Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Trending on social media has been a curious hashtag posing a question about what will happen to housing in our country, as we experience the fallout of COV-19. For the most part, the hashtag has been people pondering aloud about whether the crash coming will be like the one we experienced in 2009, or worse. It doesn't take a market or housing economist to figure out that something has to give when millions of Americans are out of work (with a record number filing for unemployment); when more than a third of renters failed to pay rent this past April 1st; a wave of rent strikes are just getting started, and businesses of all sizes are shuttered for the foreseeable future. Many people even within the housing sector are asking this question too, so it makes total sense that this hashtag would be trending.
What has been much more interesting to me about this hashtag and the social media coverage of this, are the average, everyday Americans, beginning to express anticipatory glee at the prospect that a crash is on the way. No, they aren't gluttons for punishment or celebrating because they wish ill on the country. If you read their posts carefully, you'll see that they simply "want in" on the economic prosperity happening in the economy and in the housing sector. And they don't think they can do that without the economic market taking a serious nosedive!
If you said, HUH? when you read those tweets, you haven't talked to very many young people or low-income people across the country lately. In the work that I do, gathering up community voices and sharing them with policymakers from places across the country, this has been one of the most consistent findings in my research. So many people are pessimistic about the prospects of any relevant social change efforts that they believe only something catastrophic can change what's happened to housing. And I have heard some doozies - people wishing for an economic downturn, a tech-burst, a natural disaster or an outbreak of some illness (now they'd just say a “pandemic”). I’ve watched hundreds of people in communities all across the United States literally fantasize about the possibility that they might be “lucky enough” on the next downturn, to buy when the “market is down”.
And when I push them a bit further, asking for clarity, “Hey, do we really need a major catastrophic event to fix what is broken in housing and to get us back to some semblance of better housing options for working people across this community? The answer is usually...yes. Not a gleeful yes, but usually the slow painful kind that says people are resigned to the idea that it will take pain inflicted by something for us to change course.
They don't have faith that our policymakers can turn this around. They don’t have faith that corporations or developers (who they assume to have a vested stake in the status quo) will turn this around. And they don’t believe that political parties, nonprofits or other “do gooders” are enough of a counter-vailing power to do much good either. So, many have literally taken to the idea that something extraordinary in the “invisible hand of the market” is the only thing that can give them a shot at a decent place to live.
So, what’s the good news? Yes, there is some good news to share here, I wouldn’t leave you with only the challenging news! The news that makes me optimistic is that, today the ENTIRE COUNTRY IS BEING INUNDATED WITH NARRATIVES ABOUT WHY HOUSING MATTERS! If you’ve watched any commercial, gotten on social media, or other public facing organizational announcements, you already know this.
From major retailers like Microsoft, Tylenol, Ikea, as well as health organizations, government agencies, nonprofit groups, houses of worship, sports leagues, popular vloggers, everyone – you will see consistent messaging about the importance of our homes. This is GREAT news because this narrative puts us on solid ground to reshape (actually, to remind people at all levels of our communities) of what we’ve been saying for decades. Our homes (whether we are renters, homeowners, in shelters, couch-surfing or in tents) are the very foundations of our wellbeing – collectively and individually. My health is dependent on yours and my housing stability is also dependent on yours!
Let’s add more power to this narrative – it’s not JUST that housing matters and that our housing stability is dependent on those around us, it is also that we need our systems to change to ensure that a broader range of housing options are available in our communities!
To that end, @TheCaseMade we are working with hundreds of social changemakers across the country who are learning the skills of what it takes to pull people out of the cynicism of this moment and proving that system change can happen without catastrophe.
Policies matter, still!
Elections matter, still!
Investments in community health and affordable housing, matter, still!
Community organizing matters, still!
And while we do not know what will happen over the coming months in the housing sector just yet, those of us who have been in this rodeo before know that even a housing market crash doesn't get you very far, if you aren't prepared with the policies, partnerships, and community engagement that results in systems change for the better! So, we have no choice but to lean forward to change the systems that continue to put us in such dire circumstances!
As I have said before, those of us who were working in the housing sector were not prepared to change the narrative around housing in 2009 during the last #housingcrash, and because of that, even after the crash we were left with an even worse set of circumstances when all was said and done. This time - we have better narratives at our disposal!
And one thing I know for sure, WE SHOULDN'T NEED A #HousingCrash TO MAKE HOMES AVAILABLE AND ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE AT ALL INCOME LEVELS, IN ALL COMMUNITIES!
Simply, We Can Do Better!
Share with us how you are elevating constructive narratives in this environment of uncertainty! We'd love to hear from you!
I'm no market or housing economist but the writing is on the wall. It may not be a full on housing crash, but we will have to reckon with what's happening with housing today. Even before the fallout of the COV-19 virus began, most cities and towns in the United States were woefully limited in the affordable homes available to people at low-to mid-income streams. But I know this...We Shouldn't Need a #HousingCrash for People to Afford to Buy or Rent a Home...
Dr. Tiffany Manuel works with hundreds of passionate social changemakers, innovators and adaptive leaders around the United States who are building better, stronger communities that are diverse, equitable and inclusive. She’s literally written the book on public will building – Strategic CaseMaking™: The Field Guide for Building Public and Political Will. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @DrTiffanyManuel.