Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The lack of affordable housing in the U.S. should be a top priority for any incoming administration. Where’s the discussion?
Housing never surfaced as a major concern at the Republican National Convention. While affordable housing is a plank of the 2016 Republican Party platform—or “responsible homeownership and rental opportunities” is, anyway—the subject didn’t get much lip service in any of the tentpole talks during the Cleveland convention.
Affordable housing may not get much more play at the Democratic National Convention, which opened Monday in Philadelphia. No doubt, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro would have made housing a big deal, but the White House banned members of the cabinet from addressing the DNC. So, no dice. Certainly, Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick for vice president, could talk about his time as an attorney for Housing Opportunities Made Equal, where he represented African-American renters who were discriminated against based on their race.
But Senator Kaine may not speak to those experiences at the DNC. As a vice presidential candidate, he has to address national security, healthcare, jobs, the budget, gridlock, and several other issues. Housing may not pop up at all when he speaks, which is likely to be on Wednesday.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats are all that eager to put affordable housing up front as an issue at their national conventions. This is a surprise in at least two respects: Democrats and Republicans broadly disagree about what to do about housing, but have policy solutions in mind that are close to their respective ideological solutions. More importantly, Americans overwhelmingly want to hear about these solutions.
According to a recent national poll, more than half (59 percent) of all Americans list housing affordability as a top-tier issue. It registers as an even higher concern for younger respondents (73 percent of those ages 18-34). The poll, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Enterprise Community Partners, finds that 71 percent of respondents wanted to see housing affordability as a “core component” of the Republican and Democratic platforms. Roughly one in five Americans lists housing as an issue on par with immigration, taxes, and entitlements reform.
This issue matters more to the left: 71 percent of Democratic respondents emphasized housing affordability as a priority versus 44 percent of Republicans. Democrats were more likely to know someone struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, as were women (51 percent versus 43 percent men) and respondents without a college degree (44 percent versus 40 percent with a degree). So it makes sense that Democrats would give time to housing.
Then again, it makes just as much sense for Republicans to take up this banner. Among issues dividing the left and right, housing affordability is relatively neutral—it’s not a moral third rail, anyway. This could be ground where the GOP could draw in blue-collar voters, the likes of which Donald Trump means to peel away from Bernie Sanders supporters. A positive prescription for affordable housing might help Republicans counter the burn that Democrats turned to more than once last night: that Donald Trump rooted for the housing-market crash in 2007.
One problem for the GOP is that Trump did root for the housing crash, and did build his real-estate empire by refusing to rent to black tenants. Still, the Republican Party’s 2016 platform holds that the solution to housing affordability is to strip away regulations on building, scale back Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and shrink the role of the Federal Housing Administration in guaranteeing mortgages. Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing earns special ire in the GOP platform.
The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, lists entirely different prescriptions for ending the affordability crisis. Democrats mean to expand incentives to build more housing and more-affordable housing, increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund, boost the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and defend the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in preventing predatory lending.
Shockers all around: The Republican Party wants to restrict the regulatory arm of government to give the market a freer hand in providing housing (except with regard to local zoning practices, which the GOP aims to explicitly protect). The Democratic Party doesn’t name any role for the market whatsoever in expanding housing and makes some improbable claims. (It would take a huge expansion of the modest National Housing Trust Fund to “create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.”)
Still, insofar as Republicans and Democrats believe these solutions will help ease a major concern for voters, leaders should start talking about them. Off-stage events, such as the Terwilliger Foundation’s #MakeHousingGreatAgain benefit (for Make Room) during the RNC, don’t cut it.
One part of the Democratic Party platform sticks out as especially relevant for the future: “Over the next decade, most new households will be formed by families in communities of color, which typically have less generational wealth and fewer resources to put toward a down payment.” That’s a fact—and ensuring that these communities enjoy the same access to the housing market over the next four to eight to 25 years is critical for the whole nation’s economy. Republicans and Democrats can’t afford not to talk about housing.