Over the past year, NAHB's "Building the Dream" series — in partnership with The Hill — has explored various factors contributing to the housing affordability crisis. Although the crisis had been a longstanding issue prior to COVID-19, the current pandemic has altered the situation in many cases, including delays in supply chains, labor shortages and increased interest in the suburbs, that have had a further impact on the cost of housing. The Hill's Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons this week explored the current conditions of housing affordability with policymakers and industry leaders during the series' final event.
Having access to a safe, affordable housing has been a paramount concern during the pandemic for both home owners and renters. Forbearance and rental assistance have provided short-term relief in the immediate wake of COVID-19, but additional assistance is still needed to prevent families from slipping into poverty, along with longer-term solutions to address overall affordability.
"There are millions of people in this country who are very vulnerable to any setback in terms of what they can do to stay in a safe, affordable, accessible home," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, shared. "We first need to deal with eviction, but we absolutely need a housing policy that will encourage partnerships in building more housing … Housing has gotten so expensive in metropolitan areas but so cheap in many ways in other places still, and we've got a find a ways to encourage growth in those areas."
Supply is a key factor of the affordability crisis, echoed Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance. To build more housing, though, requires investments to attract younger workers to home building's aging workforce.
"We're seeing a graying workforce in the skilled trades," he stated. "We aren't training enough people in the trades. We've got to work on that. We’ve got an opportunity to do some bipartisan legislation on workforce development."
The other key factor is simplifying building codes to reduce the cost of building homes.
Rep. Stivers noted: "About 30% of the cost is increased by local building codes, and if we could figure out how to simplify and get some model codes across the country for workforce housing — still making sure we keep it safe and still making sure that the codes are done in a way that encourages quality building — we could cut the price of workforce housing by 30%, which is a giant cut. That's the single biggest driver of the affordability crisis."
Home builders are well aware of these challenges, and NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke and NAHB Third Vice Chairman Alicia Huey shared how the industry has been educating policymakers on these issues and collaborating with them to make improvements.
"We've got to continue those conversations," Huey stressed, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has made connecting with lawmakers more challenging. "We've got to make sure they understand what we're facing and what the challenges of the American Dream are."
A full replay of the event is available above. For more content from the series, visit nahb.org.