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The Facts on Housing Affordability In the United States


Democrats on the November debate stage in Atlanta turned the spotlight to an issue affecting millions of Americans when they were asked how they planned to make housing more affordable. "Where you put your head at night determines so many things about your life," billionaire Tom Steyer said during the Nov. 20 debate. "It determines where your kids go to school. It determines the air you breathe, where you shop, how long it takes you to get to work." 

Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pledged to build millions of housing units across the country, criticizing local and municipal policies that have limited new construction. "Our housing problem in America is a problem on the supply side, and that means that the federal government stopped building new housing a long time ago, affordable housing," Warren said. "So I've got a plan for 3.2 million new housing units in America." The United States has a housing affordability problem. Home prices are rising faster than wages in roughly 80% of U.S. markets, according to ATTOM, a real estate and property data company. Almost two-thirds of renters nationwide say they couldn’t afford to buy a home if they wanted to.

High housing costs mean tradeoffs elsewhere

Housing affordability is a transportation issue, as well. "People often have to move further out to find affordable housing," Silverman said. "That can translate into higher transportation costs and commute times."

2015 Brookings Institution study found that between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute for people in major metro areas fell by 7%.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on sustainable development, calculates an H+T Affordability Index that factors in the impact of transportation. It shows that there’s more to housing affordability than finding a roof to live under. 

For example, residents in Atlanta, a city known for its sprawl, spend on average 48% of their incomes on housing and transportation, according to the H+T Affordability Index. But people living in dense New York City only devote 39% of their incomes to housing and transportation.

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