US voters press Congress candidates to fix housing crisis


By Makini Brice and Moira Warburton

(Reuters) – From suburban New York to rural Montana, candidates for U.S. Congress are getting an earful from voters stressed by stratospheric housing costs, interviews with Democratic and Republican campaigns and Reuters/Ipsos polling showed.

At campaign stops in his New York state district, Democratic U.S. Representative Pat Ryan said in an interview that people regularly complain about having trouble finding a house or apartment they can afford. He is seeking to hold his seat, one of a couple dozen tight races his party must win in the Nov. 5 elections if it is to capture a majority in the House of Representatives.

“I would say right now … in the whole region – the Hudson Valley north of New York City – the No. 1 point of economic pain and pressure is housing affordability,” said Ryan, who wants money from Democratic President Joe Biden‘s $1 trillion infrastructure law to aid housing construction.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll in May found voters rated the scarcity and cost of housing as their second-most important economic worry, after fears of stagnating income and rising prices.

Economic concerns are also central to the contest between Biden and Republican challenger Donald Trump. The winner’s ability to enact his agenda will hinge partly on who controls Congress.

Home prices nationally have risen about 50% in the last five years, with rent increases not far behind at 35%, according to real estate service firm Zillow. In Kingston, New York, about 100 miles (160 km) north of New York City and partly in Ryan’s district, home values are up by 75% while rents have risen 58% in that period.

Paying for the median U.S. home required 12% more of a household’s income in 2023 than in 2019 compared to a 1.3% increase over the prior four years, data from the Atlanta Fed showed.

While family incomes have risen, housing costs and inflation-driven increases in the prices of food and other essentials have erased those gains. Some families live in fear they will not be able to keep a roof over their heads.

“There’s little question that housing costs have gotten so far out of reach of so many,” said Republican Representative Marc Molinaro, whose New York district is considered by non-partisan analysts to be one of the country’s closest races.

SWING STATE PINCH

Metropolitan areas in a half-dozen of the most competitive states in November – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – saw an average increase in rents of 44% between 2019 and 2024, according to Zillow.

In Nevada, Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen, who is running for re-election, made a campaign ad in which she said: “We have to do something about the cost of housing. Nevada housing should be affordable for Nevada families.”

Her Republican rival, U.S. Army veteran Sam Brown, on social media called for reducing regulation to expedite home building and offering tax credits to individual home buyers.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat running for reelection, told Reuters she wants to impose a tax on investors who own more than 15 single-family homes. These buyers have bought and resold houses at dramatically increased prices. Tax proceeds would help build and maintain affordable housing units.

Eric Hovde, the leading contender for the Republican nomination to challenge Baldwin, said in an online video that immigration was exacerbating high housing costs.

Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester, one of the chamber’s most vulnerable Democrats, has highlighted housing affordability as a key issue, in his effort to hold off a challenge by Republican Tim Sheehy.

Arizona U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring independent Kyrsten Sinema, attributed the housing crisis in his state to stagnant wages, expensive materials, scarce construction labor and cash-rich retirees moving to the state.

His Republican rival, Kari Lake, also argued that immigration is contributing to the housing crunch.

At the federal level, Biden has proposed building and preserving over 2 million homes and a tax credit for first-time home buyers, but Congress has not taken those plans up.

The Republican-controlled House in January passed a bill that included tax credit expansion for low-income housing but it has stalled in the Democratic-majority Senate.

Mike Atkin, 66, once owned a home in Suffern, New York. But he lost it in a divorce and became homeless for about two years.

Now in a studio apartment for seniors after winning a lottery, Atkin said he was considering voting for Ryan, the Democrat, and housing will factor in his decision. “I want to vote for people that want to deal with this issue,” he said.

Political strategist Alyssa Cass of Slingshot Strategies, a Democrat who worked on Ryan’s previous campaign, said any candidate not talking about housing “within the first five minutes” was doomed to fail.

“In focus group after focus group, this is what they care about… ‘I can’t afford a home,'” Cass said. “How can anyone feel good about their economic situation when their housing is in crisis?”

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Moira Warburton, additional reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)



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