Senate Hearing on Bipartisan Bills to Increase Access to Housing

On Thursday June 24th, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a full committee hearing, “Examining Bipartisan Bills to Increase Access to Housing,” to consider the following legislation:

Witnesses included Lisa Mensah, CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, and Nan Roman, CEO and President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, who both testified about the need to rehabilitate existing housing and build more housing in order to address the current crisis in affordable housing and homelessness. American Enterprise Institute witness Howard Husock argued against expanding Housing Choice Vouchers without making sure that emergency rental assistance was being disbursed more efficiently. Mr. Husock also testified in favor of the Moving to Work approach to voucher rental contracts for new tenants that use flat rent for a fixed-period, independent of tenant income, so that tenants can avoid an income cliff and put any additional income into an escrow account.

In his questions, ranking member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) was very interested in this MTW model and the possibility that the current model might discourage increased work, following up on his opening statement criticizing elevated unemployment benefits. Both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked about bills that would collect more data on different aspects of the housing crisis, and ways that agencies could collaborate on high-needs populations, including work to prevent evictions and services for vouchers to high-opportunity areas. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV) both asked questions in support of the Native American Homeownership Act. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) argued that none of the bills under discussion addressed the current address “the failed state of our housing finance system,” focusing on the lack of diversity and competition in the mortgage market. To make credit more available for mortgages, Sen. Scott argued that the committee also needed to look for serious, bipartisan approaches to comprehensive mortgage finance reform.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked about the overall disrepair in the nation’s housing stock, the $70 billion backlog in repairs in public housing, and the estimated 10,000 units of public housing lost per year as a result of these deferred costs. She reiterated her belief that housing is infrastructure, and the importance of making public housing safe for families who are there now. Commenting on the current infrastructure talks, she argued that the current state of housing puts families at risk and that Congress must go further than the President has proposed in order to meet the needs of families.

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