tenures like community land trusts, and informal tenure, which range from living in your car to renting a garage to occupying an illegal warehouse conversion to sleeping on the street.

Each form of tenure has its own vulnerabilities and forms of protection, and this depends in large part on where this housing is found. Different jurisdictions have different laws, different levels of support, different types of groups and organizations that can help people keep their homes.

Keeping people housed

In affordable housing circles, it is now common parlance to speak of the 3 P’s – protection, preservation and production. All three aspects of housing are vital.

Unfortunately, most of the political attention, and thus most of our existing assessment tools, are focused primarily on housing production. For instance, in the major regions of California, regional agencies regularly assess how many units of housing for each income level each jurisdiction needs to produce based on projected population growth and existing housing stock, a process known as Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). We have many ways of showing us just how much housing we need to build, even if we never end up building most of it.

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