Voters Agree on Housing: Will Decision Makers Follow Their Lead?
Out of an election that many viewed as polarizing, affordable housing was an issue of consensus. But with growing concern around the incoming administration, many advocates are left wondering how we can best support and defend the programs and policies that build stronger, healthier, and more inclusive communities.
Earlier this year, a national survey from Ipsos Polling illuminated new insight into voters’ attitudes around affordable housing. The poll showed that a strong majority agreed that Congress wasn’t doing enough to improve housing affordability. And voters across party lines wanted more action on housing solutions, with 72% of voters stating that their Democratic and Republican parties should make housing a core component of their platforms.
Yes, true, it’s a poll — a tool that many of us feel particularly sensitive about putting our trust in right now.
But we had a test of these findings in a number of areas this November. Voters spanning eight states and 35 jurisdictions were asked to weigh in via the initiative system on proposals that would invest in creating more affordable housing: Measures that would support families and working people, veterans and seniors, and help many others facing homelessness to find stable, healthy, and affordable homes.
More than 80% of these affordable housing funding measures passed. While these measures chiefly appeared on ballots in blue states, the support spanned the spectrum, with “yes” votes measuring in the 60s, 70s, and even 80 percents.
While this is great news, signs from our incoming administration suggest that not only is affordable housing not a priority, it may in fact be under attack.
Last week, Mr. Trump announced that he had selected Ben Carson as his choice to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While the impacts of a Carson-run department are difficult to predict, given his lack of experience in housing, planning, or government, Mr. Carson’s on-record statements have made clear his support for rolling back significant housing protections and policies.
Mr. Carson grew up in a family that received government and housing support when times were tough, with a mother committed to becoming financially independent and encouraging her children to succeed. This is in part how Mr. Carson was able to get where he is today, and precisely how these programs are intended to work. Instead of celebrating this success, Mr. Carson has criticized existing programs and suggested that they only foster dependency.
Perhaps even more alarming, Mr. Carson has been vocal about his opposition to the Fair Housing Act, landmark legislation that protects Americans from housing discrimination. One of the Department’s most critical roles is to enforce anti-discrimination policy, yet Mr. Carson has stated opposition even to a program that aims to gather data and information to understand if discrimination has occurred at all (the Obama administration’s new fair housing rule).
Housing advocates and experts have voiced deep concern that Mr. Carson will move the Department in the opposite direction that America needs: The foreclosure crisis hit every corner of our country, re-orienting the housing market up the income chain. The beneficiaries were investors and banks, not every-day people who suddenly lost generations of family assets, while facing declining wages in concert with a succession of federal and state cuts. Safety nets were yanked away at the exact moment that families and individuals needed them.
As a result, rental prices have skyrocketed, and wages have still barely nudged. Populations have expanded far faster than our communities’ housing supply. That means that too many people are competing over too few opportunities, driving market prices even higher.
Voters know it — they see it, feel it, and live it — and they understand that we need to take bold action to fix our housing challenges.
That’s why they stood up for action this November. In the state of California, perhaps the poster child for housing challenges, several measures were victorious despite the state’s 2/3 voter support requirement (a Tea Party-style policy designed precisely to prevent such measures from passing.) Voters in Los Angeles, Santa Clara County, Alameda County, and San Francisco overcame this high threshold and secured significant investments to create more housing opportunity and access in their communities.
Affordable housing measures found success in many other places, including communities in North Carolina and Maryland, Oregon and Washington, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. While not every state had an opportunity to weigh in on housing at the ballot, those that did validated what Ipsos showed us: Voters said they want more housing solutions, and when given a chance, they will act to do so.
While it is wonderful that so many communities that have access to the initiative system were able to spur local funding for housing investments, our severe housing challenges span our nation. Strong leadership from every region and at every level of government is needed to deliver action on housing.
We don’t know exactly how things will unfold with our new administration. But it’s dangerous to take a “wait and see” approach. Instead, we must act now to renew and affirm our commitment to support our most vulnerable communities, to push for an end to homelessness and housing insecurity, to fight racial segregation, and to demonstrate the value of affordable housing in creating vibrant inclusive healthy communities.
We encourage Mr. Trump, Mr. Carson, and elected leaders from every corner of our nation and at every level of government to understand the message delivered, in polls and at the ballot: Voters want housing solutions, including local measures, state investments, and federal tax credits, programs, and grants.
We already learned that voters are willing to take action at the ballot by voting in support of local affordable housing funding measures. And it won’t stop there: 76% of voters say this is an issue that would sway their vote for candidates and that elected officials should make housing affordability a priority.
We invite voters to stay active and strong in your support for affordable housing and inclusive communities. Tell your local and state lawmakers that they must act on housing. Ask your U.S. Senator to ask tough questions during HUD confirmation hearings. And remind all of your representatives that you vote — and you vote for housing.
Amie Fishman is Executive Director of Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH.)
Follow NPH on Twitter at @NPHANC