Last week, 20 potential Democratic nominees for President took the debate stage in Miami over two days to discuss everything from taxes to health care to foreign policy. Largely absent was one of America’s most pressing issues: affordable housing.
Housing affordability is a key challenge in communities across the country and should be at the forefront of our national conversation. A study from Harvard University released last week found that one third of U.S. households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. A Pew Study found that the number of rent-burdened households has doubled since 2001, as more and more low-income and middle-income families are unable to afford one of the most basic human needs: a roof over their head.
There is some progress on this issue at the federal level, where Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is leading a bipartisan effort to pass the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which would help build 1.9 million affordable units nationwide over the next decade. This will help, though more is needed. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that the U.S. needs 7.2 million affordable units. This is happening in part because, nationally, the number of low-rent units has fallen sharply, from almost 60 percent of units in 2001 to 43 percent of units in 2017. Over the last few years, America has lost over 4 million low-rent units—making housing unaffordable for millions of families.
Of course, this crisis is felt acutely in Los Angeles County, where 57 percent of renters are cost-burdened and 31 percent are severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Right now, renters in LA County need to earn more than $47 an hour — well over triple the minimum wage — to afford their median monthly rent. Local funding and policy changes alone cannot and has not addressed this problem, which has only grown.
Local legislators are working to address the crisis — but they need federal support. California Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has even made housing his No. 1 priority in office, working to make it easier to increase affordable housing and pushing for more renter protections. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently joined a coalition of mayors calling on the federal government to pass Ending Homelessness Act — proposed by Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles — and has worked to support a number of affordable and permanent supportive housing policies and funding measures. But the federal government simply has more resources to help build housing that people can afford.
When people can’t afford rent, they forgo other vital needs like food and health care. Other progressive proposals from the bevy of Democratic candidates—ones like Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage, and lower cost higher education—will only go so far as the increase in housing costs outpaces any increases in income.
The next President of the United States will have the moral imperative to address this issue, and those interested in running for the Democratic nomination must prioritize housing. The NLIHC noted that only four candidates (briefly) touched on housing during the first debates, and just over half have mentioned affordable housing during other interviews or in policy proposals. That’s not enough.
While state and local funding and policy can help, this humanitarian crisis in California — which is mirrored in states across the country — can only be addressed in concert with federal assistance. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to work to end funds to help low-income renters afford this basic human right and funds that support public housing.
This housing crisis has been growing for years — in California and across the country. Democratic nominees must voice their support for policies that will address this mounting problem. Our state’s Democratic primary will be held on March 3 and mail-in ballots go out on February 3 — the same day as the Iowa Caucuses. California has more delegates choosing the Democratic nominee than any other state. Candidates for the Democratic nomination — and the California Democrats who will be voting for one of them on Super Tuesday — must voice their support for affordable housing now.