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America: Home of the Houseless

Forget walls — what about houses?

Though the housing market has improved since the Great Recession, a lot of voters still aren’t happy with the state of real estate. We’re fed up with the increasing costs of living in America and want action, according to two new studies. The first is a recent survey conducted by Loan Depot, which  shows many want housing to frame the presidential campaign…

  • 37 percent say making homeownership more affordable is their top economic priority
  • 36 percent believe candidates aren’t doing a good job communicating their policies on finance and housing
  • 37 percent say they want housing affordability to be a priority within the president’s first 100 days
  • 21 percent say a candidate’s housing platform will influence their vote

Housing is the single largest expense for most Americans, often accounting for a third or more of our income. Despite all this, housing hasn’t shown up big on the political radar this year.

Raising the roof?

Last October, seven presidential candidates attended a New Hampshire housing conference to confront the issue of affordable housing — all seven have since dropped out. Nobody since former New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan (who famously declared “the rent is too damn high!“) has made housing affordability a central campaign promise. But Americans want somebody who will. A new study from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found that…

  • 74 percent want local communities to ensure that at least 20 percent of local housing is affordable to families making less than $50,000.
  • 81 percent want families making between $40,000 and $70,000 to become eligible for tax benefits that would let them afford homes
  • 80 percent want households making under $30,000 with dependent children to receive assistance with housing expenses

Let’s see how that stacks up with what Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are actually promising on housing, according to their official websites…

Hillary Clinton wants big spending on affordable housing

Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” posted in February, dedicates nearly 1,700 words to specific housing goals in a bulleted outline. It describes how she would use $25 billion of a larger $125 billion economic revitalization package to address the housing crisis. Its four goals are…

  • “Revitalize communities being dragged down by physical decay”
  • “Connect housing support in high-poverty neighborhoods to economic opportunity”
  • “Remove barriers to sustainable homeownership”
  • “Check the skyrocketing rise of rental costs in areas of opportunity”

A key component of the plan is a pledge to match up to $10,000 in savings toward the down payment on a first home for people making under an area’s median income. The plan would also include more money for housing counseling programs to help people navigate the complicated process of home-buying, provide incentives that encourage communities to build affordable rental housing, and incorporate new methods for testing credit for mortgage applications.

Donald Trump is silent on housing (for now)

In contrast, Donald Trump has not yet debuted a housing plan on his website.

His website has pages for positions on building the wall between the US and Mexico and immigration reform, trade reforms between China and America, Veterans Administration reforms, tax reforms, and Second Amendment rights. (On immigration, he says illegal immigrants have forced “U.S. taxpayers to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.”)

A second category of “issues” pages include YouTube videos of Trump talking about respecting law enforcement, fighting the establishment, being very pro-Israel, creating jobs, and “Trump University truth.” As someone who has a video game called Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon and routinely brags about his ability to buy and develop real estate, his silence on the topic is notable.

Especially since in 1973, the federal government sued Trump and his father, Fred Trump, for “refusing to rent and negotiate rentals with blacks, requiring different rental terms and conditions because of race, and misrepresenting that apartments were not available” at their New York City properties and specially marking rental applications from minorities, such as “C” for “colored.” At the time, Trump was president and his father was chairman of Trump Management, Inc.

The case was eventually settled. The Trumps were allowed to avoid admitting guilt in exchange for a signed agreement that they would do two things: place extensive advertising declaring they had equal-opportunity housing available, and not discriminate in the future.

Trump also came under fire earlier this year when statements from a 2006 audiobook for Trump University emerged through a lawsuit against that company. Asked about the potential of a housing crash, Trump is quoted saying, “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy.” A year after such comments, Trump told the Globe and Mail that “I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets,” and was reportedly “excited” at the prospect of a market crash.

Democrats are more worried about housing

The great divide in how the candidates are addressing housing may also represent a divide between Democrats’ and Republicans’ views on the topic. While many Republicans care about the issue, Democrats are more likely to prioritize it, according to the Loan Depot study…

  • When asked if they wanted to hear more from candidates on finances and housing, 56 percent of Democrats said “yes” compared to only 39 percent of Republicans
  • Sixty-four percent of Democrats want homeownership to become more affordable for middle and lower class families and say it should be a priority for the next president in the first 100 days, compared to just 32 percent Republicans
  • Only 43 percent of Republicans believe that the economy is the number one issue of the U.S. and should be the top priority for Congress and the new president, compared to 54 percent of Democrats

Something’s gotta give

A recent study from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that federal housing assistance has dropped steadily since the 1990s, but was really devastated — like so many things — by the Budget Control Act of 2011 which placed caps on non-defense spending we call sequestration. Those cuts happened because Congress couldn’t agree on how to fund the federal government, and they’re still there for the same reason.

Meanwhile, rental pricing is on a continuous rise — and incomes aren’t. In some areas, renting can be more expensive than a mortgage, but many Americans can’t save enough money for a down payment on a home due to contributing so much of their paychecks towards rent and student loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development launched the National Housing Trust Fund in April to help the poorest families in America — people paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing, or living in unsafe housing —  but the program has $174 million to be divided between all 50 states. That won’t go far.

You may not agree with Clinton or Trump, but more has to be done.

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