I've worked in housing and policy advocacy for more than a decade. I've spent much of my career at Enterprise Community Partners, a Columbia, Md.-based nonprofit that lends funds, finances development and advocates for smarter public policy across the country so that all people can access decent, affordable homes.
At Enterprise, I was previously chief of staff to President & CEO Terri Ludwig and before that deputy director of public policy.
It was an interesting time to be an advocate on Capitol Hill. We made a lot of progress on green building policies and helping many of the neighborhoods that were affected during the foreclosure crisis.
But, it was a challenging time on federal spending, a situation that's become even more dire as Congress continues to make short-sighted cuts to critical programs.
I've also been a public policy fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. and did a stint at ABC News in New York, field reporting for the investigative unit.
We launched Make Room in May 2015 to put renters on the agenda at the federal, state and local levels.
I manage a small D.C.-based team of advocacy communications experts to do just that.
Our first goal has been to educate people about what's happening out there.
This is especially important given that many of our nation's leaders are homeowners who lack firsthand experience of what's going on right now in the rental market.
Few people realize the scale of the problem: 11 million households, or one in 10 of all U.S. households, are paying more than half of their incomes for rent.
There's a mismatch between what people are earning and how much they're forced to spend to keep roofs over their heads.
For change to happen, we need to expand the group of people who see themselves as part of the solution.
Our second goal is to promote policies and innovative ideas that will help solve this problem.
Some of those are about supply -- we simply need more rental homes that are intentionally affordable to people who are earning less money.
We have a lot statistics and data available about the nation's renters. But we also know that it takes more than facts and figures to push for change.
So, we launched a documentary series that follows families struggling to make rent in communities across the country.
To bring attention to these stories, we're partnering with top musicians, many of whom have personal experience with not knowing where the rent money is coming from.
We are working with employers, policymakers, nonprofit organizations and advocates to give a voice to Americans struggling to make rent. Enterprise is the sponsoring partner.
We're very fortunate to have the collaboration and resources of partners like the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
This fall, we announced a new partnership with CohnReznick, the accounting and tax firm, which is helping to get the word out about Make Room in the housing industry and beyond.
We've also been fortunate to have the collaboration of great musicians like Miguel and Carly Rae Jepsen who have donated their time and performed for our Concerts for the 1st; as well as the actor and Enterprise board member, Edward Norton, who has narrated some of our films.
We're always doing fund-raising.
Educating our leaders, pressuring them to make changes and mobilizing advocates to help takes a lot of resources. If any readers would like to give to Make Room or some of the families who've told their stories through our series, see www.crowdrise.com/MakeRoom!
We're constantly in motion, trying new things to see what's going to get us the biggest impact.
The whole team is always mindful that there are real people out there not able to make rent right this minute, which keeps us motivated.
We've met a lot of folks in this situation as we're traveling the country to find stories for our documentary series.
That's both the great part -- meeting families, hearing their stories and helping them tell them to the world -- and the hard part because people are going through tough times.
When I'm not working on the documentary series, I'm talking with potential partners, helping to build our advocacy network by speaking about Make Room across the country and of course, fund-raising.
Like any other start-up, we need funding to achieve our vision -- that no one falls into homelessness because they can't make rent.
Nationally, 11 million families, or one in four of the 42 million U.S. renter households, spend at least half their income on rent and utilities, before taxes.
Housing experts consider that to be a "severe" burden.
So why do we care? Terrible dilemmas result when families are in this situation.
I've met working families that are scraping together rent, but have barely any furniture.
I've met dads who have to sit down and choose which utility bills to pay each month.
And, I've met a 60-year-old grandma who was laid off from an otherwise steady job and couldn't afford her rent. She lost her apartment and is living in a homeless shelter as a result.
No one should have to make such difficult tradeoffs to keep a roof over their heads, or be forced into homelessness.
From an economic perspective, financially-strapped families are finding it impossible to save for a rainy day or longer-term goals like buying a home.
Unfortunately, the latest forecasts project the situation for renters in America will get significantly worse in the coming decade, with the number of severely troubled renters potentially rising as high as 15 million by 2025.
One big challenge is explaining complicated economic and financial issues and motivating people to act and get involved.
We've tried to do this through telling stories of how real people are being affected, which means shining a light on what's happening behind closed doors.
It can be hard for people to share deeply personal stories about their struggles.
When we promote solutions, it's important to understand that the rental housing crisis isn't simply the result of market forces that are inevitable and impossible to reverse.
They reflect the policies that we've chosen as a country -- about taxes, about zoning, land use, and the size of the safety net for those with fewer means.
There are solutions that will expand the supply of affordable and market-rate homes, and those that will help families keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets to be able to afford rent.
Solving this problem once and for all will take the public, private, and nonprofit sectors working together at all levels.
We fundamentally believe that this will be possible when we elevate this issue on our collective agendas.
People see headlines that the median rent for a two-bedroom in San Francisco has hit $5,000, which is unfathomable -- but that's only part of the story.
When it comes to the percentage of income people are spending on rent, the most hard-hit places are those where wages are very low and rents continue to rise, like Florida.
No community is immune, even those that are typically thought of as affordable.
For example, in my home state of Kansas, which isn't thought of as a particularly expensive state, one in five renters have to pay at least half of their income on rent.
Working families with jobs critical to local economies are most affected by the rental affordability crisis, including nursing aides, retail workers and those in the food service industry.
There are also two million senior households in this situation -- and nearly one million of them are elderly women living alone whose average age is 79.
In the coming decades, the population is expected to further shift toward renting. We believe our nation's policies should shift to reflect that reality.
We must expand the supply of rental housing, make sure renters are paid fair salaries and boost America's investment in rental housing.
We are pushing at the local level for inclusionary zoning -- a policy requiring developers to include some affordable units in new buildings or contribute to funds to build affordable homes elsewhere in the community.
And, we need to examine and remove local regulations that impede development of rental homes, both single-family and apartment buildings.
Every community can and should make room.
Becoming a more dense place doesn't mean your neighborhood will look like Manhattan. It means every community member will be able to afford a place to live to raise their families and retire with dignity.
You'll see us continue to make the case for change through data analysis and through storytelling, including through film.
You'll also see us working closely with local partners in a few places to amplify and accelerate policy changes at the state and local levels.
Angela Boyd is managing director of the Make Room campaign and serves as vice president of Advocacy at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., a nonprofit social enterprise that has invested $16 billion toward nearly 320,000 affordable homes nationwide. Previously, Angela served as chief of staff for Enterprise President & CEO Terri Ludwig. Angela joined Enterprise in 2004 as legislative & policy analyst and was promoted to legislative & policy director in 2006 and deputy director of public policy in 2007. In that position, she managed Enterprise's government relations and legislative affairs. Prior to joining Enterprise, Angela was a public policy fellow at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. She has worked on Capitol Hill and at several non-profit organizations in Washington. Angela earned her bachelor's degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University and her master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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