Housing Is for Everyone — No Exceptions

July 20, 2016

At the “Opening Doors” panel during the “Housing for All” conference sponsored by NAR, moderator Sherri Meadows, 2016 NAR vice president, discusses issues with panelists (from left) Megan Hustings, interim director with the National Coalition for the Homeless; Marietta Rodriguez, vice president for national homeownership programs with NeighborWorks America; and Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

What a difference a roof makes.

At a symposium in Washington, D.C., this week, the National Association of REALTORS® shed light on the plight of individuals and families facing homelessness and housing insecurity.

“Tonight, you and I will lay our heads on a pillow with a roof over our heads, yet 500,000 people in our nation will not,” said NAR Vice President Sherri Meadows, citing data on homelessness from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2015 HUD report showed the number of homeless was declining, Meadows told symposium participants, yet the number of U.S. families living with housing insecurity is on the rise. “According to the Center for Housing Policy’s Housing Landscape 2016 Report, in 2014, some 17.6 million households were severely burdened by housing expenditures, spending more than half of their income on housing costs,” she said.

Meadows, an Ocala, Fla., practitioner, spearheaded the July 18–19 symposium, which focused on finding solutions and opening hearts. Panelists explored the causes of homelessness and discussed creative approaches to expanding affordable housing. Participants toured a supportive housing facility, which combines housing with social services, and packed more than 30,000 meals in a “Meals of Hope” food packing event. Speakers included Dick Larimer, senior content manager for Make Room, a project that gives voice to renters and elevates rental housing issues, and Jeremy Cowart, whose Purpose Hotel kickstarter campaign is an intersection between philanthropy, entrepreneurship, empowerment, and design.

Opening the conference, NAR President Tom Salomone said, “We are honored to join forces with so many housing industry leaders, practitioners, and others who are making strides to fight homelessness and to develop effective affordable housing solutions. As REALTORS®, we see it as our job to help build and maintain healthy and strong communities that are accessible and welcoming for everyone, no matter the income level.”

Focus on Action

Matching words to action is a hallmark of REALTORS®. After the 2008 market crash, the National Association of REALTORS® worked closely with lawmakers and regulators to drive a housing recovery and seek relief for Americans who were underwater. But in recent years, with rents and housing prices soaring in many parts of the country — in many cases beyond their pre-crash peak — the recovery has left millions of Americans struggling to find safe, affordable housing. REALTORS® see those struggles every day, and in May, NAR’s Housing Opportunity Committee proposed, and the board of directors approved, a policy supporting “cost-effective” and “evidence-based” approaches to ending homelessness.

A fall REALTOR® Magazine article (“A Dream Too Far,” November/December 2015) highlighted some of the causes, chiefly the economic disparity that’s at the root of housing insecurity. In that article, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun commented on the growing income gap and its effects on homeownership: “It’s certainly not in the interest of broader America,” Yun told managing editor Meg White, “and it’s something that everyone should be concerned about.”

Meadows said she felt charged by the association’s decision to take up the cause. “Years ago, we were talking about the housing ladder and the importance of getting on that first rung of homeownership,” Meadows said. “Well, we need to lower that first rung because too many of our families and our veterans are without a roof over their heads — or they’re just a paycheck or two from homelessness.”

In fact, REALTORS® around the country are leading the charge on housing opportunity, often with the support of NAR grants. In Austin, Texas, REALTORS® have been helping to meet the housing needs of veterans. In Central Virginia, REALTORS® helped Culpeper County officials update a 1964 comprehensive housing plan. In Florida, Meadows made reducing family homelessness one of her key priorities when she led the Florida REALTORS® in 2014. These and other efforts are discussed in depth in the summer issue of NAR’s On Common Ground magazine.

What real change can REALTORS® hope to make? Meadows pointed to speaker Jeremy Cowart’s remarkable “I’m possible” video for a lesson on what one person can accomplish. “It’s about the effort,” she said. “I like to use the Mother Teresa quote: ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’”