Whether taking on an additional job, cutting back on healthy food or health care, deferring retirement savings, amassing credit card debt, or moving to a neighborhood that is either unsafe or has inferior schools, the majority of people in the United States are having to make unfavorable choices just to keep a roof over their head.
According to a recent national poll commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation, most Americans have made at least one such sacrifice in order to afford rent or mortgage in the past three years. Among poll respondents, the likelihood of making one or more sacrifices to afford housing increases by nearly two-thirds for African Americans, Hispanics and Millennials. Despite headlines of recovering housing markets and a resurgent economy, significant portions of our communities have been left outside the sunlight of new opportunity. For too many people, having a safe, healthy home in a community of their choosing remains an economic impossibility.
The MacArthur Foundation contracted with Hart Research Associates to conduct the second annual How Housing Matters Survey. And for the second consecutive year, polling indicates that the majority of people living in America perceive the housing crisis as far from over; seven in ten people (70%) believe that the United States is still in the middle of the housing crisis or that the worst is yet to come.
Frankly, the concerns that many people have about housing instability for themselves or for their community should not come as a surprise. We know that the wages provided at many jobs are insufficient to cover the cost of rent in almost every community in the United States and make home ownership nearly impossible. In major cities, rental vacancy rates are at historic lows, resulting in sky rocketing rents and, in many locations, significant gentrification-fueled displacement of low-income communities of color.
Compounding the crisis is the lack of public investment. As a result of decades of insufficient public funding for affordable housing, less than a quarter of people who are income-eligible receive any sort of housing assistance. In most cases, families spend three to four years on a waitlist for an affordable home.
What is most tragic is that when people do not have access to a home they can afford, the impact reverberates negatively in almost every aspect of life: families are forced to make some of the aforementioned sacrifices and as a result, infants and toddlers experience developmental delays, children struggle to learn and parents struggle with stress and frustration that can impact their family and their workplace. Having a place to call home is part of the essential formula needed to thrive as humans. Every person does better with the security of knowing where she and her family are going sleep at night and awake in the morning. Home is a platform and a springboard from which people build their dreams.
The good news is that the How Housing Matters Survey shows that the majority of Americans believe that government can do much to solve the problem of housing affordability: Six in ten (61%) believe that the government can do “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to increase the availability of affordable homes. 58% of participants polled want the federal government to invest equally in both rental and ownership housing—a shift that aligns with the United for Homes campaign’s proposed reform for the Mortgage Interest Deduction, which would both increase the number of home owners who benefit from the deduction, and provide dedicated funding to the National Housing Trust Fund.