Senate Democrats urge Watt to help boost affordable rental housing

Nearly three dozen Senate Democrats are urging a top housing regulator to consider a change in policy they say would boost the availability of reasonably priced rental housing. 

In a letter sent Friday, 33 senators urged Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), to allow funding contributions to the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) and the Capital Magnet Fund (CMF).

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Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of several senators spearheading the letter who also helped create the NHTF and CMF in 2008 as part of housing legislation, said neither fund has received money as intended to help address the affordable rental housing shortage.

The lawmakers said Watt, who was confirmed by the Senate last month, has the power to lift the suspension and allow funds to flow. 

"The affordable rental housing crisis that prompted Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to create the NHTF and CMF has only gotten worse in the last five years," they wrote.  

Since passage of the bill nearly six years ago, the number of homes that are affordable to renters with incomes at or below 30 percent of area median income decreased by more than 1 million units, they said.

Also, there is currently a national shortage of nearly 5 million units affordable and available to extremely low-income renters, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

They argued that getting funding into the programs needs to happen before Congress acts to overhaul mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"Directing much needed funding for affordable rental housing should not wait until Congress and the president are able to agree on a new system," they wrote.  

"The time is long overdue to lift the current suspension of contributions to the NHTF and CMF, and we ask your full and fair consideration of our request."