Fixing The Rental Crisis: Make Room’s Angela Boyd Is Trying

By Richard Scheinin
San Jose Mercury News.

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Incomes are stagnating and rents are rising. In steps Angela Boyd, managing director of the Make Room campaign, aims to address the nationwide rental crisis.

During a recent cross-country tour, Boyd got on the phone to discuss strategies for Make Room, which was launched in May.

Its sponsoring partner is Enterprise Community Partners, which has invested $16 billion toward nearly 340,000 affordable homes in the U.S.

An optimist, Boyd discussed the nitty gritty of legislation and zoning laws, as well as Make Room’s series of house concerts.

The series brings name performers (Carly Rae Jepsen, Miguel) to working-class homes, raising rent money for individual families and shining a light on the broader issue.

Q: Give me your manifesto.

A: Make Room is an effort to give voice to the 11 million families in America, 1 in 10, who are paying more than half their income just on rent. We’re seeing this housing situation get worse, not better, and we want to expand the table of folks who see themselves as part of the solution. We need to convince our policy leaders to increase resources and solve this problem.

Our first goal is to educate people about the crisis. In New York and D.C. and the Bay Area, the rent crisis is already kind of above the fold; people understand it. But it’s everywhere. And there’s this whole group of people in the middle who are struggling, working three jobs to get by, and their voices are not being heard. So we also want to build a movement that advocates for change.

Q: Tell me what the private sector can do.

A: Think about it from a retailer’s perspective, say I’m Target, and a big part of my customer base is impacted by the rental crisis. That means they have less disposable income to come in and buy. Of those 11 million families I mentioned, some are spending 75 percent of their income on rent. If we could bring that number down to 50 percent for everybody, we’d be freeing up $60 billion that could be going into the economy. They’re going to go to Target and buy diapers.

Employers are starting to realize that this impacts their businesses, so we’re trying to form partnerships with them. We can talk about emergency rental assistance. Some employers already have begun offering down payment assistance, but many of their employees need help with rent.

Q: What about the federal government’s role?

A: It spends over $200 billion a year to subsidize housing, helping people to buy and rent. But only 25 percent goes to renters.
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And most of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions go to households earning over $100,000 a year. And I know $100,000 doesn’t stretch as far in the Bay Area as in Kansas. Still, there are working people and seniors throughout the country who are struggling, and we need to re-prioritize.

Raising the minimum wage won’t solve the problem, but it sure will help a lot of people. So will expanding the earned income tax credit for low and middle-income people, it will put more money in people’s pockets.

Q: Will you describe those 11 million households who spend more than half their income on rent?

A: Two thirds are traditional working families. Two million are seniors. We hear a lot about how the rent issue is impacting millennials, and it’s certainly true in the Bay Area. But we can’t forget that the people who are primarily affected by this crisis are seniors and working families, cashiers, food service workers, nursing aides. These jobs are critical to our economy, but none of these people are earning anywhere near what’s necessary to pay for housing, whether in Santa Clara County or Kansas, where I grew up.

Q: What can be done in Silicon Valley, where there’s nowhere near enough new residential development, especially on the affordable side?

A: Inclusionary zoning is important, requiring developers to make some portion of new construction affordable. In the Bay Area we’re starting to see regional discussions about housing; we need to think more critically about building up transit and creating mixed communities.

Like it or not, density is part of the solution. You drive into Oakland and see all the land around the rail stations and you can imagine how it might be used _ more density, more mixed income housing for people to live near and access jobs.

Q: The California State Legislature is considering some interesting housing bills. What stands out?

A: They’re doing some interesting things already. They did the cap-and-trade legislation, and some proportion of those funds will go into housing. That really is kind of revolutionary and an interesting model that other states could pick up.

Q: Your documentary series is an interesting way to get your message out.

A: The inspiration came from Harlem in the ’20s, where musicians played and families passed the hat to raise the rent money. So these are like virtual rent parties. I’m not under any illusions that the $5,000 we raise for one family is going to solve all their problems, but it may stop them from being homeless. It helps. It’s very hard to send your kids off to school every day and keep everybody healthy if you’re worrying about the rent.
5 Facts About Angela Boyd
1. As a Carnegie Corporation Fellow, she once worked a stint at ABC News, field producing for its investigative unit. Her work appeared on “Good Morning, America,” “World News” and “Nightline.”

2. She’s a big college basketball fan and pulls for Wichita State University, her mother’s alma mater.

3. She would love to write a book some day: “a David Sedaris-inspired book of funny essays.”

4. She recently ran her first 5K on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “I had no idea all my life that I could be a runner.”

5. She prepares for trips abroad by reading novels from the countries she plans to visit. Before a recent vacation in Ireland, she read Irish novelist Colm Toibin’s “Nora Webster” and has become a fan of his work.
Age: 34

Place of birth: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Position: Managing director, Make Room campaign

Previous jobs: Chief of staff, Enterprise Community Partners. She also was deputy director of Public Policy for Enterprise, leading efforts for green affordable housing and community development and on behalf of neighborhoods struggling with mortgage foreclosures. She also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C., as a public policy fellow.

Education: She graduated in 2003 from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and in 2010 from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of government with a master’s degree in public policy.

Family: Single, she has an “amazing boyfriend”
Making music for housing

The Make Room campaign aims to address the nationwide rental crisis. Its series of house concerts, with Carly Rae Jepsen, Miguel and other name performers, raises rent money for individual working class families and shines a light on the national crisis. You can watch video of the shows here:

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