Despite the country’s continuing rental affordability crisis, housing was never brought up during the three main debates of the 2016 presidential election.
This year, a new coalition of housing groups and non-profits wants to make sure affordable housing becomes a focus of the midterm political debate.
Via a series of promotions and videos, as well as a feature-length documentary coming out this fall, the Home1 advocacy campaign seeks to sound a clear warning about the scope of this problem and make this “silent crisis” part of the larger debate.
According to Stephen Whyte, founder and managing director of Vitus, an affordable housing developer and member of Home1, the organization doesn’t have any particular policy proposals. It’s just pushing for general support of existing housing solutions, funding for more affordable housing, and getting the message out to the public and politicians.
“We need to do a better job, as advocates and part of the industry, to put together a better message and stop being so technical,” he says. “Home1 will raise awareness, so the man on the street knows it’s a crisis and an issue to be worked on. Hopefully, this awareness translates into more support for the tools that continue to make affordable housing possible.”
The group’s message focuses on the human impact of the affordability crisis. Instead of discussing the minutiae of tax credits and zoning policy, the videos and messaging zero-in on personal examples: the difficulty a minimum-wage worker has affording an apartment, or how much of a family’s budget gets eaten up by rising rents.
By personalizing the issue, such as how many paramedics, teachers, medical secretaries and bank tellers can’t afford housing in may cities, the campaign wants to create a level of education and awareness that may not exist now.
“This is a crisis, and the tools we have work,” says Whyte. “The initial objective isn’t to craft new legislation or financial solutions. The beauty is its simplicity.”
Home1 represents another example of how the private sector and nonprofits are becoming more active around issues of affordability. Last week, a group of the nation’s largest foundations joined together to launch the Funders for Housing and Opportunity, a $4.9 million initiative to make “catalytic investments in activities that ensure stable housing in thriving communities.”
Many of the backers of Home1 have a financial interest in more affordable housing construction. The groups’s sponsors include a number of prominent construction firms involved in affordable housing, including Related, Artimus, and Metropolitan Realty Group.
Whyte says the timing of Home1’s launch will ideally bring the issue to the forefront of the 2018 election, and encourage voters to raise the issue with candidates. The group will release a documentary, The Contract, this fall.