Getting Housing in the Debate

by Maya Brennan

On the campaign trail, candidates love to talk about the economy—and rightly so, since it is regularly the top issue for voters. Economic issues, such as jobs, saving for retirement, making ends meet, and providing a decent quality of life for their children, hit close to home for voters. Yet candidates rarely discuss the biggest item in most Americans’ budgets—housing.

Both nationally and in New Hampshire, public opinion polls find that Americans want their elected officials to do more on housing. In a national poll conducted by Hart Research for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 75 percent of Americans want to see elected leaders in Washington make housing a priority. Similarly, a recent poll of New Hampshire residents conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for the Terwilliger Foundation found that, while some difference exists along party lines, the majority of both Democrat and Republican likely voters in the state want candidates to discuss housing. On the Democrat side, 86 percent of likely voters think that candidates should focus either somewhat or in a major way on housing; 49 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate with a specific housing plan. Among Republicans, 68 percent of New Hampshire’s likely voters want candidates to include a housing focus in their campaigns, and 23 percent would be more likely to vote for a candidate with a specific housing plan.

A vision for the country that includes a focus on housing may help candidates stand out. And the New Hampshire Housing Summit kick-started these crucial conversations.

Candidates from both parties took to the stage to talk about housing affordability and its role in making the American dream possible. The summit is part of a broader effort by the newly formed J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families. The Foundation has the goal of not only getting candidates to talk about housing, but also getting the federal government to address housing needs in a big way.

A passing glance at domestic issues in the news shows that people are concerned about income inequality, taxes, health care costs, school quality, aging, the environment, health disparities, families’ low levels of savings, and the uneven emergence from the Great Recession. Woven into the fabric of all these issues is housing.

The evidence is clear: where we live—both the home itself and where it is located—makes a tremendous difference in people’s health, educational, and economic outcomes. What is offered in the housing market is not just a house or an apartment, it’s opportunity. Whether rented or owned, multifamily or single-family, an affordable home in a decent neighborhood is a gateway to a high quality of life, good health, and opportunity for current and future generations. Yet, in every state of the nation, there are working families paying more than half of their income for housing. More than 11 million renters are paying more than half of their income to secure housing—which is well more than their budgets can sustain. And research suggests that the number of renters facing a housing cost burden will rise to 13 million or more by 2025.

Building on a solid evidence base of both the value of and need for safe, decent, and affordable housing, the Terwilliger Foundation has set its sights on a new federal housing act to support increased opportunities for families and communities. As with prior federal housing acts, the goal is to reconfigure the nation’s approach to housing policy so that federal resources are well spent, the nation is well housed, and families can both meet their basic needs and access opportunities to succeed.

No matter the ideology, feasible policy approaches exist to dismantle the barriers holding so many Americans back—and holding the nation back. Housing is not a partisan issue; it is an American issue—and, indeed, a global issue. Let’s get housing back to the center of the debate where it belongs.


Note: The J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families is not affiliated with the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, which operates How Housing Matters; however, each organization (as well as many other nonprofit organizations focused on housing or educational opportunity) has benefited from the support of J. Ronald Terwilliger.