Americans Expect Their Elected Officials to Address Housing Affordability

On June 9, the MacArthur Foundation released the results of its 2015 How Housing Matters study. This nationwide survey of adults was designed to help the Foundation understand the public’s experiences, attitudes, and perspectives about housing. The survey also documents respondents’ attitudes on how to address housing trends and challenges.

Not surprisingly, the results are disappointing. The survey reveals the public is severely pessimistic about current and future prospects for social mobility, and that housing in particular is front and center to those concerns. Respondents consider stable housing to be among the most significant factors that allow people to secure a middle-class lifestyle, but also consider it among the most difficult to achieve. Moreover, respondents still perceive foreclosure and housing affordability to be major problems – especially for Millennials and minorities, who most believe are being left behind others in the post-recession economic recovery.

The vast majority of survey respondents want their federal, state and local elected officials to address housing affordability. While many respondents have an unclear vision for, and lack of confidence in, their elected officials, they nonetheless want government and the private sector involved. 

Congress should take heed of these views. As the economy and housing market continue to recover, now is not the time to cut back federal funding for programs that encourage housing stability, economic recovery, and housing mobility. On June 9, the House of Representatives passed FY16 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Act (H.R. 2577). 
This House bill drastically undercuts existing federal housing funds and continues the sequestration cuts resulting from the Budget Control Act. If allowed to move forward, non-defense discretionary funding would be established at its lowest level on record even though the need for these programs remains at historic highs. The final outcome of these appropriations remains to be seen, as President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and the Senate may introduce its own version. 

One major concern if this moves forward as passed by the House is that National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) funds would be directed away from creating affordable rental housing – the NHTF's original purpose – despite plans for the NHTF finally to have been implemented in 2016. Congress should once and for all take steps to fund the NHTF and use it to increase affordable housing for extremely low-income households.

Beyond funding, federal leaders should continue initiatives to prevent discrimination and ​promote racial integration, including finalizing HUD’s proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. Congress took the wrong approach when it passed an amendment to prohibit HUD from carrying it out. Billions of federal dollars are sent each year from HUD to local and state governments and public housing authorities, and this rule would help ensure that those recipients use the funds to advance the important purposes of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Congress should also recognize what this survey shows the public knows: that the foreclosure crisis is not yet over. Congress should renew the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, which sunset at the end of 2014. Local leaders should also not wait for Congress to do its job, and should pass their own measures to protect renters who are innocent victims of the foreclosure crisis.​ ​

The 2015 How Housing Matters survey affirms that the public is aware of our country’s affordable housing crisis and expects their elected officials to act.  Elected officials need to step up and meet these expectations.


Housing Remains Unaffordable for Low-Income Americans

Even as the home prices and rents decrease in the wake of the housing crisis and communities see more and more vacant units, American families increasingly need more affordable housing.

Last month, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released its “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010” report. The report describes a housing market sputtering toward stabilization, but facing significant obstacles. 

Indeed, many aspects of the housing market continue to erode. The Joint Center reports that one in seven homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth at the end of 2009. Similarly, foreclosures continue to rise; 2.1 million loans were in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010. Nonetheless, 2009 saw an increase in home affordability and a surge in first-time homebuyers (due in large part to the first-time homebuyer tax credit). 

On the rental front, the number of renter households grew by 800,000 in 2009. But, due to a combination of new multifamily completions and a jump in the number of existing homes for rent, vacancies continued to rise and rental prices correspondingly sagged. (For information regarding Chicago-area rents and vacancy data, see DePaul University's Institute for Housing Studies first-quarter 2010 Cook County Rent and Vacancy Report.)

Despite increased vacancies and lowering prices, housing continues to become less and less affordable for more families. There has been a significant increase in the number of households with a severe housing cost burden (more than 50% of income spent on housing) since 2000. As of 2008, one in four renter households and over 44 million Americans, of which nearly 14 million are children, are living within households with severe cost burdens. Over half of renter households spend over 30% of household income on housing. Of these households, low-income, single-parent, minority families are more likely to suffer from harsher cost burdens.

Amid the upheaval in the housing market, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010 makes clear that the nation’s housing remains unaffordable for more and more low-income Americans--especially in light of the staggering rate of unemployment. Indeed, while the number of vacant rental units priced at $1,500 or above per month jumped 23 percent, the number of vacant rental units for less than $600 remained virtually the same as the year before. Exploring ways to increase the availability of housing that is affordable to American families is more important now than ever.