Elevating Affordable Rental Housing In the National Dialogue

3 min read

On June 24, Harvard University published its annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report and the researchers found much to be concerned with. Housing starts are down and homeownership rates are at a 20-year low. Our sector of the market is fairing better in some respects as multifamily vacancy rates continue to decline and rents increase, but these same trends are putting greater pressure on low and moderate- income renters.

The report finds that, “the cost-burdened share of renters, in contrast, held near record highs in the face of stagnating incomes and steadily rising rents. In 2013, almost half of all renters had housing cost burdens, including more than a quarter with severe burdens (paying more than 50 percent of income for housing).”

Yet, if you listen to the national news or pay attention to Congress you might easily think there was no problem in the housing sector at all. In fact, affordable housing programs are facing external and perhaps existential threats as never before. In the short term, the most prominent are proposed cuts that would essentially zero out the HOME program as well as the ongoing sequester funding levels. The cuts to the HOME program are so drastic in the Senate Appropriations legislation that it is easy to forget the program has already sustained cuts in excess of $600 million from just a few years ago.

In the face of this crisis there are two recently launched national initiatives that are attempting to insert affordable rental housing into the national debate.

Make Room is a campaign to end America’s rental housing crisis by giving voice to the 11 million families who are struggling to make rent. Working with public, private and nonprofit partners, Make Room raises awareness of, and advances solutions for, the rental housing crisis. To shine a light on the issue, top musical artists are playing in the living rooms of families who struggle with rent. With support from Enterprise, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Matter Unlimited, on the first of every month, the day the rent is due, Make Room releases “Concerts for the 1st.” The campaign has already featured actor Edward Norton, Carly Rae Jepson (“Call Me Maybe”) and Grammy winner Timothy Bloom.

Additionally, former Trammell Crow Chairman J. Ronald Terwilliger has launched his eponymous Foundation for Housing America’s Families to bring the “silent” housing crisis to the national conversation and domestic policy agenda. Former US Senator and Foundation Board Member Scott Brown notes, “One of the short-term goals of the Foundation is to ensure that housing becomes a central issue in the upcoming presidential primaries. By encouraging the candidates of both parties to lay out their plans to improve the housing situation in our country, we will establish a solid platform for a comprehensive legislative response.”

Both initiatives seek to put affordable housing into the public consciousness and to elevate our issues. If they succeed it will hopefully provide affordable housing organizations, like NH&RA, with additional leverage as we navigate a challenging appropriations environment, inch towards tax reform debate and create new partners and community support. I urge you to do your part in supporting these initiatives this summer by meeting with your Congressmen and Senators in their home offices during the August recess and letting them know how your work supports your community and how critical programs, like the LIHTC, NMTC, HOME and Section 8, are revitalizing neighborhoods and creating opportunities for low-income Americans.

More information about the Foundation is available at www.jrthousing.org.
More information about Make Room is available at www.makeroomusa.org.