Affordable housing crisis demands urgent, sustained action

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Every year, Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Before settling in for a big meal and time with loved ones, many also dedicate time to volunteering at soup kitchens and shelters.

Unfortunately, for too many Americans reliance on shelters and soup kitchens isn’t confined to the holiday season—it is their everyday reality. While taking time to volunteer to help the less fortunate is valuable community service, there is much more that we should be doing as a nation to reduce the need for soup kitchens and shelters in the first place.

Our nation is in the grips of an affordable housing crisis. Nationally, we have a shortage of 7 million affordable homes for the lowest income renters. In Hawaii, we are short over 24,000 such homes. Only three affordable homes are available for every 10 of the lowest-income seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, families with children, and others.

Of those lowest income renters lucky enough to have a place to live, a full 75 percent pay at least half of their limited income in rent. This forces them to make heart-wrenching tradeoffs between paying rent, putting food on the table, or covering the cost of child care or prescription drugs. When a low-income working parent has to miss work to take care of a sick child, gets sick themselves, or has car trouble they can’t afford to fix right away they can easily and quickly fall behind on rent, which puts them at greater risk of eviction and in the worst cases, homelessness.

This crisis demands urgent, sustained action at the federal, state, and local level. But President Trump and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson have worked to exacerbate the crisis with proposals to slash already-insufficient federal resources dedicated to tackling these problems in each of their annual budgets. In fact, Secretary Carson has proposed drastically shrinking or eliminating federal programs that keep the lowest-income people affordably housed. The proposals put forward during his time as secretary would triple rents for the lowest-income subsidized residents, evict at least 100,000 people including 55,000 children, and allow homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender and LGBTQ people.

Then, this fall, the White House Council of Economic Advisers published a deeply flawed report on homelessness in America that combines cherry-picked data, faulty analysis and a heavy dose of free-market fantasy economic theory. Perhaps not surprisingly, they misdiagnosed the problem and offered wildly inappropriate “solutions.” The report may be a precursor to cruel actions that President Trump could attempt to take to further harm the more than 500,000 people who experience homelessness on any given night, the millions more who are on the brink of homelessness, and the communities and front line service providers in Hawaii and elsewhere that are already doing all they can with insufficient resources.

We can and must do better. This week, Sen. Hirono introduced the Pathway to Stable and Affordable Housing for All Act. This legislation is based on estimates of need from on-the-ground service providers and other experts and represents a bold, sustained plan to end homelessness and housing poverty. The bill provides a much-needed and long overdue investment in housing vouchers, the national Housing Trust Fund, and critical programs like Emergency Solutions and Continuum of Care Grants. This mix of federal resources, if funded and implemented by state and local partners, would increase our nation’s affordable housing stock and provide critical services to those struggling with homelessness and housing poverty. We know that access to stable, quality, accessible, affordable homes is the cornerstone of ending homelessness, and would also provide those living on the edge of a financial cliff to catch their breath, catch up—and maybe in time—get ahead.

In the long-run, the investment plan outlined in the Pathway to Stable and Affordable Housing for All Act will not only benefit our low-income neighbors that desperately need the help directly, but will also benefit our broader communities. We know that kids who have stable homes do better in school, workers with stable housing are better able to find and keep jobs, and that housing can be a pathway out of poverty that reduces the long-term costs to communities for providing social services and criminal justice.

When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, let’s remember our fellow Americans who are getting a hot meal and a place to sleep thanks to charitable organizations, churches, and other community groups—and let’s resolve to do more. We can end homelessness and housing poverty. We have proven solutions and, as the richest country in the world, bountiful resources. We lack only the political will and courage to fund the solutions like those in Sen. Hirono’s legislation. We must urge our members of Congress to enact this critical bill.

Hirono is the junior senator from Hawaii and Diane Yentel is CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Tags Affordable housing Ben Carson Donald Trump Homelessness
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