SOTU fever is running high. Any company that's got direct global trade interests, and executives at all of the Wall Street firms investing in those enterprises whose operations, sourcing, labor forces, and customers extend beyond United States boundaries will be all ears as the President speaks in prime time before Congress tonight.
Much is at stake in the fraught brinkmanship of global trade, and the slightest signal that might pierce through all the noise of negotiating rhetoric and decoys and tactics could move the markets, as State of the Union addresses are wont to do.
But although you may listen as closely as you want, one of America's hottest, most painful, most chronically frustrating, and most economically material issues will not surface in tonight's Presidential agenda. Infrastructure, yes, perhaps. But housing, undeniably an essential component of the nation's tired infrastructure?
It's hardly surprising though.
Ask an American to name the issues that are important to them--as Pew Research did just a few weeks ago, with 1,500-plus Americans representing a small slice of the U.S. population by age, gender, economic status, cultural background, etc.--and they'll tell you.
Here's how that list of issues looks, and that's why you'll likely get scarcely a nod to the business, and industry, and profession, and livelihood, and crying need that binds housing's stakeholders together as a community.
A simple fact is this. When people who vote and elect or un-elect politicians and officials and programs based on their effectiveness--or lack thereof--in dealing with housing's need for more housing, more access to housing, and more of the economic impact of more housing, then housing might crop up as one of the top 18 priorities that a President might need to address in a State of the Union speech.
Voters, we find again and again, tend to vote on what they know, and they base their votes often on what they're apt to feel afraid about or confident in.
Many issues face housing. Many challenges make housing too expensive to develop, to build, to design, and to invest in for too many people who reside outside too narrow a line of profit.
"A municipality [a mayor and council members, planning, and zoning officials] can tell us how large a house has to be, and how it has to be designed to look on a streetscape, and how sloped a roof must be in order to approve a permit," the president of large regional home builder told me. "And then they turn around and tell us they want homes to be more affordable."
Do voters elect or unelect that mayor or those council members or commissioners based on a collective demand for more attainable housing for more people?
No they don't.
Will those same voters one day pay a heavy price for repeatedly saying no to solutions that would bring more people access to new, existing, and adaptive housing options within and near city environs?
No doubt. They're already doing it, as essential workers by the millions find themselves priced out of more and more communities, as cities and towns lose age diversity, and as the economic circulatory system of localities becomes more and more sclerotic.
Here's what this means, friends.
Productivity challenges hog the headlines in home building, and construction's well-known, much-hyped resistance to change, modernizing, and improvement captures the lions' share of our attention.
Equally, if not more urgent for those whose livelihoods, investment strategies, and well-being draw from developing and selling or renting homes and communities to people who need them, are political challenges.
It's the land, the dirt, the lot, the parcel, the real estate that locks housing's stakeholders into a futile vicious circle of boom, bust, overpricing and distress, blight and exclusion. It's voters who make the rules of the land, the dirt, the lot, the parcel, and the real estate.
Voters, it turns out, can be educated. They can be inspired. They can be motivated.
That's as big a job for housing stakeholders as the productivity challenge.
So, it turns out that housing's two biggest challenges of the early 21st Century--when it comes to dealing effectively and profitably with what's holding it back, anyway--come down to a skill-set, a proficiency, a talent most people in housing may never have imagined they'd need to draw on: marketing.
Everybody needs a place to live, and that will never change, the thinking goes. So why would people who provide those places to live need to market, to sell?
Well, here we are. To solve housing's productivity challenge, housing needs an entire new breed of talent whose mindsets and early experiences and sense of what's possible have been influenced by exponentially advancing technology. It will take marketing to attracted that next generation talent, and retain them long enough to transform the business from what it is to a turbocharged new version of itself, both on and off jobsites.
And, to solve for the fact that housing is not even on the radar screen among Americans' highest priorities, and to begin to unlock the trapped potential in local new development, marketing to voters, educating them, training them to understand what's in their own interest is an unavoidable, potentially hugely rewarding, and yet largely unexplored pathway.
There's so much we still don't know about how all this will work. And the exciting part is this.
There's so much we still don't know about how all this will work.
So, what's wrong with this picture is also what's right about it.