3 Housing Solutions All Political Candidates Should Support
Whether running for local, statewide or national office, aspiring lawmakers must show they’ll take action on one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Across the nation, many communities face a common challenge: They are simply not building enough apartment housing to meet demand. That housing shortage is a key driver of rising rents in many parts of the country.
The problem isn’t going away soon: The United States needs to build 328,000 new apartment homes every year until 2030 to address a fundamental supply and demand imbalance caused by shifting demographic trends, as distinct groups show a growing interest in renting. Nearly 80 million millennials will create up to 25 million new households over the next decade, and millions from Generation Z are seeking out their first apartments. Millions of baby boomers are downsizing and moving to more walkable neighborhoods. And the share of apartment households headed by someone born outside the U.S. — now at about 1 in 4 — is projected to continue going up.
As candidates across the political spectrum gear up for 2020 races at all levels of government, addressing the nationwide housing crisis should be at the top of every platform. Local candidates can directly affect change in their own backyards with county, city and state policies, while federal lawmakers can influence local and state regulations through requirements for housing-related funding.
The exact mix of solutions must be tailored to candidates’ communities, of course. But by supporting the following three policy approaches, candidates can help their communities make strides toward solving one of the most pressing issues of our time.
1. Reformed zoning laws
“[A]s housing costs go up across the country, there’s increased awareness that land use and density restrictions are an immense impediment to development,” said Will Stancil, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, in Minneapolis.
That awareness has begun to translate into legislative action. In 2019, Minneapolis became the first major city to rezone itself entirely, virtually eliminating single-family zoning. The city will now allow triplexes in all neighborhoods, as well as buildings up to six stories in some transit-centered areas.
Massachusetts is tackling the problem statewide. The commonwealth’s Housing Choice Initiative has, among other things, made it possible for local legislative bodies to change their zoning laws with a simple majority.
Nationally, the Senate’s Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act aims to discourage burdensome zoning laws by requiring states and localities to explain the rationale behind red tape when they apply to receive housing-related grants. While the legislation would not prevent regulations from being implemented, it would make it easier for advocates of affordable housing to hold regulators accountable, and it would encourage localities to adopt policies that lead to more construction.
2. Transit-oriented development
Policies that encourage construction of multifamily homes near public transportation or transit hubs can address the housing shortage and connect residents to jobs, schools and other key destinations. For example, Seattle’s new density and affordability law aims to concentrate growth where there are transit, services and parks while maintaining each area’s character.
On the national level, the House recently introduced the bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act. Supported by rural and urban representatives alike, the legislation would make proximity to high-density and affordable housing among the criteria for federal funding of transit projects.
3. Public-private partnerships
“[Housing] is not an issue that can be resolved from one perspective,” said Celia Smoot, former director of housing at Local Initiatives Support Program, or LISC, which promotes community development across the nation. “All sectors have to be represented to put in place true, long-term solutions. Philanthropy, economic development, developers, the city, financial intermediaries. You have to have everyone at the table.”
Cross-sector collaboration can take many forms. For instance, when the Columbus City Council unanimously voted to spend $5.6 million to increase local housing supply, it set aside $4 million to finance privately developed affordable housing. The homes built with this portion of the funding will be targeted toward Ohioans earning 30 percent or less of the area median income of $76,400.
In Denver, families and individuals earning between 40 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income can apply to be matched with vacant apartments through a multi-sector program called LIVE Denver. A fund paid into by the city, private foundations and philanthropists and employers — and managed by LISC — makes up the gap between 35 percent of renters’ incomes and their rent.
No single policy will solve the housing crisis. But by committing to take action after they are elected — whether to city hall, their state capital, the halls of Congress or the White House — candidates can show the American people they care about a core issue that matters for everyone.