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Every Sector Has a Role to Play in Addressing the Nation's Home Affordability Challenges

November 11, 2019

Housing-affordibility-twitter-1024x767Recently, companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple have made significant commitments to address the housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area and across the United States. While such commitments are a great start, much more needs to be done to ensure that all families in America can afford a decent place to live.

It is unacceptable in 2019 that one in six families pays half or more of their income on rent or their mortgage. For many, this means choosing between having a safe place to live or having enough money for food, transportation, health care, and other basic needs. At Habitat for Humanity, we believe a roof over one's head shouldn’t cost anywhere near half one's pay. We also believe it will take all of us working together to significantly impact the housing deficit in this country.

While there is no silver-bullet solution to the nation’s housing challenges, collaboration between the private, public, and social sectors are key to making affordable housing accessible to more families. And as nonpartisan players working to address housing challenges in their communities, nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play in advancing workable, bipartisan policy solutions that will have a lasting impact on the problem.

To better address these issues, Habitat recently launched Cost of Home, a national advocacy campaign that aims to increase home affordability for ten million people through policy and system changes at the local, state, and federal levels. More than two hundred and eighty local and statewide Habitat organizations across the country have already signed on to implement the campaign in their communities.

As part of the campaign, we have identified four things that must be done in order to achieve home affordability for American families: increase the preservation and supply of affordable housing; increase equitable access to credit; optimize land use for affordable housing; and develop communities of opportunity. In the past year, we've already seen some success at moving these ideals forward.

For example, last December the Minneapolis City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan that allows small-scale residential structures with up to three dwelling units to be built on individual lots in residential neighborhoods, abolishes parking minimums for all new construction, and allows higher-density multi-family housing to be built along transit corridors. The plan makes Minneapolis the first major U.S. city to end single-family only home zoning — and one of the first to take steps toward abolishing restrictive zoning that prevents minorities from moving into certain neighborhoods. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity was a significant voice in advocating to eliminate single-family-only zoning regulations in Minneapolis.

Similarly, Austin Habitat for Humanity worked with a coalition of affordable housing and community development organizations to secure passage of Affordability Unlocked, a proposal designed to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city. Key elements of the proposal included zoning changes and eliminating development requirements related to parking and minimum lot size. In May, after hours of debate, the Austin city council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.

And in February, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed into law the first mandatory statewide renter protection legislation. The bill limits the scope of termination notices without stated cause, protecting families who are living paycheck to paycheck. Shannon Vilhauer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Oregon, which represents local Habitat groups across the state, testified in support of the legislation.

We're working with our state and local Habitat organizations to build on these advocacy successes by putting home affordability issues front and center for council members, mayors, and state representatives across the country. As a complement to our influence at the state and local levels, we are also expanding our advocacy engagement at the federal level, with a focus on a set of bold, high-impact housing policy solutions. The campaign's policy priorities will provide a platform that mobilizes housing advocates and elevates the issue of home affordability in the national conversation, with the goal of ensuring that every candidate running for office has a plan to increase home affordability in their communities and states.

Major financial commitments from some of the country's most generous enterprises and philanthropies serve as a reminder of the urgency of the problem and the need to address it. By continuing to work at all levels of government to advance policy solutions that will lead to systemic change, we can create an environment that will further our vision of making the cost of home something everyone can afford.

Headshot_Jonathan_ReckfordJonathan T.M. Reckford is chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, which he has led since 2005.

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