Biden framework includes $150B for affordable housing
President Biden’s proposed climate change and social services bill is expected to include $150 billion for affordable housing creation and financial assistance, elating supporters who feared it would be cut from Democrats’ package.
The White House on Thursday released a new framework for Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” a roughly $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation package, that included billions of dollars meant to put 1 million affordable homes on the market and help thousands of Americans find stable housing.
The housing component was cut down significantly from the $327 billion Democrats initially sought. Even so, the bill would still spend more than three times the current budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in what housing advocates call an unprecedented step toward tackling an affordability crisis.
“This would be the most significant single investment in quality, stable, affordable homes for the country’s lowest-income people in history,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in a Thursday statement.
The framework includes $65 billion toward repairing and replacing public housing, $25 billion toward rental assistance and $15 billion for the Housing Trust Fund, which provides grants to states for the construction and repair of affordable housing.
The framework also allocates billions of dollars for improving the sustainability and climate resilience of housing, vouchers and support for elderly and disabled individuals and grants for state and local governments to replace restrictive zoning laws.
“We are one step closer to achieving historic housing investments and keeping the country’s lowest income people affordably housed, but we’re not done yet,” Yentel said.
The text of the bill is likely to change as Democrats haggle over a slew of other programs— including paid family leave, drug pricing measures and a state and local tax (SALT) cap repeal — left out of the Thursday framework. The bill needs the support of all but three House Democrats and every Senate Democrat to pass through budget reconciliation over unanimous GOP opposition, which will almost certainly require further changes.
While future cuts are possible, the framework’s inclusion of a major housing investment marked a significant win for housing advocates and Democrats who fought to preserve it.
“I can’t recall such an all-encompassing package at such high numbers,” said Lisa Peto, principal at lobbying firm Mindset and former chief counsel to House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)
Waters, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and dozens of Democrats on those panels rallied to protect housing funds this month as party leaders considered tough cuts. Both have pushed for years to bolster support for affordable housing and blasted lawmakers in both parties who’ve brushed the issue aside.
“We cannot build back better without investing in our nation’s crumbling housing infrastructure. Housing is not a miscellaneous afterthought, a nice-to-have, a ‘something that can wait until later,’” Waters said at a hearing last week.
“Housing is foundational and America has waited long enough,” she continued.
House prices and rents had risen steadily for years before the pandemic as the supply of affordable homes failed to keep up with population growth, gentrification and rising income inequality. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the affordable housing crisis by plunging millions of Americans into financial precarity, exacerbated housing backlogs and poured fuel on housing demand.
Peto attributed the breakthrough on housing to a “sea change” in leadership in both Congress and the White House. While she warned the package was not set in stone, Peto said the proposal marked a significant step forward for a years-long push to cement affordable housing as a crucial part of infrastructure.
“The reality is that the areas of most need are Black and Brown communities, and the hard truth is that not everybody wants to stand up for those communities,” Peto said.
“It’s a focus now and it’s not an afterthought.”