Thursday, July 13, 2017

Should members of Congress receive housing stipends?

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

In a recent interview with The Hill, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) advocated for a housing stipend to help members of Congress afford housing in D.C. According to Chaffetz, who retires at the end of June, the $174,000 salary for members of Congress is insufficient to allow them to pay for homes in both their home districts and in D.C.

NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck database shows that in order to own a median-priced home in the Provo-Orem metro area, which falls within Chaffetz’s district, his household would have to earn nearly $75,000 a year. To rent a typical two-bedroom home in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Chaffetz’s household would have to earn almost $65,000. Few would dispute that residents of the D.C. metro area face high housing costs. But given the $174,000 salary of members of Congress, Chaffetz theoretically would be able to afford the combined cost of owning a home in his district and renting in the D.C. area.

Some members of Congress may find it harder to juggle the costs of two households if their home district has high and rising housing costs like that of San Francisco, where owning a median-priced home would require a family to earn over $275,000. This raises the question of how people who are essential to the running of our federal, state and local governments afford housing in costly areas on much lower salaries than congressmen and congresswomen.


Instead of pursuing housing subsidies for special groups, such as members of Congress, we should think more broadly about strategies to promote access to quality housing that is affordable to Americans at all income levels.   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer forecast

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

With our Housing Visionary Award Gala and Annual Policy Symposium behind us, NHC has much work planned for the last six months of the year.

NHC will continue its active participation in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to advocate for housing funding at HUD and USDA through the remainder of the budget process. Congress continues to work through the appropriations process in hopes of passing a budget before the September 30 end of the fiscal year, making the next few months important for budget advocacy.

To put similar focus on the housing policy discussion, NHC brought national housing and community development organizations together this spring to launch Strong Voices for Housing. We are currently working with this group of more than 35 national organizations to develop messages that all of us can use to more consistently and coherently position housing as a vital issue area for government support.

Solutions for Affordable Housing 2017, NHC’s national housing policy convening, is set for November 29 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Following up on last year’s look at what was ahead for housing in the Trump administration, this year’s convening will connect potential policy action from the agencies with solutions emerging from practice and opportunities in the legislative environment. Plenaries and breakouts will provide opportunities for engagement with the administration, policy makers and leaders in the field. This convening will be an important opportunity to learn from and connect with colleagues, and is a great opportunity to sponsor a high-profile national convening. Visit our website to sign up for updates. I hope you’ll plan to attend.

As part of our continued effort to support our members and raise the national profile of housing, NHC has joined Our Homes, Our Voices for a national week of action that anyone, anywhere can participate in. What began as a single-day event has now expanded into a National Housing Week of Action, July 22-29, calling for increased federal investments in affordable housing and community development. To date, local housing advocates have planned 29 events in communities across the U.S. Visit the website to learn about the Week of Action and the campaign.

In September, NHC will release “Paycheck to Paycheck 2017,” a report and database comparing the median wages of over 80 occupations with the housing costs in over 200 metro areas across the country. This year’s report will analyze the impact of housing costs on fast-growing occupations in the health care sector.

Change where you live

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Is ZIP code destiny? However you answer that question, the frame behind the question shapes how we think about policy. In a housing context, connecting where you live to your life outcomes can lead to a too-quick conclusion that people should just move (if they can afford to). But “change where you live” means two things: to move to a new home, and to make where you live now a better place. Too-high housing costs limit both of those options.

In the popular press and policy circles, the ZIP code-as-destiny concept is a common point of debate. Some focus on evidence that your neighborhood shapes your educational achievement, health and economic success. Others focus on your individual choices as key. President Obama used the idea as a springboard to talk about the Fair Housing Act. Still others look for ways to make place matter less, such as online work and education. Much of the discussion started with research from the Equality of Opportunity project.

I was recently at a roundtable, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure,” convened by the National Governors Association and attended by a mix of housing, environment and health experts. The ZIP code-as-destiny concept came up a few times, mostly from the health experts. Some from the health field think in detail about how to improve homes and neighborhoods, particularly experts in lead contamination. But many are quick to ask for housing policy change to help people move to better neighborhoods, as are advocates from other fields.

In America, 6.3 million poor people live in places of concentrated poverty (out of a total of 14 million people living in those places). Practically speaking, most of those people aren’t likely to move, nor should they have to. And in America, they should have a chance to better their own lives and those of their children.

But the vast majority of poor households spend far too much of their income on housing. They’re stretched just to afford where they live now, and homelessness is just one minor crisis away. People at higher incomes are stretching, too, and are finding their range of housing options shrinking.

Changing where you live has to mean giving everyone more and better choices. Making housing less expensive, helping communities thrive and ensuring some help for those who need it most are all part of changing where you live.