Thirteen presidential candidates have put forth proposals and have shared a range of ideas to end the affordable housing crisis. Seven of the candidates have put forward bold plans to address housing poverty and homelessness. Voters are eager to hear the candidates talk about how to make homes affordable and accessible to the tens of millions of people in America who are struggling to keep roofs over their heads, or who have no homes at all.
Join Our Homes, Our Votes: 2020 in urging the moderators for the upcoming November debate to ask all candidates: What’s your plan to end the nation’s housing crisis?
Sign on to the letter below!
By signing on, your organization agrees to be listed by name on the letter below. The letter will be sent to moderators of the next presidential candidate debate urging them to ask each candidate how they would address the nation's housing and homelessness crisis.
If you are an individual that wishes to get involved in election engagement, please contact the NLIHC Housing Advocacy Organizer for your state. Find contact information for organizers here.
The letter reads as follows:
To: MSNBC, The Washington Post, and moderators of the next presidential candidate debate
The undersigned organizations urge you to ask each presidential candidate how they would address the nation’s housing and homelessness crisis.
Our country is in the grips of a severe and pervasive housing affordability crisis. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. Rents have risen faster than renters’ incomes over the last two decades, and while more people are renting than ever, the supply of housing has lagged. Fewer than four affordable and available rental homes exist for every 10 of the lowest-income renter households nationwide. As a result, record-breaking numbers of people cannot afford decent homes. Every state and community – urban, rural, or suburban – is impacted.
So far, 13 presidential candidates have released major housing plans or other housing proposals to address the housing crisis. They are talking about these plans on the campaign trail - in town halls, forums and meetings in New Hampshire, Iowa, and beyond. But during the first four presidential debates, debate moderators have neglected to directly ask candidates how they would address our housing affordability crisis. People in America need to hear all presidential candidates share what they will do to make homes affordable to the tens of millions who are struggling to keep roofs over their heads or who have no homes at all.
This is an issue of paramount importance to voters. According to a recent national public opinion poll, 60% of people say housing affordability is a serious problem where they live, up 21 points from 2016. Over 61% of people report having to make at least one sacrifice in the past three years because they were struggling with housing costs, such as cutting back on learning activities for their child, nutritious food, or healthcare.
Strong majorities of the public expect solutions. Eighty-three percent say elected officials are not paying enough attention to the cost of housing and the need for more affordable housing. Nearly 8 in 10 people in America say the president should “take major action” to make housing more affordable for low-income families. And 91% of Democratic voters say they are more likely to vote for candidates who have detailed plans for making housing more affordable.
When people have stable, accessible, affordable homes, lives dramatically improve, economic productivity is stronger, and our nation is more just and equitable. Voters want our leaders to address affordable housing, and they need to know where the candidates stand. As you prepare for the November Democratic debates, we urge you to ask each candidate the question on the minds of voters: how will you address the nation’s affordable housing crisis?
Most people have heard about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—President Trump’s massive tax cut package that mostly benefits wealthy Americans. A late addition to the law was the creation of Opportunity Zones, which are 8,700 zip codes where governors have determined there needs to be more investment. Developers who build new structures on property in these places will now receive massive tax benefits.
It is not hard to like the idea of Opportunity Zones—more investment in struggling neighborhoods can be a very good thing. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who authored the new plan, are hoping to address blight and crumbling infrastructure. The final version of the law, however, does not provide incentives to, much less require, that any amount of Opportunity Zone development be used to benefit long-term residents by building affordable housing, supporting existing or new local businesses, creating decent-paying jobs, or providing other types of community benefits. Under the law, developers can now receive massive federal tax benefits to build anything from hotels to luxury condos to corporate office buildings, as long as they build it in a designated Opportunity Zone.
To compete for a governor’s Opportunity Zone designation, a zip code had to have a poverty rate of at least 20% or a median income no greater than 80% of the area median income. Zip codes can be quite big and can include a variety of income groups. There can be wealthy pockets or a major university or an arts district inside an otherwise impoverished zip code. Also, not all Opportunity Zone zip codes need to meet the “low-income” definition; up to 5% of the Opportunity Zones can include zip codes next to a “low-income” zip code, as long as the tagged-on zip code has a median income no more than 125% of the “low-income” zip code next door. This means it is possible then that all of the Opportunity Zone investment activity happens in the wealthier zip code, with little or no benefit trickling to the neighborhoods that truly could benefit.
