America is experiencing a serious housing affordability crisis that affects the quality of life of millions of families by locking them out of homeownership or forcing them to make significant financial and personal trade-offs to buy or rent a home.

Just how serious is the problem? The Housing Opportunity Index, which is prepared quarterly by the NAHB and is sponsored by Wells Fargo, measures the percentage of new and existing homes sold nationwide, in that quarter, that would be affordable to families earning the national median income. Between the first quarter of 1992 and the last quarter of 2004, the index ranged from a low of just over 50 to a high of almost 70. Most often, it was in the mid-60s.

However, since the beginning of 2005, the index has consistently ranged below 50 on a nationwide basis, despite near-record low mortgage interest rates. Even more telling are the Housing Opportunity Index readings for individual metropolitan areas. In the Los Angeles/Long Beach/Glendale, Calif., metro area, the index was 2 in the fourth quarter of 2006. And that isn't an isolated case. Many major metro areas, primarily on the West Coast and in parts of the Northeast, consistently record very low affordability numbers.

The result is that millions of families—including crucial public servants such as police officers, firefighters, schoolteachers, and nurses—are priced out of home-ownership. Millions more pay too large a share of their income for housing, are forced to live in housing that does not meet their needs, or must make significant personal trade-offs, such as living far from their jobs, in order to afford housing.

STEPPING UP Finding solutions to this multi-faceted problem is a priority for the NAHB, and that's why we recently joined with the NAACP to co-host a roundtable discussion on housing affordability among the nation's major housing organizations.

The NAHB and the NAACP are working together on this issue because members of both organizations understand the importance of housing in families' lives. And now we've broadened the scope of our partnership to include state and local housing authority officials, lenders, real estate professionals, nonprofit housing advocates, and others.

We brought these groups together to figure out how to move housing affordability from a lofty policy discussion to an on-the-ground initiative that makes a difference in people's lives.

We looked at credit issues, land availability, zoning practices, consumer education, and the roles of federal, state, and local government, as well as many other issues during the daylong meeting.

The discussion generated many sound ideas regarding ways we can respond effectively to this challenge. The participants did not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but we found much common ground, and there was broad agreement that we must act collectively to make a meaningful difference.

STRAIGHT TO THE TOP These housing groups, along with the NAACP, have agreed to conduct a symposium on housing affordability in the fall, bringing even more voices to the table.

The goal is to develop a set of clear, concise policy recommendations that have deep support from a wide range of interests.

Ultimately, the participating groups would deliver them as policy recommendations to the major political parties as they prepare for the 2008 presidential campaigns.

We want to make sure that policy makers at all levels of government are aware of the depth of the housing affordability challenge and put them on notice that the American people expect government to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

In a similar vein, the NAHB is preparing for its annual Legislative Conference, which will be held June 6, in conjunction with the spring Board of Directors meeting. This annual gathering is the NAHB's way of making sure that the nation's lawmakers understand housing issues and the importance of our industry to the national economy. I encourage you to join us as we meet with legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss immigration reform, housing finance, the environment, tax policy, energy, and other important issues.

Brian C. Catalde, President, NAHB, Washington, D.C.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Charleston, SC, Los Angeles, CA, Orlando, FL, Charlotte, NC.