Why affordable housing?

The housing crisis in America is one of the central features of the economic downturn of the last two years. Even as the federal government has responded to this crisis through its Making Homes Affordable program, cities and metropolitan regions still struggle with foreclosures. The lack of affordable housing options combined with the ongoing foreclosure crisis means that people from low-
income communities have few options when it comes to seeking safe, secure, and accessible housing.

Florida has been particularly hard hit by the crisis. In August of 2009, the state
had the dubious distinction of having the highest combined rate of delinquency and foreclosure, with 22.76 percent of Florida mortgages either delinquent or in foreclosure. Florida’s foreclosure rate in November was the second highest in the nation as one out of every 165 homes was in some stage of foreclosure proceedings, according to a national report released by RealtyTrac, an online site that monitors housing activity. In Miami-Dade County, one in every 212 homes went into default in January, 2010, according to a recent report in the South Florida Business Journal.

The housing downturn and resulting foreclosure crisis have laid bare the extent to which urban governments and even non-profit development organizations have been unable to adequately address the needs of cities’ most vulnerable populations in terms of housing.  Into this void has stepped a whole host of grass-roots organizations. Yet often there is a disconnect between grass-roots organizations promoting affordable housing, the people who need that housing, and the government agencies overseeing housing policy.

Universities have a key role to play in fostering connections among these groups, promoting change in the community, and translating local activism into public policy. At the University of Miami, many units on campus already have longstanding relationships with community service organizations that seek to bridge these gaps. Faculty from the Schools of Architecture, Law, Business, Education, and Arts and Sciences with knowledge of the history, theory, and practice of affordable housing have worked with various community organizations to promote affordable housing.  Now, we would like to enhance these partnerships by more fully integrating the lessons learned through these relationships into the curriculum. We hope that the process of using service learning to identify and address community needs will better allow our students to see first-hand how to translate classroom learning into real-world experience with the capacity to promote social justice.