Most Americans Are Worried About Affordable Housing But Neither Party Is Really Talking About It

A new poll finds that 71 percent of respondents think the presidential candidates should focus on the issue.

Seventy-one percent of Americans think that affordable housing should be a main focus of the political parties’ platforms during the 2016 presidential campaign, and 74 percent said they are more likely to support the candidate who elevates the issue, according to a new poll.

Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed identified housing affordability as an important issue for them, with 47 percent of respondents saying they have personally struggled to pay rent or a mortgage in the last year -- or know someone who has. While Republicans and Democrats both mentioned housing in their 2016 convention platforms, the issue did not figure prominently in either document. The online poll, conducted by strategic research firm Ipsos Public Affairs from July 8 to July 11, included 1,007 respondents age 18 and older. Ipsos completed the survey on behalf of Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit real estate services firm that helps build affordable housing.

“The dual challenges of rising rents and stagnant wages do not discriminate: millions of Americans, regardless of political affiliations, are struggling to afford their homes and are living in fear of an unexpected expense or reduction in hours at work leading to eviction or homelessness,” said Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room, a public awareness campaign affiliated with Enterprise and aimed at ending the rental housing crisis in America. “Candidates for public office and current elected officials must prioritize housing affordability and be clear with voters about their plans for addressing this issue as a significant barrier to families’ financial security and our country’s economic prosperity.”

Democrats surveyed were much more likely to emphasize the importance of housing affordability than self-identified Republicans – 71 percent versus 44 percent, respectively. The issue resonated as critical particularly with younger respondents in the 18-to-34 age group (73 percent), the less affluent (65 percent), and respondents with children living at home (67 percent). The poll defined “less affluent” as earning less than $50,000 per year.

In their respective 2016 party platforms, Republicans and Democrats unsurprisingly took different approaches toward the issue of housing and homeownership. Republicans mentioned the spike in rental costs since the recession but focused on increasing homeownership and reducing the government’s role in housing. “Our goal is to advance responsible homeownership while guarding against the abuses that led to the housing collapse,” said the 2016 platform, which Republicans at the convention adopted on Monday. “We must scale back the federal role in the housing market, promote responsibility on the part of borrowers and lenders, and avoid future taxpayer bailouts.”

Republicans also called for a “comprehensive review of federal regulations, especially those dealing with the environment, that make it harder and more costly for Americans to rent, buy, or sell homes.”

The draft Democratic platform, released on July 1, said the party would increase the supply of affordable housing “by expanding incentives and easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity.” The party said it would “substantially” boost funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to build, preserve and rehab “millions” of affordable housing units. “Democrats also believe that we should provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly,” stated the draft document.

The Ipsos survey found that nearly half of all respondents didn’t recall any of the parties’ presidential hopefuls talking about affordable housing during the 22 debates of the primary season. In October, six presidential candidates – Republicans Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and Rand Paul along with Democrat Martin O’Malley -- appeared at a housing summit in New Hampshire to discuss the issue, but it largely has been ignored on the campaign trail so far.

Respondents also didn’t think much of efforts by elected officials to provide and sustain affordable housing in their areas: Sixty-four percent said they didn’t believe Congress was doing enough to tackle the issue, while 60 percent felt the same way about their local elected officials.