Trey Kay, Christina Stella, Jessica Lilly Published

The Housing Struggle


America is staring down the barrel of its long term housing issues.

Now, there are added complications and divisions created over the last few years. On this episode of Us & Them, host Trey Kay looks at the outcome of the country’s housing shortage.

While rent increases have slowed, nationally, costs are still well above where they were pre-COVID-19. If you’re trying to buy a house, mortgage rate hikes make it prohibitively expensive for many. These days, emergency pandemic relief programs are mostly gone and temporary moratoriums on foreclosures have expired. Plus, American wages haven’t kept up with inflation. Add the two together…and you get a set of housing hurdles many people simply cannot afford.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the CRC Foundation.

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Claudia Aiken directs the Housing Initiative – a research program at the University of Pennsylvania. She says, “Housing became really important during the pandemic, not only were we trapped here all the time and working from home increasingly. But also housing was really at stake during the pandemic in a way than it might not previously have been.” Aiken says the pandemic shaped American housing in very different ways. “People who were doing fine before, were still doing fine. Many of them were doing even better what with the stimulus checks. And the housing boom in home ownership, a lot of home values really went up, and people benefit, you know, when the value of their asset goes up. But then you have the other side of the spectrum, where … the pandemic really affected certain sectors of the labor force, mostly people in service industry jobs. So those are disproportionately renters, and suddenly, they had no income. They couldn’t pay rent. So they were in this situation where they were actually having to ask themselves the question, ‘Can I stay in my home for another month?’” Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Taylor Kessinger walking in his West Philadelphia neighborhood with Us & Them host Trey Kay. Kessinger is a researcher in the University of Pennsylvania’s Biology Department. Credit: Christina Stella
Taylor Kessinger advocates for housing development in the city of Philadelphia. He often attends zoning board meetings for his West Philly neighborhood that’s called Squirrel Hill. Credit: Trey Kay
Ron Whyte, a lifelong Philadelphian and activist, sits on the back porch of an old Victorian house he shares with five roommates in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in West Philly. He wishes he lived alone, but he can’t afford the rents in this area. He used to have his own place, but got priced out of it by a procedure he calls ‘ren-o-viction.’ This is where landlords perform moderate renovating to the building and then raise the rent to something that people living there aren’t able to afford. Credit: Trey Kay
This is the Elk View Mobile Home Park in Mercer County, WV. Residents here, like about 22 million Americans live in manufactured homes because it’s a situation that can offer cost effective housing options. However, across the country there’s a new wave of pressure facing residents who live in mobile home parks. They are facing sudden rent increases sometimes brought on by new ownership and investments in facility improvements. In rural regions, some people are being priced out of even modest housing options. Residents of Elk View say this is happening here. Credit: Jessica Lilly
Bicycles laying in the yard in between the manufactured homes in the Elk View Mobile Home Park in Mercer County, WV. Credit: Jessica Lilly
On a cold late December day, 19-year-old Kayla Thompson and her stepdad Eddie Woodward, take a break as they load up most of their belongings into a moving truck. They are moving out of the Gardner Estates mobile home community in Mercer County, WV because they’ve been living without electricity or heat. They say that it took the landlord a month and a half to fix the electrical problem. A company with properties in 22 states called Homes of America, LLC purchased five manufactured home parks in Mercer County within about the last year. Gardner Estates is one of those parks. In a statement, Sandy Kinney, an attorney for the company says, “It is making substantial investments to improve these long-neglected properties, so the residents live in places they are proud to call home.” Credit: Jessica Lilly
Gary Cooper sits in the kitchen area of his mobile home with a bag of macaroni that he recently got from the food bank. Cooper lives in Delaney Mobile Home Park, another property now owned by Homes of America. He’s facing a rent increase of more than 200% – but he wants to stay in his home, which he takes pride in. Credit: Jessica Lilly
On a bitter cold day in late December, Matthew Bragg inspects the Elk View Mobile Home Park. He has been the lead sanitarian in Mercer County for about seven years. He checks for health and safety requirements. Frigid winter days usually aren’t the time representatives from the health department do outdoor inspections, but a court has ordered this visit. The court specifically asked him to look for water on the site, specifically drainage and sewage issues. Credit: Jessica Lilly
Adam Wolfe, a staff attorney for Mountain State Justice, works with Mercer County Health Department inspector Matthew Bragg to check for water drainage irregularities at the Elk View Mobile Home Park in Mercer County, WV. Residents reached out to Mountain State Justice, a non-profit law firm after receiving letters explaining that their lot rates would more than double in about 60 days. “These are people who can’t fight for themselves,” Wolfe told Us & Them reporter Jessica Lilly. “People who may not be sophisticated enough to know what to ask for from a billion dollar out-of-state corporation with tons of lawyers.” Credit: Jessica Lilly