Sixty-six years ago, President Harry S. Truman signed the bipartisan Housing Act of 1949, which required the federal government to “realize as soon as feasible the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.” The law made clear that quality, affordable housing was essential to “the advancement of the growth, wealth and security of the nation.”
In the nearly seven decades since, we have made significant progress toward realizing the Housing Act’s bold goal for housing policy in the U.S., but we have not yet achieved it. More than one in four families who rent their homes are still housing insecure, meaning they pay more than half of their monthly income on rent. Millions more live in homes that are technically affordable but are disconnected from jobs, good schools, transit and other opportunities – creating a significant barrier to success. It’s time to finish the job we began more than half a century ago by ensuring that every person in the U.S. has a safe and affordable home in a community of opportunity.
Affordable housing was not a partisan issue in 1949, and it should not be a partisan issue today. From the Fair Housing Act of 1968, to the creation of the Section 8 program in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, to the creation of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit in the Tax Reform Act of 1986, to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, Democrats and Republicans have a long history of working together to give low-income people a fair shot at success through quality, affordable housing. That same spirit of bipartisanship – that same commitment to the promise of equal opportunity – is needed now more than ever.
In the coming months, America will embark on a campaign to choose its next president, as well as hundreds of new leaders in Congress and statehouses across the country. Along the way, the country’s widening opportunity gap will surely be on the minds of many voters. As members of both parties develop their strategies for addressing the problem, we urge them to keep one fact in mind: if we ever hope to solve the problems facing low-income communities in the U.S. – from persistent poverty to poor health and educational outcomes – we must start by providing safe, healthy and affordable homes. Housing is more than just shelter. It’s a platform – the critical first rung on the ladder of opportunity.
This policy platform offers a roadmap for the path ahead, laying out the essential policies that should be part of any long-term plan for addressing America’s rental housing crisis and create communities of opportunity throughout the country. The next step is to begin a national dialogue about the role of government – at all levels – in bringing this crisis to an end once and for all. We look forward to that debate.