Fighting back on this new gentrification pressure will require that advocates engage with local officials who approve all development. Advocates should argue that proposed projects in Opportunity Zones should include permanently affordable rental housing. Advocates must also urge their Members of Congress in Washington, DC to call upon the Department of Treasury to issue strong and clear regulations for the Opportunity Zone investments. The regulations should require a focus on extremely low-income people, expanding rental housing options, and supporting the neighborhood development vision of long-term residents.
Some have merely asked for “transparency” by requiring Opportunity Zone administrators to report outcomes – but that would merely be an after-the-fact exercise. Without regulations at least providing incentives, if not requirements, that not only protect long-term residents from displacement but also ensure real benefits, the reporting will be an empty exercise.
2019 will be an important year for protecting and expanding the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), the first new resource in a generation dedicated to building and preserving homes affordable to the lowest income people in America. More than 1,900 national, statewide, regional, and local organizations have signed onto a letter calling on Congress to dramatically increase funding to the HTF. If your organization is not already a signatory, endorse the campaign and sign the letter by filling out the online form below. Please note that this is an ORGANIZATIONAL sign-on letter, and your organization, not your individual name, will be listed as an endorser.
Both the Senate Banking Committee and the Trump administration are likely to unveil new proposals in March to reform the U.S. housing finance system. These proposals will include dramatically altering or replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the funding sources for the HTF. There will also be calls this year for significant new infrastructure investments, another opportunity to expand funding for the HTF. Housing – especially for the lowest income households – is infrastructure. Advocates should sign your organizations onto the letter and send the email below to your senators and representatives today, urging them to commit to expanded funding for the HTF as part of a broader commitment to housing affordability in any housing finance reform legislation and in any new infrastructure investment legislation.
There are also threats to ongoing funding for the HTF. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and new FHFA Acting Director Joseph Otting recently signaled he would be considering “all options” when asked about funding for the HTF. Mark Calabria, President Trump’s nominee for FHFA director, gave promising answers to questions about protecting HTF funding at his confirmation hearing on February 14, but until Dr. Calabria is confirmed and beyond, it remains crucially important for advocates to demonstrate robust support for the HTF.
The campaign letter reads as follows:
To Members of Congress,
We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our support for the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF) and to urge Congress to protect and expand this critical resource.
The HTF is the first new federal housing resource in a generation, and it is exclusively targeted to help build and preserve housing that is affordable to people with the lowest incomes. In the first three years of HTF, $659.8 million has been allocated to states. Because the HTF is administered as a block grant, each state has the flexibility to decide how to best use HTF resources to address its most pressing housing needs. Most states have chosen to use their HTF investment to build and preserve affordable rental housing for extremely low income veterans, seniors, people with disabilities or special needs, and people experiencing homelessness. While these initial rounds of funding are an important first step, far more resources are necessary to meet the need.
In every state and community, growing numbers of extremely low income renters are struggling to make ends meet. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable to the nation’s 11.2 million extremely low income renters. This means that for every 100 extremely low income households, there are just 35 rental homes that are affordable and available to them. As a result, 71% of extremely low income households are severely cost burdened, paying more than half of their limited income on rent. These families are forced to make difficult choices between paying rent and buying groceries, seeing a doctor, or saving for college or a rainy day. In the worst cases, they become homeless.
In 2014, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee voted in support of housing finance legislation, known as Johnson-Crapo, which included a provision to increase funding for the HTF to an estimated $3.5 billion annually, making a significant contribution to ending homelessness and housing poverty without competing with other important HUD programs for appropriated funds. To continue to build bipartisan support for housing finance reform legislation, the HTF must be protected and expanded and the HTF provision included in the Johnson-Crapo bill should be the starting point for any future legislation considered by Congress.
Investments through the HTF are more important now than ever before. We urge you to work with your colleagues to protect and expand the HTF in housing finance reform legislation, as part of a broader commitment to access and affordability throughout the housing market, to serve more families with the greatest needs.