Generations ago, Americans were promised dignified healthcare, retirement, and housing among other basic rights. Congress boldly enacted Medicare and Social Security, socialized programs that remain incredibly popular today, but its approach to universal housing never passed public muster. While the New Deal established a framework for universal housing, its mandate was never fulfilled.
Instead, Congress patched up our systemically racist housing policy with stigmatized means testing, underfunded vouchers, and high-barrier mortgage subsidies. These half-measures actually widened inequality and continued segregation into the 21st century. Congress then handed the keys to Big Banks who mowed over public lenders and drove our economy to the brink of collapse. Working people spent trillions to bail out the world’s richest banks, while their executives escaped on golden parachutes. They ripped us off.
The median cost for a single family home in Honolulu is now $795,000, which means residents need to make $200,000 a year to afford an average home in my district. Hawaii is short over 60,000 homes. Most of my classmates have already moved out of state, and I’m worried about my son’s future here. Our generation is not set up to succeed like our parents were.
It’s not just Hawaii. For every 100 low-income families in America, there are just 35 affordable homes. Only one in four low-income families eligible for assistance receives any. Those who live in existing public housing are underfunded, treated as an afterthought, and often evicted from their homes to make way for luxury “redevelopment”. More than 12 million unassisted low-income renters pay over half of their income for housing, and literally nowhere in America can a minimum wage worker afford basic rent.
Yet politicians in both parties continue to rely on the same institutions that created our housing crisis to fix it. People I’ve met throughout this campaign are tired of “affordable housing” proposals that are ghost-written by luxury developers and corporate donors. We are building for speculative profit rather than human need. We need a paradigm shift. America needs Housing For All.
Recognizing housing as a human right will make it possible for each person to realize his or her potential and for our society to thrive and prosper. Like the minimum wage, Housing For All would provide a floor, not a ceiling, for every citizen. People would still be able to strive for more, but every resident would have a place to strive from.
In Sweden, a country of 8 million people, public developers built over 1 million homes in just ten years. In Vienna, 60 percent residents now live in social houses. Even Vienna’s wealthy prefer the quality of life that its public housing provides, which translates to vibrant, integrated, mixed-income communities. In Singapore, most residents spend only 23 percent of their incomes for brand new three-bedroom units. Meanwhile, I, like many of my peers, pay over 40 percent of my income for a single bedroom apartment. America’s housing status-quo is antiquated, inefficient, and immoral.
Nascent, innovative organizations like People’s Policy Project and People’s Action, along with some of our nation’s most forward thinking economists, have helped our campaign outline the boldest, most visionary, Housing for All proposal in America. Our goals are simple: (1) build 10 million social houses over the next 10 years; (2) keep rent under control; and, (3) provide a home for every American.
Congress should invest heavily in at-cost construction of social housing in high-need areas like Hawaii, while providing federal loans with 0% down payments everywhere. State and local governments or nonprofit developers would administer the programs, mandated by Congress and funded through a fully replenished National Housing Trust Fund.
Housing for All would also include provisions for modern rent stabilization, race and class integration, and a national Tenants Bill of Rights. These policies would protect renters from unjust evictions, promote diverse communities, and ensure a majority of rental housing costs less than 30% of the median income in that area. Housing for All could revamp federal affordable housing regulations to keep affordable units affordable indefinitely, not just 10 or 20 years. On the demand side, Housing for All could place additional luxury taxes on vacant units and non-owner occupied investment properties worth over $2 million. After all, a society with empty mansions and unsheltered people is an unjust one.
America has enough wealth to live up to its word and provide every resident with decent, dignified housing. Scarcity did not occur naturally; it was a political choice. Luxury developers, their corporate tenants, and price-gouging landlords have been buying out our politicians for decades. But when working people come together and demand change, Congress will be forced to act. Housing for All is possible, but only if we lead with the same conviction that brought forth the New Deal and deliver on America’s promise from generations ago.