Like most of you, I spent last night glued to local, state, and national election results, and I woke up this morning after too little sleep thinking through what it all means for affordable housing.
The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans maintained and grew their Senate majority, reflecting our country’s deep divisions and ensuring more legislative gridlock — that much is obvious. But yesterday was about much more. Tremendous local and state victories on ballot initiatives to address homelessness and housing poverty mean new affordable homes for the people most in need and new alliances and momentum for bigger victories to come. And yesterday proved that housing is a winning campaign issue — one that voters increasingly understand and show up to vote for and one that causes policymakers at all levels to act.
In many of this year’s campaigns, affordable housing was squarely on the agenda. High-profile candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and others, ran and won on platforms with bold housing solutions — from expanding housing vouchers and increasing funding for the national Housing Trust Fund to new measures to address homelessness. All of these trailblazers are now headed to Washington to join other bipartisan champions for affordable housing and for combating homelessness. Gubernatorial candidates — including Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Gavin Newsom in California — made addressing homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing one of their top campaign priorities.
At the state and local levels, there were an unprecedented number of pro-housing choices for voters and, across the country, people voted to approve ballot initiatives to increase resources for affordable housing.
In California, voters approved both Propositions 1 and 2, creating billions in funding for the construction of affordable housing for the chronically homeless, people with disabilities or mental illness, and military veterans. In San Francisco, voters approved Prop C, bringing $2.4 billion for affordable housing and wrap-around services for the chronically homeless. Voters in Austin, Texas, overwhelmingly approved a $250 million affordable housing bond. Voters in Oregon passed two major ballot initiatives to make access to safe and affordable homes possible for 12,000 of the lowest income people in that state. Voters in Charlotte and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in the City of Bellingham and San Juan County in Washington state also passed housing bonds designed to address affordable housing. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah all overwhelmingly passed measures to expand Medicaid coverage to all low income adults, a critical tool for ending homelessness.
Congratulations to all our state partners and allies whose tireless and effective work made this historic progress possible!
The success of so many state and local ballot initiatives show strong voter support for affordable housing. Every state and local win moves us closer to ending homelessness and housing poverty. Each new alliance and achievement creates partnerships and momentum for more.
Before the end of 2018, Congress will conclude its work with one more “lame duck” session and many legislative matters to address, including the FY19 HUD and USDA spending bills, a disaster recovery package for communities impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael, tax extenders, and other must-pass legislation.
Then, after two years of single-party control, Congress will be split between the two major political parties. Given the highly politically charged environment, this will likely mean gridlock and possibly government shutdowns over funding measures. With their larger majority, Republicans in the Senate will likely advance a conservative agenda, including reforms to entitlement programs and deep funding cuts. Democratic control of the House will provide an important firewall against final passage of these efforts. Progress will require compromise from both sides, and bipartisan efforts and agreements may be possible on key issues, including housing.
Incoming policymakers will better reflect the diversity of our country, one of its greatest strengths. Among others, the new Congress will include: the first Muslim and Native American women, the first lesbian Native American congresswoman, the youngest woman elected to Congress, and the first Somali-American. Texas is sending its first two Latinas to Congress and both Massachusetts and Connecticut are sending its first African-American women to Congress. Tennessee elected its first woman senator, and Maine and Guam their first women governors. Colorado elected the first openly gay governor.
With Democrats in control of the House, leadership of key committees with jurisdiction over affordable housing will shift to some longtime champions for our issues, including Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Richard Neal (D-MA). We have strong relationships with these incoming committee chairs and will work with them and others to expand housing resources for the lowest income people in their districts and across the nation.
Seizing this moment
With the mid-terms over, the outlines of the 2020 presidential election are becoming clear. As we press policymakers on the nation’s affordable housing crisis, leading senators - including those with presidential ambitions — are putting forward bold solutions. After decades of chronic underinvestment by Congress, it is remarkable that presidential hopefuls are now using their platforms to elevate the housing crisis for the lowest income people and its solutions.
Local momentum and a national spotlight provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the broad-based political support needed to enact transformative solutions. This is a tremendous opportunity — to engage and amplify new partners in support of expanded housing investments for the lowest income people; to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones; to further elevate the affordable housing crisis in the national dialogue; to work with bipartisan champions in Congress to shape and advance solutions; and to hold policymakers at all levels, both those in office and those who hope to be, accountable.
Yesterday’s election results show that we can achieve the investments and policy changes necessary to end homelessness and housing poverty. Until now, we as a country have chosen not to. But voters are increasingly demanding new choices, and policymakers are heeding the call. With your continued partnership, support, advocacy and organizing, we will seize this moment and achieve bold solutions to end the housing crisis, once and for all.
Thank you for your incredible work and dedication. You are an inspiration.