Housing Is In Crisis. Who’s Listening?

July 6, 2021

Nationwide, the United States has been undergoing a major housing crisis for many years now – perhaps for decades, depending on who you ask. In major job-generating areas, like the Triangle, Triad or Charlotte, the housing crunch was already particularly acute – and then, COVID struck. Those with the means to do so began snapping up houses, leaving available housing inventory at near-historic lows. According to Zillow, just in the Raleigh metro area, available housing inventory is down 54% just from last year and 38% of homes sold are going above-listing price. (That is roughly triple the rate it was in January 2020.) This pattern is not an aberration – instead, it is an example of the widespread crisis of housing affordability across North Carolina and the country.

In the latest Carolina Forward poll, a broad consensus of respondents affirmed to us that housing is a major local concern – and that they want state leaders to act on it.

By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, North Carolina voters overall say that affordable housing is a major problem in their community, with a broad alignment across almost every major cohort:

We see clear evidence that this expressed concern penetrates into voter policy positions, as well. We also asked respondents whether they would support action on affordable housing from the state level that overrode local control. By a narrower but still wide margin, voters said they would:

Housing policy is a famously complicated issue, and one that bubbles up in some way to every level of government. Ultimately, however, building housing becomes a local issue, with local decisionmakers - city councils, county commissions, planning commissions and more - put in the position of approving or disapproving projects. The system overall has many so-called “veto points,” or places in which stakeholders - some elected, and some not - have the power to stop a proposed project. In practice, this has resulted in many such stakeholders exercising their vetoes to stop new housing from being built.

In recent years, the (in)famous NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”) voter position has been joined by a counter-movement known as YIMBYs (“Yes, In My Backyard”). There are even YIMBY chapters, such as those in Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham. These generally advocate loudly in favor of housing density and affordability - and we’re big fans.

These findings contradict the conventional assumption that affordable housing is solely, or even primarily, a big city problem. While urbanites were overwhelmingly likely to report concern about housing, even a big majority of rural residents were as well.

We found only very weak differences across age cohorts on this issue. However, one cross-tab where significant differences did arise were in household income:

(An important note here about our breakdowns on household income: we sample only registered voters in North Carolina, not the overall population. Read all about our poll sampling here. A majority of these respondents are in the <$30,000 and $30,000 - $75,000 groups, which tracks with the state median household income of $54,600.)

Our takeaway is that there is a clear income/class split on the housing issue. Generally, wealthier people do not perceive affordable housing to be as big a problem in their communities, and more strongly oppose efforts to build more if it means threatening local veto authority.

Wealthier people also tend to be older, but our polling did not bear out significant age-based differences in these questions. It appears to be more the case that the key influence factor is wealth, which is strongly connected to a person having secure housing already. Given the high degree of housing segregation by wealth (and also, therefore, race), these residents may thus be less likely to perceive a housing problem because they restrict their definition of “community” to their fellow wealthy, homeowning neighbors. Wealthy homeowners may be quite satisfied with the state of housing today - but the majority of “have-nots” plainly disagree.

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