How Do We Fix Our Broken System for Low Income People?

F. Janisse color
 By Flynann Janisse


As the rental market continues to find its post-recession footing, it’s clear that many of the issues that existed in affordable markets prior to 2008 are still present today. Often times while speaking at industry forums, I highlight that the system in place for keeping low-income individuals and families in homes continues to be broken. It places low-income people at a great disadvantage when it comes to finding a respectable place to live.

With quality affordable housing in short supply, there are less options for items most prospective tenants naturally look for such as safe communities, a location close to their place of employment or public transportation and amenities relevant to their needs. During the application process, Property Managers are required to perform strict income validation tests to ensure potential residents are qualified to live there. Per regulatory agreements, residents do not have to earn a household income above the average median for the metropolitan area. However, in most cases, the rent amounts are set at such a high level that if a low income individual or family selects a particular home they can “afford,” there is little room left for unexpected expenses. It’s been well-documented that a trip to the emergency room or major auto repair can spell financial ruin for the individuals that call these communities home. This is a major hurdle that negatively impacts many people’s lives today.

When an expense arises, residents have a choice to make: which bills get paid and which ones do not? Through the application process, it’s pre-established that all debts cannot always be satisfied. A vehicle is required for earning a living; however, if the resident chooses the car repair during tough financial times, they could be potentially evicted for not paying their rent. The same is true if they elect to pay the rent and lose their source of income due to lack of transportation, resulting in the inability to make rent in a future month.

This situation is all too common and presents real difficulties for many affordable housing communities, creating churn as well as financial instability. Versus leaving residents with the untenable choice of when to get the eviction notice, more systems should be in place to provide services focused on self-sustainability as the option.

Fund support provided by Social Services gives residents access to the type of programs struggling individuals and families may need. Additionally, providers like Rainbow have proven to be effective with stabilizing the low income resident population in housing communities as well as helping people manage their assets to produce improved financial stability. When programs are focused to give people proactive tools to maintain their homes during problem times such as referral sources for rent assistance, job training and financial management skills, people will be equipped to weather the storm of an unexpected expense and maintain their home in the process.


Flynann Janisse is the executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corporation (Rainbow), a nonprofit organization that provides service-enriched housing programs for residents of rental housing communities throughout the country.  With award-winning services available throughout the United States, Rainbow seeks to create and preserve quality, affordable housing for families and individuals of diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. She can be contacted at