In his inaugural address, President Trump doubled-down on his campaign promise to invest in America’s aging infrastructure, vowing to “build new roads, highways, bridges, airports, tunnels and railways” across the country. A comprehensive infrastructure package is a rare opportunity for bipartisan collaboration. But the president’s $1 trillion plan overlooks one crucial component: housing.
Admittedly, housing isn’t what comes to mind when most people think about infrastructure, but it should be. By definition, infrastructure is the buildings, networks, and other physical structures that are necessary for the economy to function. At the most basic level, in order for America’s workers—our teachers, our nurses, our mechanics, our clerks—to stay productive, they need both a stable place to call home and a reliable way to get to their jobs.
A key goal of any infrastructure package is to stimulate the economy and create jobs, and research shows that housing is an efficient way to do both. Today hundreds of thousands of housing units are in a state of disrepair, including a capital backlog of more than $26 billion in the public housing stock alone, meaning there are plenty of shovel-ready projects just waiting to be funded.
According to a recent analysis from Enterprise Community Partners, both the speed and impact of public investments in housing match or outpace those of other infrastructure investments, such as transportation. Investments in America’s housing infrastructure pay dividends in a number of ways: more jobs, more growth, and more housing options. The timing couldn’t be better. After years of stagnant wages and skyrocketing rents, a quality and affordable home is out of reach for millions of American workers.
As the 2016 Republican Party Platform points out, an unprecedented 12 million renter households are “housing insecure,” paying at least half of their monthly income on rent and utilities. As a result, too many renters have no choice but to live far away from their jobs, often in communities that lack the resources they need to succeed. According to one study, the dearth of affordable housing options costs the U.S. economy an estimated $1.6 trillion each year in lost wages and productivity alone.
For these and other reasons, the $1 trillion infrastructure plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper Hispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (D-N.Y.) earlier this week includes a number of housing investments, including funding to develop affordable homes, remove blighted buildings and remediate lead hazards. It’s also why Ben Carson, the incoming U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has pledged to “advocate for the inclusion of housing in the president-elect’s infrastructure package.”
We urge Congress and the Trump administration to include at least three basic housing provisions—each proven to create jobs and grow the economy—in any infrastructure bill.
First, expand oversubscribed federal tax incentives that encourage private developers to build affordable housing and improve communities, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the New Market Tax Credit. The housing credit alone creates more than 90,000 affordable homes and over 100,000 jobs each year, mostly in the construction industry.
Second, attract private investment and dedicate the public resources necessary to repair America’s crumbling public housing stock, starting with an expansion of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration. Every $1 billion spent on these capital projects creates approximately 26,000 jobs on average.
Third, provide flexible funds to states and local governments to meet specific housing needs in their communities, such as additional funding for HUD’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the Home Investment Partnership program. Both programs have seen significant budget cuts in recent years, even though every $1 billion in CDBG funds creates about 5,500 local jobs.
Housing insecurity is a burden borne quietly and behind closed doors by families in all types of communities—urban, suburban, and rural. Almost half of respondents to a recent national poll said that they struggled to make rent or pay their mortgage in the past year, or know someone who has. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of those respondents believed that Congress is not doing enough to make rent more affordable.
Infrastructure investments are about more than building roads and bridges. They are about strengthening the backbone of the American economy: our workforce. For too long we’ve let America’s workers languish in unsafe or unaffordable housing that’s disconnected from jobs, good schools and other opportunities.
It’s time to make the investments necessary to ensure that every American has access the resources they need to realize their full potential. That means investing in our housing infrastructure.
Terri Ludwig is president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Community Partners, a leading national affordable housing and community development organization whose mission focuses on creating opportunities for low- and moderate-income Americans.
The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.