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Affordable Housing Concerns Continue in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School
July 21, 2020

As the coronavirus crisis continues, policymakers struggle to find solutions to a large number of issues that seemingly have no clear solution. While the primary concern is understandably on public health, secondary concerns have also entered the public discourse. Many individuals and families find themselves in dire economic situations, especially as unemployment numbers stay high. Issues that existed prior to the pandemic, such as a lack of affordable housing, have been exacerbated. In working to address these issues, we can look to public perceptions and experiences both before and during the pandemic.

To better understand the experience and perceptions of Virginians regarding housing issues, The Center for Public Policy within the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University has included relevant questions in the Summer 2019 Wilder School Commonwealth Polls. This poll was a representative sample of 816 adult Virginians, and was conducted by landline and telephone. It had an overall margin of error of 3.43 %age points.

According to the poll, more than three in four Virginians (78%) saw housing affordability as a problem in America, and almost half (47%) saw it as a very serious problem. The majority of participants, however, felt relatively stable and secure with their current housing situation. 47% said they felt very stable and secure and 33% said they felt fairly stable and secure. 13% felt somewhat stable and secure, while 6% felt fairly or very unstable and secure.

Women (51%) were more likely than men (42%) to see the problem as very serious, while men were more likely to say it is not a problem at all (21% versus 8% of women). Minorities were more likely to see the problem as very serious (58%) compared to 41% of whites. Democrats and independents were more likely to see affordability as a very serious problem (57% and 51% respectively) compared to Republicans (31%). Republicans (25%) were more likely to say it’s not a problem at all compared to 13% of independents and 7% of Democrats.

The poll also found that about one third (34%) of respondents said that they or someone they knew had been evicted, foreclosed upon or lost their housing in the past five years. When asked about perceptions of future housing costs, the majority of respondents felt that both the average rent in their area would increase (69%) as well as the average home price in their area (67%). 30% of respondents said that they have had to take on an additional job, or work more at their current job, to make housing payments in the past three years.

However, the majority of respondents said that they felt stable in their current housing situation. 60% owned their own home, while 35% rented and 4% reported that they lived with their parents. These numbers are comparable to percentages reported in a 2016 national survey on housing issues.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed seven pieces of legislation aimed at curbing evictions, and respondents seemed very supportive of additional policy measures. Three-fourths of Virginians (75%) supported changing laws to increase the length of time that renters have to pay past-due rent from seven to 14 days. And more than three-fourths of respondents (78%) would support legislation making it easier for tenants to withhold rent from landlords who don’t make necessary repairs in a specified amount of time. Only 12% opposed.

Those making less than $50,000 were more supportive (86%), compared to 79% of those with income of $50,000 to $100,000 and 70% of those with income over $100,000. Minorities (88%) were more supportive than whites (70%). Almost all Democrats (93%) were supportive of the change compared to 65% of independents and 58% of Republicans.

Support for these policies is encouraging, as it may indicate support for similar policies moving forward. As housing continues to be a challenge for Virginians and others across the nation, efforts have already been put into place to help alleviate the struggles many face in paying their rent and mortgages. The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, for example, has been providing financial relief to those facing eviction due to the coronavirus. By understanding how the public views issues related to affordable housing in the past, and by continuing to support current policies that provide financial relief, policymakers can keep more people in their homes and help to create a more stable future for all.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decision-making to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights, and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses, and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @CPPatVCU

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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