Congress Holds Hearing on Expanding Housing Access to All Americans

On July 14, the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on “Expanding Housing Access to All Americans.” The hearing covered a variety of housing and community development topics, including the recent increase in home prices, low rate of home construction, tax credits, and rental assistance. Subcommittee members from both parties agreed on the dire need for more affordable rental homes and homeownership across the nation.

Five witnesses joined the hearing to provide expert testimony. They included:

  • Jeff Tucker: Senior Economist, Zillow
  • Gerald Howard Jr.: CEO, National Association of Home Builders
  • Staci Berger: President and CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey
  • Lilian Faulhaber: Professor of Law, Georgetown University
  • John Persinger: CEO, Erie Downtown Development Corporation

The first two witnesses testified about the extreme mismatch of supply and demand in the current homeownership market. Faulhaber and Persinger spoke about tax credits and other community development tools, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and Opportunity Zones. Persinger also pointed out that his community needs more resources to fill financial gaps in redeveloping aging housing stock. Finally, Berger mentioned the recent National Low-Income Housing Coalition Out of Reach report, which finds that minimum wage workers cannot afford a moderate, two-bedroom rental unit anywhere in the country.

Following the testimonies, subcommittee members questioned the witnesses. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) discussed the Housing Trust Fund and LIHTC with Berger, asking how nonprofit developers can use the two programs together to develop affordable housing in high-cost areas. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) noted that the lack of affordable housing in her community is blocking job growth. Many workers cannot afford to live near employment opportunities because the cost of housing in those neighborhoods is too high.

Several members asked further questions about access to homeownership, including Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA). The Congressman had a conversation with the witnesses about the need to address the racial disparity in homeownership rates. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) expressed his concern that many young people are unable to purchase homes in the current market without financial assistance. Subcommittee members and witnesses both offered potential policy solutions that could address these affordable housing and homeownership challenges.

The recorded hearing and witness testimonies are available on the Ways and Means Committee website.

Congress Holds Judiciary Hearing on Unlawful Evictions

On June 14, the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on “Potential Remedies for Unlawful Evictions in Federal Emergency Areas.” Chairman Steve Cohen (D-TN) opened the hearing by noting his Emergency Eviction Enforcement Act of 2021 (H.R. 1451), a bill that would provide federal protections to renters who are at risk of eviction during a national emergency. In response, Ranking Member Mike Johnson (R-LA) presented his view that federal renter protections would be a government overreach.

Witnesses from Memphis Area Legal Services, the Heritage Foundation, the University of Memphis, and NAACP provided expert testimony to the subcommittee. Three of the four witnesses testified in support of the legislation, citing the need for stronger enforcement of the COVID-19 eviction moratoriums and data showing that people of color are at greater risk for eviction during a crisis. The witness from the Heritage Foundation focused more on the needs of landlords who resorted to evictions where possible due to their lost rental income during the pandemic.  

Following the witness testimonies, subcommittee members expressed their views on evictions and questioned the witnesses. The discussion centered around “self-help evictions,” which occur when landlords force tenants to leave their units without going through the formal court proceedings. One witness explained that there were reports of informal evictions in her community. Landlords changed the locks on tenants who were behind on rent, for instance, even while the federal eviction moratorium was in place.

The hearing also included a broader conversation around evictions. Both the witnesses and members of the subcommittee acknowledged the number of evictions in the United States as a growing concern. The recorded hearing and all witness testimonies are available online.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge Testifies at Appropriations Hearings

This week, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge testified at two appropriations hearings in Congress. On April 20, she joined three other Biden administration officials for a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the American Jobs Plan. On April 21, she was the sole witness for a Fiscal Year 2022 hearing in the House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate Appropriations Committee

The Senate hearing focused on the funding included in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, including the $213 billion designated for housing infrastructure. In her testimony, Sec. Fudge stated, “Nearly 2 million people across the country live in public housing – including families, seniors, and people with disabilities… The American Jobs Plan calls for an investment of $40 billion to improve our public housing infrastructure and address critical safety concerns for residents.”

