A basic need: American infrastructure must include housing

A basic need: American infrastructure must include housing
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In the State of the Union menu of sectors and projects that the United States considers “infrastructure” and that would benefit from such investment, there’s always one glaring omission: housing. That’s right, the place that provides the roof over your family and that helps you to get a job, and from which you drive or take public transportation along those roads and bridges to work? It’s not considered part of the fundamental facilities and systems serving the United States.

This isn’t new. Unlike Canada, Australia and most European countries, the United States never has considered housing as infrastructure. But with affordable housing and homelessness reaching new crisis levels in communities across the country, it’s an outlook that needs to change.

It’s one of the few domestic issues that Republicans, Democrats and the business community can seem to agree on, which is why 15 American mayors and businesses recently launched Mayors & CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment — a first-of-its-kind coalition of local government and business leaders advocating for tools to advance public-private partnerships on affordable housing and homelessness and actively oppose current funding cuts.


Mayors and businesses have been leading on this issue locally and we’re ready do more. While current federal programs remain effective, without increased investment, our nation can’t meet increasing demands — such as the more than 550,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2017, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In 2016, about 1.5 million people accessed homeless services including emergency shelter, transitional housing and other homeless assistance programs.

As a nation, we need to remember that affordable housing is not a cost but a wise infrastructure investment. Stable and affordable housing is pro-family, pro-jobs, and allows low- to moderate-income people the opportunity to pursue financial stability, which, in turn, supports local businesses and economic growth. Research from The National Association of Home Builders shows that building 100 affordable rental homes generates $11.7 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 161 local jobs — in the first year alone. The academic James Kushner noted that “a single housing project in Seattle created to house homeless men replaced more than 1,200 days spent in jail and 1,100 visits made to hospitals and medical centers by its occupants in the year prior to occupancy — an annual cost savings to the taxpayer of $3.5 million.”

And consider our future: research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that for every additional year a child spends in a better neighborhood environment, their economic outcome as an adult improves.

Those are all good returns on investment.

Affordable housing in the United States is our most fundamental infrastructure, and we think there are five immediate actions that can get us back on track:

  • Affordable housing should be a part of any administration infrastructure plan;
  • We need to maximize funding for existing federal programs that we know work, such as Section 8 Housing Vouchers, the HOME program, Community Development Block Grants and HUD-Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing;
  • We recommend replicating the successful HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing model and pairing HUD vouchers with Health and Human Services programs through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for families experiencing homelessness and who have multiple barriers such as a child with a disability requiring a full-time caregiver, or a parent with mental illness;
  • We recommend new competitive HUD grants — modeled after the Department of Transportation’s successful TIGER grants — for local communities that reward innovative thinking and collaborative, cross-sector projects to combat homelessness and affordable housing problems; and
  • Let’s create a Housing Stabilization Fund — a pool of money that can provide one-time, short-term emergency housing assistance to low-income renters and owners without a cushion for housing emergencies.

We know that neither government nor business can solve homelessness alone. It will take local, state and federal governments, businesses, neighborhood groups and many others to create and support public-private partnerships that generate ideas to remedy one of today’s greatest social challenges. It’s one reason our coalition is geographically, demographically and industrially diverse — and we hope it grows only more so.

On behalf of our fellow launch cities, business members and organizational partners, we hope today is the beginning of something great for all Americans who need, want and deserve a safe, stable roof over their head and a place to dream of a new chance, a new job, a new life.

Muriel Bowser (D) is the mayor of Washington, D.C. Darrell Steinberg (D) is mayor of Sacramento, California. Steve Hogan (R) is mayor of Aurora, Colorado. In addition to their cities, Mayors & CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment includes Little Rock, Mesa, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia; Airbnb, Sutter Health and GHC Housing; and the National League of Cities, National Alliance to End Homelessness and Enterprise Community Partners.