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Voters care about affordable housing but 2020 debates have ignored the issue

Eric Burmeister, Lauren Johnson and Diane Yentel , Guest columnists

Published 2:55 p.m. CT Aug. 12, 2019/ Des Moines Register, Part of the USA Today Network.

Iowans, your voice matters on the issue of housing affordability! All across the state, our families and neighbors struggle to find safe, stable and affordable homes. Too many cannot afford to keep roofs over their heads and are spending most of their income on rent, leaving little for other necessities like groceries, medicines, and child care. Policymakers must act to address this crisis; Iowans want our elected officials to make bold investments in affordable homes.

Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa, a partnership between the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, is working to raise the profile of affordable housing in Iowa and in the 2020 presidential elections. We are hosting a series of non-partisan candidate town halls and conversations throughout Iowa on affordable housing and the needs of our lowest-income residents.

The national affordable housing crisis continues to worsen, making it impossible for  seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and low-wage workers to pay rent and make ends meet. Every state and community in the country — urban, rural, and suburban — faces an affordable housing shortage, and it is a clear crisis here in Iowa

The average renter wage in Iowa is $12.95 per hour, but to afford a modest, two-bedroom home at fair market rent, a person must earn $15.44 an hour. The average minimum-wage renter in our state would have to work 85 hours a week (2.1 full-time jobs) to afford a modest, two-bedroom home. How can such a person afford a home and spend time with and support his/her family?

Iowans are not alone in their concerns. According to a national poll commissioned by NLIHC, 85% of people in America believe ensuring everyone has a safe, accessible and affordable home should be a top national priority, and 8 in 10 want major action from Congress and the White House. Seventy-six percent are more likely to vote for a candidate with a detailed plan on making housing more affordable.

Despite being on the minds of voters across the country and raised by them as a key issue on the campaign trail, the first nationally televised Democratic debates neglected to address the issue of affordable housing. This must change: the issue is one that voters care deeply about, one that could swing the 2020 election.

Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa calls on candidates to address how they would preserve and build more deeply affordable homes, increase rental assistance, prevent families from eviction and homelessness, and protect renters from discrimination and abuse.

We urge all Iowans to ask the 2020 candidates: What would you do to make homes affordable for our nation’s lowest-income people? And we urge all Iowans to vote – because affordable homes are built with ballots. 

Eric Burmeister is the executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, the comprehensive planning, advocacy and funding organization for affordable housing in Polk County.

Lauren Johnson is the director of communications and community outreach at the Polk County Housing Trust Fund and the state director of the Our Homes, Our Votes, Our Iowa project.

Diane Yentel is the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and organization dedicated to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.

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