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NWV Habitat Represents Affordable Housing in Washington D.C

Executive Director, Wendy Patton, of the North Willamette Valley Habitat for Humanity met with Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to discuss a campaign to improve housing affordability in the United States. Below is our vision, the challenges, and implications of high-housing costs, the opportunities and required resources to truly address this critical issue.

Campaign vision

One in three families in the United States today, close to 39 million households, are paying more than they can afford for housing.  Habitat for Humanity’s home affordability campaign will directly address this problem.  Starting July 2018, and lasting four years, Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) and the Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) network throughout the United States will commit to:

The Challenge of Home Affordability

  • Reducing the number of cost burdened families by helping 50,000 families through direct housing affordability programs (home construction, repair, rehabilitation, revitalization).

  • Directly influencing policy to improve housing affordability for 3.9 million households, addressing 10% of the overall need.

  • Raising awareness about the need for housing affordability and empowering individuals to directly take action to address the issue.

  • Encouraging and enabling other stakeholders to join the effort and make commitments small and large to address housing affordability and expand the impact of the campaign.

Today, the number of renter households spending more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities stands at more than 20 million (“cost burdened”), with over 11 million of these paying more than half of their incomes on housing costs (“severely cost burdened”). Of even greater concern, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that by 2025 the number of severely cost-burdened households could grow to nearly 15 million, threatening the health, stability, and long-term success of families and the communities in which they live. Communities of color are at particular risk, with 24.5 percent of African American households and 25 percent Hispanic households already severely housing cost burdened. The affordable housing crisis has spared not a single county in the U.S.

The Implications of High Housing Costs

Living in a home that is affordable improves a family’s overall quality of life. The dangers of high housing costs for lower income families are numerous, well known, and frequently devastating. As Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond noted in his 2017 Habitat on the Hill keynote address, “the rent eats first” when family finances fall short. In fact, according to a 2014 consumer survey, severely cost burdened households spent 74 percent less on healthcare and 41 percent less on food than their peers living in affordably priced homes. Once these necessities are addressed to the extent possible, virtually nothing remains for transportation, clothing, education, savings and other basic investments that enable individuals and families to thrive.

The Opportunity to Achieve Home Affordability

Today, the vast majority of Americans (81 percent) believe housing affordability is problem, and nearly two thirds believe the U.S. remains in the midst of a housing crisis or the worse is yet to come. Habitat affiliates around the country are responding to these concerns both through their direct services and through impactful advocacy initiatives and campaigns.

Success at the state and local levels: The bulk of Habitat’s advocacy work and impact is implemented locally, affecting local and state policies and resources. It should be noted that 2016 was a banner year for Habitat-led local advocacy. Nationally, more than a dozen Habitat supported referenda passed in the November election, mobilizing more than $2.1 billion for housing at the state and local level. Notable successes include:

    • HFH of Greater Denver played a leadership role in a successful local effort to create a $150 million dedicated funding stream for affordable rental housing. HFH of Greater Denver individually lobbied nearly every member of the City Council, mobilized Habitat homeowners to speak at Council hearings, mobilized email actions, and had an Op-Ed by its CEO published in the Denver Post.

    • HFH of Portland/Metro East played a critical role in the successful “Yes for Affordable Homes Campaign” in support of a November referendum proposing a $258.4M bond for housing. Although Habitat will not receive funding from the effort, the affiliate led volunteers on multiple occasions in door to door canvassing and phone banking in support of the campaign. Habitat East Bay/Silicon Valley successfully advocated in Alameda County for a $580 million bond to support affordable rental and homeownership and in Santa Clara County for a bond that will provide $950 million for affordable housing. The affiliate mobilized supporters, wrote op-eds, appeared in local media, and directly contributed $50,000 to the campaign efforts. The affiliate’s help was essential to the passage of these bond measures.

Federal power and potential: With more than a decade of federal housing policy experience and numerous “wins” that have increased Habitat’s impact and the broader interests of the housing sector, Habitat is effectively engaging the rapidly evolving federal policy environment with energy, focus, and a viable and appealing vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

  • Tax reform has significant implications for nonprofits (charitable deduction), homeownership (mortgage interest deduction), and low-cost housing (LIHTC and New Markets). In 2017, Habitat has already met with more than three quarters of the members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees regarding tax reform and expects to play an influential role as this important debate moves forward.

  • Regulatory reform has the potential both to lower the cost of Habitat mortgage underwriting, enabling affiliates to serve more families with homeownership opportunities, and to improve the delivery and coordination of federal housing resources, enabling jurisdictions and grantees to increase their impact. Habitat will continue to share its experience and understanding of the challenges of implementing federal programs locally and opportunities to enhance their impact.

  • Health care remains a critical focus of federal policymakers, even in light of Congress’ recent failures to achieve broad-based reforms. Habitat affiliates continue to deliver a clear and unequivocal message that without access to quality housing, public and private investments in health often fail to achieve their purposes.

Advocacy engagement by Habitat affiliates and state organizations has never been stronger.

The Campaign

To achieve its goal of meeting the housing needs of 25 million people through policies and systems changes by 2020, Habitat will design and implement a four-year U.S. advocacy campaign focused on housing access and affordability. The campaign will combine a set of advocacy, communications and mobilization activities - informed and based on Habitat’s knowledge and values - that influence norms, policies and practices to achieve lasting change.  The high-level goals of the campaign will be both to reform housing policies and to create a durable, enabling public policy environment through which the housing needs of Americans of all income levels can continue to be addressed over the long term.

It should be noted that the planning, design and launch of a U.S. focused campaign will be heavily informed by Habitat’s recent experience in launching its first ever issue based global advocacy campaign, Solid Ground. For the U.S. focused campaign, Habitat’s leadership, staff, affiliates and partners are ready to leverage Habitat’s voice and reputation to achieve broad access to quality homes at an affordable price throughout the U.S.

The campaign will focus on supporting families’ movement up the “housing ladder” through a broad continuum of solutions and interventions, emphasizes climbing to the next “rung,” such as moving from publically subsidized housing to private rental housing, to homeownership. As families move “up the ladder” of housing opportunities, the more affordable units they leave become available for those at lower incomes, expanding access to affordably priced homes, particularly for middle and lower income households.  

Required Resources

To accomplish these goals, Habitat for Humanity International is seeking $3 million over three years ($1 million/year) to build and implement the campaign. Habitat will work to leverage an additional $500,000 per year to raise this contribution creating a $4.5 million campaign to improve housing affordability conditions in the United States. The Kresge Foundation is expected to provide $100,000 toward campaign staffing needs in late 2017/early 2018.


Habitat understands that the business of empowering people, advancing lasting change comes as a result of patiently investing years of time, energy and resources into valuing relationships and building a record of success. After years of carrying out advocacy and policy work at various levels, Habitat is poised to use these learnings to take on one of the most critical and urgent issues of our time: housing affordability and its negative impacts on families and communities.  Understanding that housing affordability is tied to important outcomes around health, economic self-sufficiency, education and more – Habitat is ready to draw upon our expertise and partners across the spectrum and organize to raise voices and bring national attention to a very local, personal issue.