The Issues: Housing Costs

CBS News continues a month-long series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger looks at the Bush and Kerry plans to ease the high cost of home ownership.

Mashonda Jones is a single mother and a Chicago schoolteacher with her own kind of homework. She's working to find a home and it's a lot tougher than she expected.

"I thought it would go quickly," she says. That was two years ago.

Her salary for teaching fifth grade is in the $30's, which means she can afford something in the $120's.

"I thought I would be able to afford a nice single-family home," she says. "The reality is it's not going to happen."

Because she's employed by the Chicago school system, Mashonda is required by local law to live in the city.

She's learning a tough lesson about the limits of affordable housing.

What does $120,000 buy these days? "Probably an oversize garage," Mashonda says. "I've seen things that were garbage."

Mashonda Jones is not alone in her search for a house or in her frustration. A national study has shown that, based on their average salary, the average house is out of reach for most elementary school teachers – along with police officers, retail workers and a lot of nurses.

There could be something for Mashonda in either candidate's housing program. Sen. John Kerry has pushed plans giving tax credits to investors who help build affordable housing and permitting buyers to borrow from their IRAs to make their down payments.

"Twenty years ago in America," says Kerry, "one person could buy a home and pay for college. Today, you're lucky if two people can pull it off."

President Bush signed the American Dream Down Payment Act, which could provide some money to help Mashonda get a mortgage He is also supporting a program providing zero down payment mortgages for first-time home buyers.

Still, the president points out that homeownership in the U.S. is setting records.

"Our nation's 68 percent homeownership rate is the highest ever," he says.

"I've been looking for a few years to buy my home," says Mashonda. "I really wish I was part of that 68 percent."

Housing prices have skyrocketed in Chicago and other urban areas.

And Mashonda's search for a place to live is the most important issue to her as she tries to decide where George Bush and John Kerry should live.