Housing Crisis Front and Center: Democrats Push for Legislative Solutions

Representative Maxine Waters on the housing crisis

Credit Image: © Al Drago/Pool/CNP via ZUMA Press Wire United States Representative Maxine Waters (Democrat of California), Chair, US House Committee on Financial Services, speaks during a hearing in Washington, D.C. Waters recently made an appeal for support of three housing bills.

Democrats are advocating for a legislative package exceeding $150 billion to address housing issues, including fair housing support and new housing vouchers to combat homelessness. Led by Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, the push aims to pass bills like the “Housing Crisis Response Act” to create 1.4 million affordable homes and transform the Housing Choice Voucher program with the “End Homelessness Act,” despite facing challenges in a divided Congress amid a growing national housing crisis.

Three Democratic Bills Aim to Reduce Housing Costs, Increase Inventory of Affordable Housing, and Address Homelessness

Democrats in Congress are calling on lawmakers to pass a legislative package that includes more than $150 billion to support fair housing and hundreds of thousands of new housing vouchers that can help people escape homelessness.

Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, who is the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, made the appeal during the 2024 Democratic Issues Conference on Feb. 8.

“Let’s be very clear, it doesn’t have to be this way,” Waters said. 

“Unfortunately, for far too long, federal spending on housing has lagged behind growing needs among families.”

Waters said there are three bills Democrats are pushing their Republican colleagues in Congress to support. One is the “Housing Crisis Response Act,” which could reduce housing costs by putting $150 billion toward creating 1.4 million affordable homes.

The bill’s funding was previously included in the Build Back Better Act in 2022. Democrats passed the bill through the House, but it stalled in the Senate. The funding was removed before the legislation passed as the Inflation Reduction Act, Waters said.

Democrats are also pushing the “End Homelessness Act” and “Down Payment Toward Equity Act.”

The “End Homelessness Act” would transform the Housing Choice Voucher program into a federal entitlement to ensure all applicants receive a voucher. According to federal data, about 20% of people currently applying for a voucher receive one.

The “Down Payment Toward Equity Act” would provide $100 billion of direct-assistance funding for first-time and first-generation homebuyers to be used for closing costs and buying down mortgage interest rates.

“Yes, we are disappointed that housing has continually been left on the cutting room floor, but this President and Committee Democrats have not given up and are going to finish the job when it comes to affordable housing,” Waters said.

The efforts to increase funding for affordable housing and homelessness resolution programs face an uphill battle in Congress as the 2024 election cycle heats up. At the same time, homelessness is increasing across the country as rising home prices and rents put continuous financial pressure on low-income earning households.

Housing affordability is one of the top issues voters care about in 2024. But it can be a double-edged sword for people seeking office because the issue can pit low-income earning households against higher-income suburban households, Axios reported.

Waters said she expects some “political problems” associated with Democrats’ pushing for more housing funds.

One aspect that could garner attention is a new initiative Democrats unveiled on Feb. 8. Under the initiative, local communities will be incentivized to work with the federal government to improve their building codes and permitting processes to make it easier to build affordable housing. 

That initiative could help lower the cost of living in several parts of the country, Waters added. Over the last two years, Redfin data shows the national median home price has increased by 14% up to more than $402,000 as of January 2024.

The median rent in the U.S. has increased at a similar pace. According to Rent.com, the median U.S. was up to $1,967 at the end of 2023, representing a climb of more than 21%, or about $300 per month since March 2020, when the pandemic began.

In 2020, the Government Accountability Office published a report showing that a $100 increase in median rents correlates to a 9% increase in homelessness at the local level.

Rising rents could help explain why the number of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. grew by 12% between 2022 and 2023, up to more than 653,000, according to the latest Point in Time Count.

Homelessness has also become a divisive issue in many communities, and local officials have offered widely differing solutions.

Some Republican-controlled states like Arizona and Florida have passed laws making it harder for people experiencing homelessness to panhandle or camp in public. Lawmakers in Democrat-controlled California are also debating a bill that would significantly restrict where homeless people can reside in public spaces.

“Politicians should know how to fight politically, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Waters said. “We understand that we are confronted with a lot of difficult issues, but we are determined.”

How You Can Help

Handcuffs will never solve homelessness. The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the United States. It also showed that many programs designed to address homelessness are rooted in law enforcement rather than social services. And it’s getting worse.

Across the nation, anti-homeless laws are advancing through legislative committees, propelled by secret votes, corporate funding, out-of-state lobbyists, and conservative think tanks like the Cicero Institute.

At this pivotal moment, we must make the truth louder than ever. Tell your representatives you support revamping how your city addresses homelessness. Handcuffs do not get anyone closer to stable housing. Instead, we must focus on compassionate solutions, the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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