We need to lay the foundation for meaningful housing policy change
Across the country, we’re seeing housing prices rise, renters who are struggling to make ends meet, and property owners who can’t afford to pay their bills. As President Biden and his administration settle into the White House, and with Democrats now taking leadership in Congress, voters are expecting real solutions to turn the tide.
With the start of this new administration, we see great promise in making progress towards rethinking our nation’s housing policies. We applaud President Biden’s commitment to making housing and community development a key focus of his Build Back Better agenda. And we look forward to working with Marcia Fudge as she tackles the challenges of advancing a national agenda that centers on affordable, equitable and fair housing, while reversing the hostile policies and practices of the Trump administration.
Our goals should be big, and right now, with a new Democratic majority, we have an opportunity to pass a set of policy priorities that can have a meaningful impact on our nation’s housing crisis.
First and foremost, we need to keep people safe — and keep them in their homes. We also need to protect struggling building owners, whose loss of rental income leaves them unable to pay mortgages, maintain buildings, meet property tax obligations, and more. This requires addressing the short- and long-term financial needs of renters and property owners, which has become particularly crucial as we deal with the continued fall out of COVID-19.
We know that emergency rental assistance (ERA) can empower Americans and help prevent cascading financial problems, avoiding the accumulation of debts and putting money back into local communities through property taxes, utilities, and more. The $25 billion ERA provided by Congress in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act last year was a good down payment but not nearly enough.
We urge Congress to swiftly pass the American Rescue Plan to deliver: an additional $25 billion in ERA, including $5 billion towards 70,000 emergency vouchers; $5 billion to support people experiencing homelessness; $10 billion to support struggling homeowners; and $10 billion to support small businesses, including minority-owned businesses that are closing their doors at historic rates. We applaud the administration’s actions to extend the foreclosure moratorium and the forbearance period for homeowners through June.
We also must find new ways — like the president’s plan for universal vouchers — to making rental assistance available to all income-eligible households in need. If universal housing vouchers had been available prior to the pandemic, tens of millions of renters would not have been at risk of losing their homes and with them, the ability to keep themselves and their families safe from eviction or homelessness.
As we look towards the future, we must recognize that our nation’s housing crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Housing assistance and community development block grant programs should be fully funded. Our housing finance system must be sustained and strengthened. And proven programs like the Housing Credit, our nation’s most successful tool for encouraging private investment in the production and preservation of affordable rental housing, must be expanded. The housing credit has financed nearly 3.5 million affordable apartments, providing home to roughly 8 million low-income households. President Biden has pledged to invest an additional $10 billion in the Housing Credit and Congress should move quickly to pass the bipartisan Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act to expand and strengthen the Housing Credit.
Housing is critical infrastructure. Housing providers should all have access to programs and funding that preserve and improve subsidized housing, including making the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) available to all Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) that wish to participate.
We’ve heard a lot about it being a “new day for sustainability and climate change”. As we look forward, we have an opportunity to not only address climate change and making our communities healthier, but also making our housing stock more sustainable, resilient, and less expensive to own and operate over the long-term.
Working as a part of The CLEEN Project, the nation’s first co-operative database of actionable ideas to combat climate change, we’ve outlined a series of policy recommendations to make it easier for building owners to focus on sustainability. These recommendations include an expansion of federal weatherization programs to drive down energy demand, recognizing fossil fuels as a “hazardous substance” to help decarbonize the built environment, boosting tax credits to accommodate for the cost of making housing carbon neutral, and more.
Importantly, our work towards achieving these goals can also expand the overall availability of affordable and workforce housing stock. Permanently affordable housing must be part of the solution, and we have tools at our disposal to help make affordable housing a reality.
These proposals are easy to implement with focused leadership. And if we’re going to focus on housing, we have to do it right. By shoring up our funding for public housing, addressing the financial needs of renters, and putting sustainability at the heart of our efforts, we can lay the foundation for meaningful change.
We have a lot of work to do. As Congress looks to work with the new administration to “build back better”, we need to put housing front and center and enact the types of policies that can truly transform our nation’s housing.
Rafael E. Cestero is president and CEO of The Community Preservation Corporation.
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