Next week, Americans will go to the polls and make a decision that will impact our country for generations to come. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected President and face some daunting tasks, including how to tackle the overwhelming need for affordable housing and the plethora of problems emanating from the fact that too many Americans are unable to keep a roof over their heads.
According to a report issued by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, tight rental markets are making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for very low and low-and moderate-income renters to find housing they can afford. The number of cost-burdened renters is now setting records year after year.
Advocates for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness have been saying for a decade or more that one of the biggest obstacles we face getting people off the streets and housed is the lack of affordable rental housing across the nation. But the impact of the shortage in rental housing goes way beyond people experiencing homelessness, menacing even those Americans with higher incomes.
The fundamental challenge facing communities large and small is an obvious one - rents are too high. This dynamic prevents those just starting out from saving for a better life and getting ahead, and young families from moving up the economic ladder. And it has a domino effect that exacerbates other problems threatening the quality of life in our communities.
Almost every large societal dilemma we face - increasing healthcare costs, expensive over-incarceration, criminal justice reform, child welfare and wellbeing, income inequality, racial disparities, a graying population forced to scrape by - cannot be honestly addressed and solved without access to affordable housing.
It is time for policy makers to stop being shortsighted. For example, housing is a social determinant of health, which means those who have a place to call home and the stability that comes with it are far more likely to receive regular and preventative healthcare. As a result, those housed enjoy better health throughout their lives, costing the system of services much less than those who are homeless.
Housing is not only key to addressing most of the societal problems we see every day it is a powerful platform for sparking opportunity in people's lives. When our policymakers work to ensure individuals and families have good, decent, safe places to live, they create a fundamental building block that leads to healthier individuals and communities.
Yet in spite of almost universal agreement on the need for more affordable housing and a known solution - which would be for federal, state and local governments to aggressively pursue policies increasing the supply of rental housing - many of our leaders seem ambivalent at best to the crisis that is costing us billions every year.
Our elected officials and those running for office this year - from the Presidential candidates on down to the local councilperson - must wake up to the importance of making sure people have an affordable home, especially rental housing, with access to quality schools, healthcare, jobs and transportation.
Whether or not Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump talk about housing issues in the remaining days of this campaign, the headaches caused by the lack of affordable rental housing will be waiting for the winner this January and long after. It is time for our leaders at every level of government to come to terms with that reality.