For the first time ever during a national presidential debate, a question about housing affordability was asked of the candidates last fall in Atlanta and again last month in South Carolina. Like they never have before, voters are raising the issue of housing affordability at town halls and meetings with the candidates all around the country, and candidates are responding with ambitious plans to address the shortage of affordable apartments.

Why? Because across our nation, millions of families are struggling to find safe, accessible, affordable homes. There are far too many who cannot afford to keep roofs over their heads and who are spending most of their incomes on rent, leaving them few resources for other basic necessities such as food, medications and child care – and, in the worst cases, pushing them into homelessness.

Now more than ever, candidates for public office must recognize the severe shortage of affordable homes and tell us their plans to combat the crisis. Our lack of affordable housing is solvable – as a nation, we have the resources.

There is a nationwide shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters – seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, low-wage workers and others. For every 10 of the lowest-income households, fewer than four rental homes are affordable and available, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and just one in four deeply poor families that qualify for housing assistance receives any. Every state and community in the country – urban, rural and suburban – is affected. Maine lacks 20,086 affordable and available homes for extremely low-income renter households. Approximately 53 percent of these households in Maine are spending more than half of their modest incomes on rent.

Maine voters – like voters all over the country – are demanding solutions. According to a poll commissioned by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 85 percent of people in America believe that ensuring everyone has a safe, accessible and affordable home should be a top national priority, and 8 in 10 want to see significant action from Congress and the White House. Seventy-six percent say they are more likely to vote for a candidate with a detailed plan for addressing the housing affordability crisis. Voters want to see action, and they want the candidates to share what they will do in office.

That’s why local, state and national organizations are joining forces on Our Homes, Our Votes: 2020, a nonpartisan voter and candidate engagement project. We are registering, educating and mobilizing more low-income renters to vote, and we are urging all candidates for public office – presidential, state and local – to tell voters what actions they will to take to end homelessness and housing poverty in America.

Avesta Housing has partnered with the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center to register voters directly affected by the housing affordability crisis in Maine. Volunteers recently took part in a voter registration drive in Lewiston and registered voters at 25 Avesta properties in the Portland area. Additional efforts are being planned in other areas of the state.

While registering voters is a critical step in ensuring that the housing crisis continues to rise to the top of national political discussions, moderators of all candidate debates – including the presidential debates – should ask the candidates the issue that is at top of the minds of voters: How will they address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in America? Voters want answers, because affordable homes are built with ballots.

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