Even after a historic boom and bust, it's clear that housing plays a critical role in the well-being of families, communities, and the nation as a whole.
So why didn't we hear more about housing during the presidential campaign?
It could be that challenger Mitt Romney had little new to say on the topic, while President Barack Obama chose to shy away from trumpeting the administration's efforts to repair the housing market for fear of being accused of doing too little (from the standpoint of many progressives) or too much (from the standpoint of those who resent the aid being provided to struggling homeowners) to address the crippling foreclosure crisis.
Whatever the reason for the relative silence on housing from the candidates during the 2012 campaign, the problem actually runs much deeper: Housing has not been a top-tier national political issue for decades, if it ever was. While plenty of Americans get riled up about core issues such as healthcare or education, the same isn't true when it comes to housing. Nevertheless, given the broad impact housing issues have on families, communities, and the nation, it's crucial that we elevate it on the national agenda.
Here's how to achieve that:
Expand awareness of the role housing plays in advancing other critical social goals. Healthcare, education, and the environment are all social issues that remain intensely intertwined with housing. Quality, affordable housing can help reduce exposure to lead paint and conditions that prompt asthma, and give families more funds to pay for nutritious food. It can also provide families with the stability that helps kids do better in school and reduce stress for parents and children alike. When located near transit or job centers, quality, affordable housing can also help reduce dependence on cars, helping to achieve environmental goals.
Recognize the universality of housing challenges. Housing assistance is a critical part of the social safety net, providing stable, affordable housing to millions of children, families, older adults, and disabled Americans. But contrary to what many might think, housing assistance is not confined to the poor. A broad spectrum of middle- and upper-income Americans also benefit from government housing aid through the Mortgage Interest Deduction and 30-year fixed-rate mortgages made possible by government support for the mortgage markets. And as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy underscored, the government also plays an important role in protecting homeowners from losses associated with natural disasters.
Improve strategies for meeting housing needs. Too often our highly fragmented approach reduces the overall effectiveness of our efforts. Together these approaches can help raise housing on the national agenda and build support for comprehensive strategies that strengthen communities and substantially improve families' quality of life.
Jeffrey M. Lubell is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Housing Policy and is a recognized expert in housing and community development policy. Prior to becoming head of the Center, Lubell worked as an independent consultant specializing in analyzing and developing recommendations for strengthening national, state, and local housing and community development policy.