September 18, 2014

Five Takeaways from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s 2014 Housing Summit

Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted its 2014 Housing Summit, which brought together some of the top policymakers, industry leaders, advocates and other stakeholders in the housing and community development field. Over two days of speeches and roundtable discussions, the summit covered just about every housing-related issue under debate in Washington today - from rental subsidies and affordable housing production to housing finance reform and access to mortgage credit.

For those who weren’t able to attend in person, here are our five key takeaways from the event.

1. America’s renters face a growing housing insecurity crisis.

In his welcoming remarks to kick off the summit, former U.S. Senator and BPC co-founder George Mitchell said that, even though we “tend to overuse the word” in other contexts, America’s renters are truly in the midst of a crisis. Commentators echoed that theme throughout the event, with a focus on the one in four renters - or roughly 11 million renter families - who pay more than half of their monthly income on housing. As several panelists pointed out, America’s housing insecurity crisis has gotten significantly worse in recent years as rents rose, wages stagnated and the supply of affordable homes on the market dissipated.

2. The federal government needs a more comprehensive, balanced housing policy.

Several panelists at the summit debated the relative merits of renting versus owning a home and the extent to which the federal government should support each option. One thing was clear throughout these debates: federal housing policy is woefully out of balance. When asked which housing policy he would most like to see changed, University of Southern California economist and Enterprise Trustee Raphael Bostic pointed to the mortgage interest deduction, which directs billions of scarce subsidy dollars to higher-income homeowners instead of the lower-income owners and renters that need them most. Enterprise Chairman Ron Terwilliger and PolicyLink’s Kalima Rose offered similar recommendations.

3. We need innovative solutions to the significant demographic challenges on the horizon.

Another recurring theme was the country’s shifting demographics, which will pose significant housing challenges in the coming years. Demographers project that the total number of renter households will grow by at least 4 million over the next decade, led mostly by an increase in younger and senior renters. Each of these populations will have distinct housing needs, and neither is particularly well served by the current housing delivery system. For example, the clear majority of aging Baby Boomers hope to age in place, but the current housing stock is not well equipped for the specific needs of this population, especially the large portion of seniors with physical or mental impairments. Bold new policy solutions will be necessary to meet these massive shifts in housing demand.

4. Housing finance reform needs to be a top priority in the next Congress.

While there was a lot of debate and disagreement among panelists at the summit, one opinion seemed to garner near-universal agreement: housing finance reform is not likely to move forward between now and the end of the year. That said, several lawmakers from across the political spectrum - including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-TN) - said that housing finance reform should be a top priority for the next Congress, regardless of the result of the midterm elections. 

5. Affordable housing is not a Democratic or a Republican issue.

If there’s one crucial takeaway from the summit, it’s that housing has always been - and should continue to be - a bipartisan issue. That fact was exemplified on Tuesday morning, when five FHA commissioners from Democratic and Republican administrations met onstage for a thoughtful, nuanced discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing the agency today. It was also apparent in the across-the-board support for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, the Regan-era program that remains the country’s primary tool for building and preserving affordable rental housing.

The 2014 Housing Summit culminated with a keynote address from new HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who laid out his vision for the country’s housing policy in the coming years. Building off of the summit’s spirit of bipartisanship, we look forward to working with Secretary Castro, other members of the Obama administration, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and our partners to make that vision a reality. Together we can work toward a day when every family in this country has a safe and stable home in a vibrant community, ensuring that everyone has a fair shot at success.

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