Finding affordable housing is a genuine problem in today’s world. The need for a roof over our heads ranks right up there with needing food, water, and clothing. Unfortunately, housing costs are a primary concern for most families as this expense takes up most of the budget. That concern has grown for many over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as the economic fallout has supercharged housing insecurity in the United States.

If you find yourself facing a shortage of affordable housing options, here are eight savvy ways to tackle the problem.

1. Consider Renting First

In years past, most Americans believed buying a home as opposed to renting was seemingly risk-free. It was more of a smart investment than a vulnerability. However, during the 2008-2009 recession, that mindset changed. More individuals — nearly 10 million — lost their homes during those years than in the Great Depression.

Although homeownership’s pros and cons are extensive, generally speaking, the upfront costs of owning a home no longer fit the bill for those pinching pennies. Thankfully, we have many housing options available to us today, aside from purchasing a home.

For example, renting is on the rise, and it’s often a more affordable option than buying a home. Plus, in many high-end areas, rent prices don’t reflect the real estate market. So, renting a nicer home is frequently gentler on a budget than going through the rigamarole of buying one.

There are many programs supporting low income households, which provide either rental assistance or subsidized rental rates. Reduced rent apartments are available for those who meet the eligibility requirements created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD). HUD-backed programs include privately-owned subsidized housing, government housing, public housing, and Section 8 vouchers.

2. Go Small, Use Storage

It’s no surprise that the size of our homes has increased significantly in the past few decades. Pegged as “the Big House Trend,” the need for space is undoubtedly a new luxury. Americans demand nearly 1,000 extra square feet than we did a mere 40 years ago.

What’s more, most people enjoy patios, multiple bathrooms, spare bedrooms, porches, and even bonus rooms. And we fill each nook and cranny with stuff, too. Unsurprisingly, the average size of today’s new construction is over 2,500 square feet.

However, more space and utilities often equate to higher maintenance expenses. Instead of supersizing your home, consider strategically sizing it. But what does this mean precisely?

Consider living in a smaller home and using self-storage for out-of-season items, and the things you don’t always want in your home, such as storing summer toys over the winter months. Or swap out comforters, window treatments, seasonal decor, or even furniture throughout the year.

This approach allows you to keep items that are important to you, without having to increase the amount of square footage you need from your home. You’ll save money because on a square footage basis, self-storage is typically cheaper than the purchase cost or monthly rent of residential real estate. Case in point: the national average cost of a home is $123 per square foot. Compare that to the monthly cost of 92 cents per square foot for a self-storage unit.

3. DIY Repairs and Projects

Despite what we might think of ourselves, we’re not all master electricians or expert carpenters. Completing complicated multi-step home projects isn’t our jam. The good news is that most repairs and renovations aren’t significant — and we don’t need a professional.

Keep in mind that some jobs call for specific know-how, such as electrical work or plumbing. No one wants to get shocked or flood the house, after all. Still, most individuals can change out a stained outlet panel, paint a dingy room, or put new hardware on the cabinets.

These minor DIY repairs might seem tiny, but they can add quality to any home, not to mention equity. There are hundreds of home repairs that aren’t out of your league — especially with the help of YouTube, WikiHow, or DIY Network. Saving money sometimes means getting your hands dirty from time to time.

4. Save with Technology

Technology doesn’t only have a pretty face; it can save you loads of cash, too. Sure, it’s fun to have a programmable thermostat or automatic lights, but did you know that these features are cost-efficient?

More importantly, technology can improve your home’s safety, function more efficiently, and have a less negative impact on the environment. Some of the most popular money-saving home technologies include:

  • Energy-efficient light bulbs. Traditional incandescent bulbs are a thing of the past. Today, CFLs and LEDs are the way to go. Both types last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs and use 25% to 80% less energy. Plus, they’re inexpensive, too.
  • Certified Energy Star® products. Whether it’s a dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator, or water heater, it can save you money if it’s energy-efficient. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars worth of savings each year on utility bills.
  • Smart power strips. Our generation is notorious for leaving things plugged in without using them. Think about computers, appliances, chargers, etc. Unfortunately, this bad habit can account for up to 8% of our monthly electric bill. Smart power strips eliminate this waste and help to rake in the savings.

5. Insulate the Building

Perhaps you remember visiting your grandparents’ old farmhouse and feeling the drafts in the bedrooms. Or maybe you recall the gusts of wind filling the hallways in an old NYC apartment building. No matter, air sealing a home can stop the cold breeze from coming inside. Plus, it can decrease your heating and cooling costs significantly.

Many homes are inadequately insulated. Warm air escapes, and cold air enters through walls, windows, and doors. That said, properly insulating your home can save you plenty of money. The Department of Energy offers suggestions for air sealing your home, including:

  • Replace old weatherstripping around windows and doors.
  • Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing or wires come through the floor or walls.
  • Install foam gasket behind outlets and switch plates.
  • Remove blockages from the dryer vent.
  • Close the fireplace flue when you’re not using it.
  • Replace door bottoms and thresholds with tight-sealing gaskets.

Also, consider using portable heaters and fans so that you’re operating furnaces and air conditioning units less. This strategy will help your wallet and make your appliances last longer, too. Saving money isn’t effortless, but it is relatively straightforward when you do the math accurately.

6. Refinance Your Mortgage

Despite interest rates never staying the same, the last decade has remained within the 3.25% to 6.7% range for 30-year mortgages. Astoundingly, even a small percentage can alter your monthly mortgage tremendously. It only makes sense to address these seemingly tiny numbers.

It’s never a bad idea to look at other refi options, as well. Think about switching your 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage. Naturally, your monthly installments might not decrease, but you’ll be debt-free years before you originally planned.

Switching to a fixed rate is another option, especially since interest rates are currently historically low. However, deciding to refinance comes with significant considerations — even with the mounds of benefits. An excellent approach is to weigh your options and pinpoint your “break-even” point. The outlook might be brighter than you think!

7. Make Clever Compromises

Most of us have a dream location where we’d love to set up camp permanently. However, few of us have an ideal financial situation to bring those dreams to life. So why not compromise to get the best of both worlds?

According to PropertyShark, location impacts monthly housing costs intensely. For example, $250,000 in the ten most expensive U.S. cities buys you less than 600 square feet. Conversely, in the ten more affordable U.S. cities, you can buy more than 2,500 square feet for the same amount.

These figures should make you want to be clever about where to put down roots. Perhaps, living in your dream city isn’t the best option for your budget. But suppose you can live near an equally fantastic town and have money left in the bank to use on the dreamy amenities nearby.

8. Think Outside the Box

Depending on your situation, buying a house on your own or even renting an apartment might not be within your budget. Finding roommates to share a pad is one common way to cut down on your housing costs, but it’s not for everybody.

Other options you might think about are applying to professional residencies, living in recreational vehicle, or moving in to a tiny home. Other unconventional options include dormitory-style pod shares or commune-like co-living communities that are gaining in popularity amid the COVID-19 crisis.

And before you even ask, the answer is no: you can’t live in a self-storage unit. That would be illegal and unsafe!

Remember Home is Where the Heart is

Living the life you want isn’t impossible — and neither is finding affordable housing. Mostly, it’s that often you need to create an affordable housing situation for yourself rather than depend on others to offer it. And even then, it’s mostly just about savvy decision-making.

Dyanne Harvey