Elizabeth Warren doubles down on affordable housing legislation

Curbed, December 11, 2018: Elizabeth Warren doubles down on affordable housing legislation

Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) doubled down on her strategy to fix America’s housing crisis. Along with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), she introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act to the House, a companion to a Senate bill Warren introduced in September.

The bill would create three million new housing units, improve access to affordable housing through anti-discrimination laws, and invest in families living in historically redlined communities. Independent analysis of the bill predicts that it will create 1.5 million jobs and bring rents down, on average, by 10 percent.

“America is facing a housing crisis—a crisis that has been decades in the making,” Sen. Warren said at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. “This is a crisis that hits middle-class families, working families, the working poor, the poor poor. Costs are up and over time housing stock is deteriorating. The American Housing and Economic Mobility Act confronts the shameful history of government-backed housing discrimination and is designed to benefit those families that have been denied opportunities to build wealth because of the color of their skin.”

The American Housing and Economic Mobility Act takes a comprehensive approach to the housing crisis, tackling affordable housing supply through a $450 billion investment over a decade into the Housing Trust Fund to build or preserve rental units; strengthens the Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination on sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, and income source; incentivizes rezoning; funds housing construction on rural and tribal land; and closes the racial wealth gap by providing down payments to first-time homebuyers in formerly redlined neighborhoods or segregated areas. A tax increase on the wealthiest Americans will pay for the bill.

There are no significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. However, with Democrats set to take the House majority in 2019, the legislation has a better chance of moving forward and potentially going to a vote in the House than in the Senate. The bill is also co-sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

“This is a real family infrastructure bill,” Rep. Richmond, who is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said at the press conference. “When you start talking about the importance of housing on the development of a family and the fact that it’s the American dream—for so long this country and local government have been co-conspirators in snatching that American dream from too many families.”

The bill is supported by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, issued a statement supporting Sen. Warren and Rep. Richmond’s bill:

Our nation’s housing crisis continues to reach new heights, most severely impacting millions of the lowest income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and other individuals who struggle to pay rent and make ends meet. Without an affordable home, a majority of these households face impossible choices between paying rent and putting food on their table, buying medications, or saving for a rainy day. Congressman Cedric Richmond’s (D-La.) American Housing and Economic Mobility Act offers a bold, comprehensive solution to this crisis: by investing in the national Housing Trust Fund at the scale necessary, the bill addresses the underlying cause of the housing crisis—the severe shortage of rental homes affordable and available to the lowest income people.

America’s housing crisis is worsening. There’s a shortage of seven million affordable housing units and nearly half of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. New rental housing construction has shifted to higher-cost units. For-sale inventory continues to shrink in most markets. Meanwhile, federal assistance is only reaching a fraction of people in need.

Rep. Moore—who serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and worked on the the creation of the Housing Trust Fund—pointed out that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day for the next decade.

“That’s a huge number of seniors who are going to be on on fixed incomes that will need affordable housing and they’re competing against our millennial generation, folks who are just starting out and having their first jobs and making minimum wage. Don’t bother to do the math. Trust me you can’t afford on a fixed income…to have a shelter over your head.”

While the affordable housing problems are large, they’re not insurmountable. Proven solutions—like housing assistance vouchers—are known; the country just lacks the political will to fund them at the scale that’s needed.

The current administration has taken minimal action to remedy the crisis, focusing its attention on the Opportunity Zone program, which is pitched as a community development tool and tax windfall. Meanwhile, Secretary Ben Carson has proposed rent hikes on low-income families and teased zoning incentives to jumpstart housing construction, but HUD has remained mostly silent.

Rumored presidential hopefuls have taken aggressive stances on housing reform and are proposing legislation to make their positions known. Like Sen. Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker proposed their own rent relief bills this year, capturing the attention—and possibly the support—of voters who are fed up with rising costs of living and stagnating income.

“Big problems require big solutions,” Sen. Warren said. “I am in this fight for the long haul. This is about our values.”

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