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A country as wealthy as the United States should make affordable housing a right

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© Provided by The Hill

By Mark Plotkin, opinion contributor, The Hill

One issue which never seems to rise to any degree of national visibility is residential housing.

Yes, during local campaigns, you hear much talk about the "homeless crisis" and the need for "affordable housing." But these topics are almost never mentioned or brought up in a presidential campaign or even a U.S. Senate contest.

These supposed "local" matters, for some inexplicable reason, are deemed not "serious" enough for a national discussion.

This makes no sense. A roof over your head should be considered a national necessity. After having enough food to survive, what else could be so important?

On Sunday, The New York Times wrote a story on housing with the subtitle, "The nation's housing policy for the poor may feel like a lottery. Sometimes it is." The story, written by Emily Badger and Jim Wilson, chronicles the hopes of various individuals and families whose only desire is to have a decent and affordable place to live. It forcefully makes the point that the homeowners have a great deal while renters get the shaft. As the piece so starkly says, "the mortgage interest deduction is available to anyone who asks for it. ... For poor renters, there is never enough housing assistance to go around."

The federal government, when it comes to low-income renters, plays a very small role. Yes, there is public housing and vouchers, but that in no way approaches solving the problem or improving the situation.

Kate Hartley, director of San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, is quoted in the Times article. She sums it up with these clear words: "This country does have a national housing policy, and that is that we provide our greatest subsidies to relatively affluent, housed people."

It is pointed out in the article that "homeowners get the mortgage interest deduction, which has cost the government more than these programs for the poor combined."

So, housing policy by default becomes poor renters winning in a housing lottery.

Kirk McClure, a professor of urban planning at the University of Kansas, states that "these last-hope lotteries are a manifestation of the tragic reality ... (that) we have never in America made affordable housing a right."

A country as wealthy as the United States should make affordable housing a right. (Just as health insurance for everyone should be.) I know, that smacks of socialism. Call it what you want. But I make no apologies for wanting to live in a country where having a roof over your head and health insurance is a right, and funding it is a priority.

Some things can rightly be labeled as necessities. Why is it too much to ask the U.S. Congress and this president to face up to the fact that far too many individuals and families are consumed with worry and anxiety about how they are to pay next month's rent.

Rent subsidies and vouchers must be vastly expanded and increased.

To fund this program, institute the Tobin tax, in which every stock transaction is taxed, and put those billions of dollars into a true housing program for the non-well-off, so they can have housing.

We as a nation have become inured to "the homeless." It is a tragic, terrible plight that those who are working have to constantly worry that they won't have a place to call home.

This crisis can be solved. But, first, there must be recognition that the crisis exists.

Why is no U.S. senator given the title the "Affordable Housing Senator?" Why, during U.S. Senate debates, is not one question asked about housing? Why, during the presidential primary season, is the subject never ever mentioned, let alone debated?

Len Simon, head of Simon & Co.. a Washington, D.C., company that provides expert advice to city government, does offer a ray of hope. He perceptively points out that two former mayors - John Hickenlooper of Denver, now governor of Colorado, and Mitchell Landrieu of New Orleans - and present mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Bill de Blasio of New York City, are on the 2020 list of possible Democratic presidential candidates. One or all of them will surely bring up and, more importantly, advocate for the issue.

One could, perhaps, add a prominent senator and former mayor, Cory Booker of Newark.

It's time that this essential necessity be brought up and discussed, and plans made to rectify it. The unmentionable subject is too important to be relegated to academic journals and local campaigns. It needs to be an integral part of the political life of this nation.

Far too many people are hurting because elected officeholders refuse to pay attention and come up with remedies. The issue of housing cannot be ignored.

This indifference is dangerous to so many.

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