This month marks the sixth anniversary of the official end of the Great Recession, yet our nation’s housing system remains mired in a state of crisis. Rising rents and diminished access to homeownership are squeezing millions of families. Many now find themselves facing an unaffordable rental market and a homeownership market for which they do not qualify.

The troubling housing situation in our country deserves far more attention than it receives today.  It is largely overlooked by the media and strangely underestimated by our nation’s political leaders.  It is very much a “silent” crisis.

The upcoming presidential primaries offer a wonderful opportunity to draw attention to housing and start a national conversation about the best steps forward. To this end, we urge each of the candidates – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – to make housing central to their campaigns and speak to the twin issues of rental affordability and homeownership access.

We believe those candidates who credibly address housing on the campaign trail will benefit at the ballot box. After all, there are few issues as fundamentally important to the average voter and that hit closer to home.

We urge each of the candidates – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – to make housing central to their campaigns and speak to the twin issues of rental affordability and home ownership access.

Here are some facts for the presidential candidates to consider:

· The national homeownership rate now stands at a 22-year low. The homeownership rates for younger households, who traditionally account for most first-time homebuyers, have dropped to levels never recorded before. The rates for minority families have also plummeted, wiping out virtually all of the gains achieved over the past two decades.

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· Since 2008, millions of families have transitioned from owning a home to renting.  Many of these new renters lost their homes to foreclosure when the housing market collapsed. Today’s tighter mortgage credit standards have combined with years of income stagnation to put homeownership out of reach for large segments of the U.S. population.

· With rental demand growing and rents rising as a result, millions of families are now paying unsustainable portions of their incomes on housing. According to the nonpartisan Center for Housing Policy, in 2013, one in four “working renter” households devoted more than half of their monthly incomes to housing. These cost burdens can force families to forego medical care, nutritious food, and other essentials just to pay the rent. They also make it virtually impossible to save for a mortgage down payment, even on a modest home.

· America’s changing demographics will pose additional challenges. New household formation by millions of young Millennials, combined with the increasing diversity of the population, will fuel the demand for rental housing through the remainder of this decade, pushing rents even higher. In fact, the Urban Institute projects that 62 percent of new housing demand will be rental this decade, a reversal of the past two decades when most demand was felt in the ownership market.

· The supply of affordable rental homes is woefully inadequate to meet the wave of new demand that is poised to hit the market.  HUD recently estimated there are only 39 affordable and available rental units for every 100 “extremely low-income” households, and only 65 such units for every 100 families with “very low” incomes. Other estimates point to even more severe shortages of affordable rental homes for our nation’s most vulnerable families.

· The problem of housing affordability, however, affects a large swath of the U.S. population and not just the poor.  “Where is my child going to live?” is a question being asked more and more frequently in middle-class homes as parents wonder how their college-age sons and daughters, many saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, will cope with rising rents and limited homeownership prospects.   

While these issues are deeply personal, they also have profound national implications. Broad access to stable, safe, and affordable housing is a crucial part of the formula for upward mobility and essential for America’s future prosperity. Ensuring such access must be an urgent national priority.

As members of different political parties, we believe there is plenty of common ground that can serve as the basis for a bipartisan policy response. But developing this response requires us to start talking first. We hope to see this conversation begin soon in communities throughout Iowa, New Hampshire, and the early primary states.

Scott Brown and Henry Cisneros both serve on the executive committee of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, which officially launched on June 9.  


Scott Brown served for three years as the Senator from Massachusetts. He was a Ranking Member of Armed Services and Homeland Security and also served on the Veteran’s and Small Business Committees. He is a Contributor with Fox. Follow him on Twitter @senscottbrown.

Henry Cisneros served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development in the Clinton administration.