House every person

Today there is no state, county, or city in the nation where a renter working full-time at minimum wage can afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment. This housing affordability crisis has persisted for decades without receiving the attention from elected leaders that it demands.

As rents continue to spike nationwide, we also face a shortage in the supply of affordable homes, for rent or for sale. Only one in four families at or below the poverty level who are eligible for assistance actually receive it. Decades of underinvestment in housing has left us with a shortfall of seven million homes affordable by the lowest-income families.

To ensure that every American has a roof over their head, we need to enshrine the right to fair, safe, and affordable housing in our Constitution. We need to guarantee that every president and every administration takes housing investment seriously. We need states and localities to do their part to identify and support the housing insecure. And we need our courts to protect the most vulnerable people and communities, instead of green-lighting eviction notices.

Where and how someone lives determines their access to quality health care, a decent education, a good job, a clean environment, and so much more. Yet housing is often treated as an afterthought in our public discourse. Over the generations we’ve made great strides to guarantee quality K-12 education to our children, to ensure our seniors can retire with dignity, and to close the gap for Americans who have no health insurance. But we have largely failed to guarantee the human right to a home for our citizens — even as our international peers show us it’s possible.

Housing investment increases economic mobility, decreases intergenerational poverty and racial inequality, and is the most cost-effective investment for combating childhood poverty. In fact, researchers at Harvard found that children who moved to neighborhoods with less poverty saw their earnings as adults increase by 31 percent relative to kids who didn’t move.

If there’s one lesson we should take away from this pandemic, it’s that we’re all in this together. We must heed that lesson now and guarantee by law the right to a safe, decent, and affordable home for all.

Julián Castro served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017.