Addressing the affordable housing crisis

By Stephen Seidel, Habitat for Humanity International’s senior director of global program design and implementation

For nearly 40 years, Habitat for Humanity has promoted the importance of decent and affordable housing — and backed up those words with action.

Unfortunately, in the current economic environment in the United States, the cost of housing is rising much faster than the incomes of many families. The need for affordable housing far exceeds the supply.

In its 2014 State of the Nation’s Housing report, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies points out that the share of “severely cost burdened households” is at historically high levels. More than a quarter of all U.S. renters spend more than half of their income for housing, leaving very little for other necessities.

In the face of these sobering facts, it was both gratifying and encouraging to read a 2014 analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute that unpacks the persistent crisis in housing affordability. MGI’s report validates Habitat’s long-held view that concrete steps can be taken to address housing affordability, which is a message we aim to see broadly communicated.

With that in mind, earlier this month, Habitat for Humanity International co-sponsored The Housing Affordability Opportunity: Lowering Costs and Expanding Supply discussion at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development along with Enterprise Community Partners and HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research.

While the featured speakers were an impressive assembly of experts sharing insights based on extensive research and on-the-ground experience, the clear star of the show was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

After a rousing introduction by HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Vice President Biden made a passionate case for the importance of “home” and outlined the administration’s measures to increase housing affordability in the wake of the recent economic crisis.

Biden’s most poignant remarks came when he talked about the role that the family home played in his own childhood. Years later, he explained, the value of his home helped put his own kids through college, providing stability for many generations. In short, he said, one’s home is the place “where it all starts and it all ends.”

It’s encouraging to hear him say, “We are committed to continue to expand the opportunity for average Americans, struggling Americans, to have a hearthstone. Because you all know in your gut, it’s the basis upon which almost everything else was built, with families and with individuals.”

We in the Habitat family recognize that a decent, affordable home is fundamental. And along with our colleagues in the housing sector, we understand that a home is essential to quality of life for families and communities. When the Vice President of the United States echoes those sentiments in such a passionate and personal way, I’d say it “really hits home.”

Learn more about Habitat’s advocacy efforts and how you can support smart housing policy. Use your voice right now to support key programs that help Habitat serve partner families by signing this petition.