Several Senators questioned Sec. Fudge about the housing-related sections of the bill. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked whether any of the $213 billion in funding would go toward homeless families. Sec. Fudge responded that the American Rescue Plan had already included $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and $5 billion for homeless assistance programs. She explained that HUD will continue responding the homelessness across the nation.

When Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) expressed concern about a grant program that would incentivize jurisdictions to make changes to their local zoning laws, Sec. Fudge emphasized that the program is voluntary and would support local efforts to develop equitable, affordable housing.

House Appropriations, T-HUD Subcomittee

In the House, the T-HUD Subcommittee hearing served as an initial discussion on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for HUD. Sec. Fudge outlined the HUD funding included in President Biden’s discretionary request, including $30.4 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program. The increase in HCV funding would expand voucher assistance to an estimated 200,000 households.

Representatives on both sides of the aisle questioned Sec. Fudge about specific HUD programs and priorities. Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-NC) asked about Section 202 and Section 811 funding for seniors and people with disabilities. Sec. Fudge provided details on the NOFAs for both programs, recognizing the importance of providing housing for vulnerable populations.

Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA) and Congressman Tony Gonzales (R-TX) both questioned Sec. Fudge about funding for rural housing. She noted that President Biden has a plan to provide $2 billion for rural housing and that HUD will partner with USDA to improve rural housing programs.

The written witness statements and a recording of the full hearing are available online:

Senate Hearing

House Hearing

NAHRO Launches Congressional Contacts Initiative

The Congressional Relations team at NAHRO has officially launched our Congressional Contacts initiative. We are recruiting NAHRO members to connect with their members of Congress on a consistent basis. Your voice is needed – offices on Capitol Hill want to hear from agencies that serve residents in their districts.

Each year, Congress appropriates funding to the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They also introduce legislation to improve the implementation of housing and community development programs. NAHRO wants to make it easy for you to influence your members of Congress as they make decisions that impact your programs and communities.

When advocacy opportunities arise, NAHRO will ask you to send a pre-drafted letter from our online Action Alert Center. The letters are open to members and non-members who support NAHRO’s policy priorities. However, with the launch of Congressional Contacts, our goal will be to use our contacts to reach all the offices we are targeting during an advocacy campaign with someone from their district.

We also plan to offer exclusive advocacy trainings for our Congressional Contacts. The Congressional Relations team is available to support contacts who want to develop ongoing relationships with their members of Congress.

If you are interested in becoming a Congressional Contact, please complete the online form at www.NAHRO.org/contacts. Reach out to the Congressional Relations team at THembree@NAHRO.org or JHampton@NAHRO.org with any questions. Only active NAHRO members are currently eligible to become a Congressional Contact.

Senate Banking Hearing on the Legacy of Racial Discrimination in Housing

Today, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a virtual hearing titled “Separate and Unequal: The Legacy of Racial Discrimination in Housing.” In their opening statements, Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) both acknowledged the broad history of housing discrimination in the United States.

Chairman Brown explained the purpose of the hearing, stating, “On this Committee, we have an opportunity to address the legacy of housing discrimination. And we have an obligation, under the law that this body passed 53 years ago” (the Fair Housing Act of 1968).

Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law and Senior Fellow Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, was the first witness to testify. He outlined the history of government-sponsored discrimination in housing and homeownership. For example, he mentioned the role of redlining, racially restrictive covenants, and segregation in federal public housing.

Ms. Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Fair Housing, and Dr. Jason Reece, Assistance Professor of City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University explained how America’s legacy of housing discrimination continues through current practices. Ms. Rice cited 2019 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HDMA) data showing that 19.01% of Black applicants were denied mortgage loans compared to only 10.15% of White applicants. Dr. Reece pointed out that the legacy of housing discrimination has produced neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and a lack of recourses, which are largely populated by people of color.

