The J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting more effective national housing policy, is launching its inaugural initiative to bring housing policy issues to the forefront as the 2016 presidential race gets underway

The Foundation wants to bring the "silent" housing crisis of rising rents and diminished access to homeownership into the national conversation.

Housing and mortgage finance reform remain backburner issues for too many policymakers, who are content to tinker around the edges or grandstand with empty rhetoric. This lack of reform has a measurable impact on the housing and finance industry, as well as the economy in general and millions of potential homeowners in particular.

The newly launched Foundation wants to serve as a catalyst in pushing housing to the top of the nation's domestic policy agenda.

As a first step, it will seek to inject housing as a central issue in the upcoming Presidential primaries. 

Further, with its launch, the Foundation is releasing the first in a series of white papers, The Silent Housing Crisis: A Snapshot of Current and Future Conditions.

“Millions of families are confronted by a rental market they can no longer afford and a homeownership market for which they do not qualify. Absent a comprehensive and sustained policy response, these problems of affordability and access will continue to worsen due to powerful demographic changes,” said J. Ronald Terwilliger, the Foundation’s chairman and founder. “For far too long, the desperate situation in housing has been largely ignored by our nation’s leaders and the media, and it’s time to break the silence.”  

“Safe, affordable housing is a basic human right and for too many Americans is an issue of daily concern. The pendulum of public policy has swung back and forth in recent years, at times too far in favor of homeownership, and at others pushing people into rental in ways that have driven up prices and taxed the supply of affordable workhouse housing.  Finding the right balance is critical to the future of this nation – its people and its economy – and the Terwilliger Foundation has brought together the right people to offer reasonable, workable recommendations to the policymakers who will ultimately shape the future of housing in this country,” said Mortgage Bankers Association CEO and President David Stevens.

Other leaders and advisors agreed the issue is critical, and that this Foundation was the best chance to bring it to the forefront.

“As a business leader, philanthropist, and innovative policy thinker, Ron Terwilliger has had a tremendously positive impact on housing in our country. It’s a great privilege for me to join him in this worthy effort,“ said Henry Cisneros. “The rising cost of rental housing, along with the diminishing homeownership prospects for millions of families, are matters of urgent national concern. I look forward to working with Ron and my colleagues in elevating these issues to the national stage and proposing solutions of our own.”

Scott Brown added: “One of the short-term goals of the Foundation is to ensure that housing becomes a central issue in the upcoming presidential primaries. By encouraging the candidates of both parties to lay out their plans to improve the housing situation in our country, we will establish a solid platform for a comprehensive legislative response.”

More than one in four renter households spend in excess of 50% of their incomes just on housing. A major factor contributing to these unsustainable housing cost burdens is the acute shortage of affordable rental homes. “Housing costs are rising and median incomes have declined over the past ten years. A crisis is brewing and it’s not going to be corrected if our leaders aren’t talking about it and offering solutions,“ said Rick Lazio. “We are committed to a strong, specific and meaningful discussion that must begin with the tragic unavailability of affordable rental housing.”  

The national homeownership rate stands at a 22-year low. The homeownership rates for younger households, who traditionally account for most first-time homebuyers, have dropped precipitously. The rates for minority families have also plummeted, wiping out nearly all the gains achieved over the past two decades. “For more than a hundred years, American families rented, saved, then bought their first home – a giant step into the middle class. Today a trifecta of barriers blocks that first step: unaffordable rents, tight credit, and low wages. I look forward to working with my Foundation colleagues to identify ways to topple these roadblocks,” said Nic Retsinas.

Joining Terwilliger on the Foundation’s Executive Committee are Scott Brown, the former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts; Henry Cisneros, chairman of the CityView companies and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary; Rick Lazio, partner at Jones Walker LLP and former U.S. Representative from New York; and Nic Retsinas, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and former commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration. The Foundation’s President is Pamela Patenaude, who most recently served as director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission.

The Foundation’s bipartisan Advisory Board includes Carin Barth, president of LB Capital, Inc.; Ed Brady, first vice chairman of the National Association of Home Builders; Raphael Bostic, professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California; Alfred Dellibovi, former president of the New York Federal Home Loan Bank; Carol Galante, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and former FHA commissioner; Renee Lewis Glover, chair of Habitat for Humanity International; Bart Harvey, chairman of the Calvert Foundation; Jeb Mason, partner at The Cypress Group; Rick Rosan, former president of the Urban Land Institute; and David Stevens, chief executive officer and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.