Americans Want More Affordable Housing — Just Not Nearby

A quarter of parents across the country have struggled to afford housing in the past 12 months, reflecting a broader problem with housing access amid persistent inflation. These conditions are only adding to America’s ongoing homelessness crisis. While homelessness decreased nationally between 2007 and 2016, trends have since reversed. More than half a million Americans were homeless in January 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new era of uncertainty and joblessness that still lingers.

Generally, Americans support tackling housing insecurity, with 71 percent saying that it should be at least an important priority for Congress to pass legislation growing the housing supply and improving housing affordability. But research also suggests that while Americans want more kinds of infrastructure to reduce homelessness, far fewer want those resources close to where they themselves live.

Earlier this year, YouGov surveyed Americans about building almost 40 kinds of developments, ranging from country clubs to waste management facilities. Regarding social infrastructure, 85 percent of Americans supported building homeless shelters somewhere in the United States. However, when they were asked about building shelters in their own local area, support was over 20 percentage points lower. Support for low-income housing followed a similar pattern, with broad approval for building it someplace in the country (82 percent) but much less for building it locally (65 percent).

This discrepancy isn’t necessarily new or surprising, however. More recently, we’ve seen it play out in American cities throughout the pandemic. For example, in New York City’s Upper West Side, the city temporarily housed homeless people in unoccupied hotel rooms. But after local homeowners and renters protested, the city relocated many of the people to other neighborhoods.

“At some level, people want to look good. And so when asked if they support low-income housing, people say yes. But when that housing gets closer and closer, then people start to think about tangible impacts,” said Shomon Shamsuddin, a professor of social policy at Tufts University. “It no longer becomes something they choose to support in theory. They perceive it as something forced on them by somebody else.” 

But it’s more than just optics. Ultimately, pushback against affordable housing tends to draw on the assumption that such housing raises crime rates, because people tend to believe the poor are more likely to commit crimes, Shamsuddin said. However, research suggests that an increase in temporary shelters, like tents, for unhoused people in a given area does not track with an increase in nearby property crime. And that misconception points at an underlying question: Do Americans view homelessness as a crime issue or as a poverty issue?

The aforementioned YouGov poll implies that Americans believe that the people who need affordable housing options are less desirable to have in one’s community. And this idea goes beyond individual citizens. For example, many local governments have focused on using police force and the law to deal with homelessness, destroying encampments of unhoused people.

“Even the term ‘affordable housing’ comes out of an effort to make people more comfortable,” said Shamsuddin. “‘Low-income housing’ has certain [negative] connotations.” 

And so stigma continues to lurk over affordable housing, even as access to it has become a pressing concern for so many people.

Other polling bites

  • Former President Donald Trump is the least popular he’s been since July 2015, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Only 31 percent of registered voters had a positive opinion of him, while nearly twice as many (59 percent) had a negative opinion. Though much of that split is partisan, his numbers among Republicans are also on the decline: Only 70 percent of registered Republican voters see him in a positive light, his lowest in-party popularity since March 2016. And as Trump looks toward a 2024 presidential bid, 70 percent of registered voters said they would not like to see him become the Republican nominee.
  • This is the third holiday season since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and most Americans no longer consider the virus a factor in planning their festivities. A CivicScience survey conducted Nov. 13-Dec 12 found that just 8 percent of Americans expected COVID-19 to affect their holiday plans “a lot” — down from 13 percent in 2021 and from 45 percent in 2020. Roughly the same share said they’d “definitely” be spending Christmas with their friends and family this year (60 percent) as said so in 2021 (57 percent); both these figures were notably higher than the share who reported the same in 2020 (29 percent).
  • About half of Americans either somewhat (22 percent) or strongly approved (26 percent) the United States’s prisoner exchange with Russia that freed American basketball player Brittney Griner last week, per a YouGov survey. Support for the exchange was especially high among Democrats (71 percent), compared with only 34 percent among Republicans. Additional YouGov data found that 49 percent of Americans believed that the Russian justice system unfairly treated Griner, who was arrested early this year on drug trafficking charges related to carrying a personal supply of medical marijuana and was subsequently sentenced to more than nine years in a penal colony.
  • A recently released survey from Pew Research Center found that 25 percent of American parents of K-12 students said racism and racial inequality come up in conversations with their kids very or fairly often. Meanwhile, around 7 in 10 parents said the topics either arise sometimes (39 percent) or rarely, if ever (28 percent). Among Democratic parents of K-12 children, 34 percent said race-related topics come up at least fairly often, while the same frequency was reported by just 15 percent of Republican parents.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 51.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -8.3 points). At this time last week, 42.1 percent approved and 52.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.5 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 41.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.6 points.

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