What statement(s) related to housing—policy, or otherwise—would you want to hear in the presidential debates?
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Tonight, President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will square off for the first presidential debate. While both candidates will use the debate to highlight key differences in their policy positions, the candidates have one thing in common: the complete absence of rental housing from their respective party’s platform. I am concerned that both candidates fail to recognize the important role that rental housing plays in our nation’s economy.
There are over 40 million renters in the United States, comprising nearly 34% of the nation’s households. The Great Recession added an additional 3 million renters, reducing affordable apartment availability and spurring rent hikes. Today, nearly 10 million renter households spend more than 50% of their income on housing. As this demand continues to grow, policymakers are slow to show support for programs that are aimed at producing and preserving rental housing, often focusing on homeownership.
But rental housing means far more than a roof over someone’s head. The rehabilitation of rental housing creates desperately needed jobs and adds economic activity to local markets. Federally provided Section 8 provides $460 million annually in property tax revenue to local communities across the country and annually supports 100,000 jobs. Every 100 affordable apartments built preserve 116 jobs are created and generate $8.7 million in local income.
Meanwhile, rental housing located near public transit options increases household disposable income, which in turn leads to purchases of new goods and services. Transportation is the second largest expense for households after housing. By creating and preserving housing near public transit, household transportation costs could decrease by as much as 16%, thus freeing up money to spend on other necessities.
Finally, stable rental housing coupled with supportive housing that targets homeless and seniors saves local, state and federal government money that could be better spent on emergency or health services. In New York City, providing supportive housing for 4,000 homeless individuals reduced annual inpatient Medicaid expenses by $3.1 million. In San Francisco, CA, when 50 elderly residents moved into supportive housing from a city-run nursing home, alone the city saved $1.45 million in health care costs annually.
Regardless of who wins in November, the next administration will have to take on tough economic issues. I hope both candidates recognize the central role that rental housing plays in the economic health and prosperity of our nation.
Michael Bodaken is President of the National Housing Trust.
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