Affordable housing gets ignored on the campaign trail. The issue rarely surfaces during debates and in speeches.
That changed at least for a day when six presidential candidates appeared at the New Hampshire Housing Summit sponsored by the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families and the Bipartisan Policy Center on Friday.
Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley, George Pataki, and Rand Paul appeared separately throughout the day to discuss housing issues.
Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, was asked why housing doesn’t receive more attention from candidates and the media.
“I can be cynical and say that it doesn’t create conflict among the players on the stage, and that’s probably part of it,” said the Republican.
It’s also hard for people “to get their arms around it,” he added, saying that someone who lives a gated community and has stable housing probably doesn't understand the problem.
O’Malley, the lone Democratic candidate to appear at the event, offered a solution to help meet the demand for affordable housing—doubling the low-income housing tax credit.
Christie, the governor of New Jersey, noted that his administration has had a good relationship with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “I think part of the reason is because of Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “This made affordable housing a much, much different circumstance for us because we lost 365,000 homes in 24 hours.”
HUD's importance grew after the storm because the agency administers Community Development Block Grants and other tools used in the disaster recovery. That worked paved the way for better understanding overall.
“We’ve now found that our relationship with HUD on Sec. 8 issues has become even better because we’ve developed those relationships,” Christie said, stressing the importance of building ties.
Christie, who has been involved in a long fight with housing advocates in his state, said as president he would get together governors of the most needy states and say to them "What do I need to do on the federal side to get you moving in your state? What is it about HUD policy now that prevents you from doing things and doing them more quickly?"
Christie was also pressed on why housing isn’t discussed more as a solution to income inequality and other problems faced by families.
“I think it’s going to take changes in law and approach, right?” he said. “The reason the money is going where it’s going now is that’s where the law says it should go. I think the reason that you don’t have a lot of discussion about it is because it’s not the sexiest issue in the world to talk about, and it kind of depresses people.”
When people hear about a family that is homeless or on the verge of homelessness, they don’t make the correlation to health or education, according to Christie.
“We don’t make that correlation because it’s also one of the really ugly undersides of American society that we don’t want to talk about,” he said.
The housing summit was a way to start the conversation.
J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families was founded to “recalibrate federal housing policy so that it more effectively addresses our nation’s critical housing challenges.” One of the country’s most successful developers, Terwilliger is chairman emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential Co., a national residential real estate company.
Editor's Note: The reporter watched a live web stream of the event.