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What the leading presidential candidates have to say about soaring housing costs

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

President Biden and former President Trump talk a lot about inflation. They don't talk as much about the main driver of it - housing. Millions of people are struggling with record-high costs of buying and renting homes. That's made housing a top concern for voters, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In rural North Carolina, 38-year-old Melissa Williams expected to be a homeowner by now. She's got a decent income in accounting and no debt. But when she started looking to buy in 2022, a lot of people were moving into her area to work remotely. Houses went fast.

MELISSA WILLIAMS: I would call the day it went on the market, and the real estate agent would tell me, yeah, I can show you that property, but just so you know, it's already got two cash offers on it.

LUDDEN: Cash offers priced her out. Then mortgage interest rates shot up, and it made her dream seem impossible. She turned to rentals, but those have also skyrocketed.

WILLIAMS: Now, you can't even get, like, a rundown trailer in a not very good area for less than $1,000 a month.

LUDDEN: Williams says something's got to change, and she's frustrated she doesn't hear more solutions from either President Biden or former President Trump. A Harvard poll this spring found housing among the top issues for young voters. And last month, it hit a new high in a Gallup survey on financial worries, second only to inflation.

SHAMUS ROLLER: This crisis is big.

LUDDEN: Shamus Roller directs the National Housing Law Project. He says housing costs now eat up such a large part of people's incomes, they feel the pressure on everything else.

ROLLER: It's more difficult to buy food, to buy medicine, to save for education and save for retirement. And so people feel the way that housing costs are impacting all the other dreams that they have about their lives.

LUDDEN: Rae Lathrop sees that at the food pantry she runs in Las Vegas. Her church started it after the pandemic hit, and she thought it would be temporary. But as inflation and rents spiked, people's struggles only grew.

RAE LATHROP: I feel like we're serving people so that they can stay in the community that they want to stay in.

LUDDEN: Nevada has one of the country's worst shortages of affordable housing. Las Vegas rents are 30% higher than before the pandemic, up way more than wages.

LATHROP: Lots of families brought in their parents or their siblings and their children to save costs, to help with care and probably all contribute to the household expenses.

(APPLAUSE)

LUDDEN: President Biden was in Las Vegas in March and did focus on housing. He touted how his administration provided billions in pandemic rental assistance, and he said expanded incentives and federal financing have helped spur record new construction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The bottom line to lower housing costs for good is to build, build, build.

LUDDEN: This year, Biden is proposing tax credits to help first-time and middle-income home buyers, though some real estate experts worry that could drive prices higher. He's also calling on Congress to pass tax credits and other measures to build and renovate 2 million affordable homes. That's an idea former President Trump pushes hard against.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: The woke left is waging full-scale war on the suburbs, and their Marxist crusade is coming for your neighborhood, your tax dollars, your public safety and your home.

LUDDEN: Trump opposes loosening zoning laws to allow more multifamily apartments. He says they bring down property values. Instead, he wants to open up some federal land for housing. That's something Nevada's Republican governor has asked for. And Trump says cracking down on the surge in migrants would help ease housing prices. But when it comes to affordable housing programs, Diane Yentel, who heads the National Low Income Housing Coalition, says the Trump administration proposed major funding cuts.

DIANE YENTEL: They looked to cut back on housing vouchers or to eliminate the Housing Trust Fund program, to cut back on public housing programs, all of which would exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis in our country.

LUDDEN: Back in North Carolina, Melissa Williams says at one point, she ended up kind of homeless, couch-surfing for nine months. Today, she feels lucky to be renting a house from her dad. But it's the same place where he plans to retire in a few years.

WILLIAMS: People my age, we all saw our our parents and what they had, and we want to be able to give our kids that, and we're not going to be able to.

LUDDEN: She says she's still saving up, but can't really imagine ever being able to buy a home. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAPSODY SONG, "ASTEROIDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jennifer Ludden
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.