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Five Takeaways from the National Governors Association Panel on Housing

Arnold Ventures’ Executive Vice President of Infrastructure Charlie Anderson joined Republican and Democratic governors as they explored how to promote housing affordability in their states.

Charlie Anderson, Executive Vice President of Infrastructure at Arnold Ventures, joins state leaders from across the country to discuss the issue of homelessness at the 2024 meeting of the National Governors Association. (Courtesy of National Governors Association)

The United States has seen an unsustainable growth in housing costs over the past decade. State leaders from across the nation came together at the 2024 National Governors Association Winter Meeting to discuss this burden on families, workers, businesses, and the broader economy. Charlie Anderson, Arnold Ventures’ executive vice president of infrastructure, took part in this event as governors shared evidence-based solutions to building faster, better, and at lower cost. Here are five takeaways from the conversation. 

1. Housing affordability is a challenge in virtually every state

Whether red or blue, rural or urban, governors in states across the country are facing housing supply and affordability challenges for their residents. 

It is so much on our minds that when governors get together no matter what the scheduled topic is, it seems like we end up talking about housing,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. 

Polis also cited a recent editorial from the Washington Post that pointed out that more than 20 governors raised housing affordability in their state of the state addresses to their legislatures, underscoring the nationwide nature of the problem.

Housing affordability has routinely been a challenge in large, booming metros, but now even smaller cities and towns are grappling with the problem. 

A decade ago, acute housing costs were really concentrated in those coastal land-constrained cities — places like San Francisco and New York City,” said Anderson. But it has spread, and housing affordability is an issue all over the country for people at most income levels. Whether urban, suburban or rural, whether workforce or seniors, everyone is struggling in some way with the affordability of housing.”

At the event, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte pointed to the need for affordable housing in a city like Missoula, a thriving town of 50,000, and Oregon Governor Tina Kotek cited her efforts to set bold housing supply targets and pair those up with land use, zoning, and affordability measures to support homes for people at all income levels.

2. Addressing housing affordability requires a both-and approach

The consistent thread throughout the nation’s housing affordability crisis is the fact that we haven’t built enough supply to keep up with demand. 

The evidence is really strong here,” Anderson said. Restrictive zoning and regulations lead to fewer homes, that housing shortage leads to higher prices, and now we’re millions of homes short of where we need to be based on population growth to keep up after decades of underbuilding.” 

As a result, he explained, half of renters — 22 million households — pay more than 30% of their income on the rent each month and 12 million of those pay half of their income in rent. Homeownership costs, too, have skyrocketed. 

Every single state has seen house prices go up at least 25 percent since early 2020. Some have seen it rise as much as 60 percent in just four years.” 

Both Anderson and the governors expressed that we need a both-and” approach — both subsidies to support deeply affordable housing for the most vulnerable AND lower costs for building and expanding supply for market-rate and dedicated affordable housing. 

3. Republicans and Democrats are united in this cause

The panel of governors was politically diverse, yet they were united not only in identifying affordable housing as a top challenge, but also in identifying the solution: removing barriers to development. 

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek joined Gianforte in discussing how their state legislature acted to allow duplex, quadplex, and other denser developments in neighborhoods locally restricted to single-family units. And Utah Gov. Spencer Cox talked about how his state is trying to encourage the development small starter homes, no bigger than 1,400 square feet. 

At the conclusion of the panel, Cox noted, I hope we recognize how unique what just happened is in politics, in our country today… I don’t think anybody — being in the room right now, if they didn’t know who we were — would have known who was a Republican and who was a Democrat.” 

4. Americans haven’t had a real choice in housing

Often, people across the country aren’t provided with enough choices on the design of neighborhoods they can live in because of local land-use restrictions. What seems like a choice is often a concession to the lack of availability of other choices. 

There’s so much path dependency in our built environment that people don’t think about, so it seems like people are choosing a certain option when they’re not being provided choices that they would choose if they were there,” Anderson said.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum pointed to how families to travel to walkable cities for vacations but don’t have that opportunity back home. We built cities all across America that are designed for automobiles and not designed for people,” Burgum said. 

He also explained how car-focused design creates a financial burden for local governments who have to build and maintain the roads, sewers and other infrastructure necessary to support more sprawling design. 

5. Governors are learning from each other — and being rewarded for their work

The panel conversation revealed how much governors were talking with each other about best policy practices and political tactics in their push for affordable housing. For example, Gianforte shared a conversation he had with Polis explaining how he was able to pass sweeping reforms through the Montana legislature. 

My advice is that every time I got pushback from the left or the right in our legislature, I would say, Do we want our nurses, teachers, and police officers to live in the community where they work, and will this measure allow that to happen?’ ” he said. And in the end, that commonsense logic won the day.” 

While the political fights against the status quo can be difficult, politicians are learning that these efforts are paying off. 

I think you see over and over and over again when people make progress on this issue, they’re rewarded for it both by a better community and by people who say, Thank you,’” Anderson said.