The Lack of Affordable Housing Costs the U.S. Economy $2 Trillion Every Year
In mid-March, when President Biden was still working on his landmark infrastructure package, Bernie Sanders tweeted to support including affordable housing in any legislation.
When we talk about rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, we must include low-income and affordable housing. Today, 500,000 Americans are homeless, and 18 million spend 50% of their incomes on shelter. We can create millions of jobs building the housing we desperately need.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 18, 2021
Biden was at work doing just that, as revealed in his recent infrastructure proposal. It’s not a moment too soon.
Affordable housing became an issue during the Great Depression and led to the formation of the current federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the early 1930s. Early housing efforts offered little more than shelter from the elements. However, today’s stance is that housing is an integral part of infrastructure and keeping Americans safe and healthy.
According to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, there has been a severe lack of investment in public housing in recent decades, leading to the loss of nearly 10,000 housing units per year. Significant research has shown that stable, safe housing is key to reducing generational poverty and increasing economic opportunity in America. Children who live in stable housing have better outcomes in school and more success overall. In fact, the lack of affordable housing costs the U.S. economy about $2 trillion each year in lower wages and productivity.
The Proposal: The American Jobs Plan
Biden’s legislation includes plans for 1 million affordable housing units to be created or retrofitted and for building or rehabbing an additional 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income homebuyers, according to the White House website. In total, $213 billion will produce, preserve, and retrofit more than two million affordable and sustainable places to live, claims the fact sheet for the infrastructure package, dubbed the American Jobs Plan.
In 2020, 580,466 people experienced homelessness on any given night in America. But that number doesn’t take into account the millions who are working multiple jobs or living deep in debt to afford rent. The federal standard is that a household should pay no more than 30% of its income toward housing. Households paying more than this are considered cost-burdened. Households paying more than 50% are considered severely cost-burdened.
Sanders has tackled housing inequality before, most recently during a 2019 CNN town hall event. Politifact checked out his claim that 18 million Americans were spending more than half their income on housing costs. They found that data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies proved that about 11 million renters and about 7.5 million owners spent over half their income on rent or mortgage and associated housing costs. And that’s destabilizing for a family, overall.
Research from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that when families are cost-burdened, they tend to be financially insecure in general. A study released in 2018 showed that 64% of cost-burdened families had less than $400 in the bank. Half had less than $10 in liquid assets, while half had more than $7,000. Living this close to the edge financially is stressful. It puts additional strain on mental and physical health and can burden family relationships.
Will President Deliver on Campaign Promise?
Biden ran for the presidency on a promise to invest in communities, in part, by making affordable housing a priority. These are elements renters and homeowners should be able to depend upon in their home:
- Safe and healthy
- Located near good schools
- Reasonable commute to jobs
They define affordability as meeting federal guidelines of costing no more than 30% of income.
Biden’s plan also goes a step beyond just building new homes and upgrading existing ones. It calls on Congress to eliminate exclusionary zoning laws and harmful land-use policies. Officials initially created zoning laws to protect public health. For example, a law to prevent people from living too close to manufacturing centers that might produce harmful pollutants. However, over time, they’ve become tools of segregation. Things like minimum lot sizes, restrictions on multifamily housing units, or parking requirements restrict where affordable housing can be built. This puts a chokehold on the number of affordable housing units available in a city.
Biden’s plan also calls for updating and upgrading homes to be more energy-efficient. Efficiency tax credits would make this possible.
A Big Proposal, But Just the Start
David Dworkin, president of the National Housing Conference, said the bill is a step in the right direction, but it’s just one step. “We have to keep in mind – when we talk about infrastructure, there’s not a great history of infrastructure investment succeeding without housing investment. They really need to go hand in hand to positively impact communities. So I think the housing component of the bill is very important,” he said.
In June 2020, legislation that would have provided $100 billion for affordable housing passed the House of Representatives before the Senate shelved it. Biden’s new plan, funded by a tax increase on corporations and the wealthy, now faces months of battle before it will go for a vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would like to see it passed by Independence Day, but more realistically, it will probably be pushed into late July. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is considering using budget reconciliation to pass the Senate. This is the same process used to pass the coronavirus relief American Rescue Plan in March, devoid of Republican support.
It is time to invest back into these vital American communities and acknowledge that housing is infrastructure. Contact your representative to let them know that you support providing safe, stable, affordable housing as part of the infrastructure package.