Lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee (FSC) advanced legislation containing the housing elements of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, a $3.5 trillion economic recovery and infrastructure package.
In all, the housing legislation could provide $327 billion to expand affordable housing resources, help families receive down payment assistance, and increase efforts to end homelessness, among other things.
The legislation passed along a party-line vote of 30-24. The House Rules Committee can amend it before it is debated on the House floor.
“For the first time in decades, Congress is taking decisive action toward remaking our nation’s housing to be safer, greener, more inclusive, and affordable,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the FSC Chairwoman, said.
“The landmark Build Back Better Act will set our country on a path to ending homelessness, it will create or rehabilitate millions of affordable housing units, it will bring sustainable homeownership within reach for millions of first-generation and first-time homebuyers, it will eliminate the debt of the nation’s flood insurance program, and it will provide important investments in communities that have been left behind for too long,” she added.
Affordable Housing Resources
The legislation makes several key investments in affordable housing programs. Among them are:
- $36.77 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund, a program that provides grants for states to provide housing for low-to-no income households. It also restricts the amount of grant funds that can be spent on administrative fees to 15%
- $34.77 billion for the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provides funds to nonprofits that build affordable housing
- $10 billion for down payment assistance programs
- $7.5 billion for the Community Restoration and Revitalization Fund to prevent displacement of low-income communities
Housing advocates such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition have been pushing for these investments for some time. Now that they have arrived, the organization says the legislation must pass.
“It is critical that Congress use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to prioritize investing in decent, accessible, affordable housing for those with the greatest, clearest needs – people experiencing homelessness and people with the lowest incomes,” NILHC said. “If done right, investments in this bill could effectively end homelessness in the United States.”
On top of the significant investments in affordable housing, the legislation also provides considerable resources toward ending homelessness. Some of these investments include:
- $90 billion for rental assistance, more than half of which is earmarked for tenant-based rental assistance for extremely low-income households
- $80 billion to expand and update public housing options
- $75 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers
- $24 billion of assistance for renters who are facing the threat of homelessness
The bill also requires Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to prioritize housing projects that support communities most vulnerable to homelessness. Those include low-income communities with increasing rates of displacement, projects that serve people experiencing homelessness, and projects that provide units accessible to people with disabilities.
Preventing Future Homelessness
No housing legislation can be successful without a plan to prevent future homelessness. To that end, the legislation invests in critical programs to help low-income homeowners update their homes to become more energy-efficient and safer to live in. These investments include:
- $6 billion in Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience Grants to help homeowners improve their energy and water efficiency
- $4.8 billion to build rural housing, with 90% of the funds dedicated to capital construction and another $200 million for rental assistance
- $4 billion to revitalize distressed properties under several of HUD’s programs
- $1.25 billion to promote fair housing
Advocates recently penned a letter to Democrat leaders in the House and Senate asking them to support the legislation and work to end decades of “persistent racial homeownership and wealth gaps.”
“Congress [needs] to take advantage of this historic moment and finally begin to take an initial step to reverse the harms of government-sponsored discrimination in the nation’s housing finance system,” the letter reads.
How You Can Help
Now is not the time to be silent about increasing affordable housing and ending homelessness. Never has there been more momentum or grassroots support for these investments. Substantial change requires the public to get involved at every level and in every way they can.
There is too much to lose by sitting idle on the sidelines. Research has shown that poverty and homelessness are increasing across the country. It also shows that targeted government programs can significantly improve outcomes for those individuals.
That’s why you must contact your representatives and local officials. Tell them you support programs that:
- Increase affordable housing
- Work to end homelessness once and for all
- Provide meaningful healthcare and services for people experiencing homelessness
- Invest in under-invested communities