Ever wonder why issues facing renters seem to be a low priority in government bodies?
Renters regularly see laws passed to benefit wealthier households; including federal tax breaks for homeowners, and zoning laws that exclude rental housing. This happens while Congress only provides enough Section 8 voucher funding each year to support a quarter of those who qualify.
One big reason for this issue is that low-income renters have little presence at any level of government. According to recent research, at least 93% of local, state, and federal office holders are homeowners.
The study also found that not only were people in prestigious federal offices mostly homeowners, but so were local officials. Among city council members, 89% were homeowners, compared with an average homeownership rate of 51% in the cities they served.
The research was conducted by Boston University and University of Georgia faculty. They wanted to know how well renters are represented among public officials. They combined a data set with information on more than 10,000 local, state, and federal officials with administrative data on property records. This allowed them to determine if officials owned their own homes, were likely to own their homes, or rented.
Public office has its benefits
Not only are public officials overwhelmingly homeowners, but their properties are much more valuable than others where they live. The properties of office holders were, on average, worth 50% more than the median home value in their ZIP codes.
The gap in home values grows even wider with higher office. Federal office holders and governors owned properties even more valuable compared with their neighbors.
Federal judges owned homes on average 76% more valuable than nearby properties. Senators had average property values 98% higher , and governors’ homes averaged 160% over neighboring properties.
Homeownership rates similar for elected officials
The researchers also wondered if there were differences between homeownership rates based on officials’ race or gender. They found that there was very little difference.
The study found that homeownership rates for white mayors were only slightly higher than for Black or Hispanic mayors. It also found that homeownership rates among local officials were identical for men and women.
Why does this matter?
Housing policy is made and enforced by officials at all levels of government. Local officials set zoning and building codes. States also pass laws regulating land use and provide funds for homelessness and affordable housing needs.
The federal government is involved in many aspects of housing. Congress makes laws and approves funding for everything from home mortgage guarantees to Fair Housing enforcement to Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.
When almost all public officials are homeowners, low-income renters often find themselves left out in the cold. The nation needs more rentals to solve the growing affordable housing crisis. Until more public officials know how hard it is to find an affordable apartment, housing policy will continue to favor homeowners over renters.