Monsignor Michael Boland

Need for affordable housing

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

At Catholic Charities’ 101st annual meeting of our board of advisers in October, we released a position paper titled “Building Hope: The Need for Affordable Housing.” 

We released the paper because the severe shortage of affordable housing is a problem that affects nearly all those whom Catholic Charities serves. For families and individuals living in poverty or with very low incomes, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a home that does not consume such a large portion of their monthly budgets that they can pay rent and have enough left over to cover other necessary living expenses. 

For example, a full-time minimum-wage-earning adult earns $1,641 monthly after taxes. The average fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in the Chicago area is $1,180. That leaves only $461 left over to cover all other expenses such as food, utilities, childcare, medical expenses and transportation. 

Choices must be made about which expenses to cover each month, and there is no room for savings.  This leaves people at a very high risk of becoming homeless. 

Any unexpected emergency, such as a high car repair bill, acute illness or medical expense, is often enough to send the family on an unfortunate spiral into homelessness. Although low-income families qualify for housing assistance, there is simply not enough to go around.

The crisis in affordable housing is not new. In 1999, Catholic Charities published its first position paper, “The Housing Crisis in our Neighborhoods.” At that time, the nation was enjoying relative economic stability, and even prosperity in the housing market. Still, there were only enough affordable housing units available for 47 percent of people who qualified nationwide.

In 2010, Catholic Charities published its second position paper on the housing crisis, “A Blueprint for Housing.” At that time, the country was in the middle of the Great Recession, and the housing market and foreclosure crisis were worse than ever. 

People who never struggled before found themselves on the brink of homelessness. The affordable housing shortage reached a critical level. There were only enough affordable housing units available for 33 percent of people who qualified. 

In 2018, with unemployment at record low levels and the country rebounding from the recession, there are still only enough affordable housing units for 35 percent of people who qualify. Unfortunately, as 20 years of advocacy bears out, the cost of fair-market rental housing simply cripples low-income renters, whether the U.S. economy is thriving or struggling.

A home, a place to be sheltered from the elements, is a fundamental human need, and our church teaching reminds us that access to safe, affordable housing is a basic human right.

Catholic Charities is fully committed to providing transitional and permanent housing for families, individuals, seniors, veterans, the homeless and people with special needs. We currently house more than 4,000 people each year through our housing and homeless programs, and we are best known for providing critical supportive services that are often needed to maintain stable housing.

As outlined in “Building Hope,” there is not one solution to the housing crisis. A multi-pronged approach is needed including construction of more affordable housing, additional rent vouchers to apply to current housing stock, increased funding of homeless-prevention efforts and increased funding of education and job-training programs so people can earn a living wage.

Catholic Charities also advocates for an investment in supportive wrap-around services such as addiction programs, mental health and domestic violence counseling and other supports that are often needed to stabilize permanent living situations. 

I encourage you to read the entire position paper at I hope you will join Catholic Charities as we serve and advocate for those seeking the dignity of a safe and affordable home.


  • catholic charities
  • housing