Two witnesses from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) also joined the hearing. Mr. Howard Husock, AEI Adjunct Fellow and Contributing Editor for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Mr. Tobias Peter, Research Fellow and Director of Research at the AEI Housing Center, pointed to racial discrimination in residential zoning policies and foreclosure-prone affordable housing polices as two major causes of racial disparities in housing.

Following the testimonies, several Senators discussed these housing issues with the witnesses. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) asked whether additions to credit reporting, including reports on utility payments, would help to qualify more Black households for homeownership. Ms. Rice said she believes that those changes would help and that the GSEs (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.) could help to collect that information.

Senator Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Mr. Rothstein about the “race neutral” policies he mentions in his book. Mr. Rothstein described how policies that are superficially race neutral can still have a disparate impact due to the history of racial discrimination. An example of that phenomenon is exclusionary zoning laws that, at least on the surface, do not explicitly mention race.

Senator Warnock (D-GA) asked how to address ongoing discrimination in the appraisal market. Ms. Rice responded that Congress and the administration should enforce the Fair Housing Act, fund fair housing organizations, and re-staff the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Several other Senators from both parties attended the hearing to question the witnesses. All witness testimonies and a recording of the hearing are available at www.banking.senate.gov/hearings

Congress Holds Hearing on Public Housing and the Pandemic

The House Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance held a hearing on Wednesday, March 24th titled, “Preserving a Lifeline: Examining Public Housing in a Pandemic.” In his opening statement, Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) reflected on the history of public housing and his own experience growing up in a public housing unit.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Stiver (R-OH) also provided opening statements in recognition of the growing affordable housing needs in the United States.

NAHRO’s Director of Policy and Program Development, Georgi Banna, was the first witness to testify. He explained how public housing serves as a community hub and a community asset, highlighting the efforts of several NAHRO members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Banna emphasized Congress’s responsibility to address the $70 billion Public Housing Capital Fund backlog, stating, “Public housing must be protected. Public housing must be expanded.”

Four additional witnesses testified at the hearing. Tamir Ali Mohamud, a public housing resident and member of the Minneapolis High-Rise Representative Council, spoke about finding a safe home in public housing as a Somalian refugee. The Executive Director of Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, Brian Gage, testified about his agency’s efforts to support residents during the pandemic and advocated for additional HUD waivers and flexibilities. Another PHA Executive Director, Oscar Duran of the Municipal Housing Agency of Council Bluffs, supported many of the same points and defended the essential role of public housing within the network of affordable housing programs.

The final witness was Michael Hendrix, the Director of State and Local Policy for the Manhattan Institute. He spoke about the challenges faced by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and mentioned an expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program as a possible solution.

Subcommittee members then questioned the witnesses on several pieces of their testimonies. For example, Congressman Al Lawson (D-FL) asked about the human costs of the long-term disinvestment in public housing. Congressman Van Taylor (R-TX) discussed the need for more physical, affordable housing units and potential zoning law changes with Mr. Banna and Mr. Hendrix. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-OH) asked Mr. Gage about the pros and cons of Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversions.

Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY), a newly elected member of Congress, began his comments by stating, “I would not be in the United States Congress were it not for public housing and the stability it gave me and my family.” While questioning Mr. Banna, Rep. Torres expressed his frustration that Congress provides $100 billion in annual mortgage interest deductions for homeowners but has not yet addressed the $70 billion Public Housing Capital Fund backlog. Chairman Cleaver (D-MO) closed the hearing by thanking the witnesses for their time. The recorded hearing and all witness testimonies are available the House Financial Services Committee website at this link: https://financialservices.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=406267

Senate Banking Committee Holds “The State of Housing in America” Hearing

On Tues., March 16th, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a virtual hearing called “Home = Life: The State of Housing in America”. The hearing covered a wide variety of housing topics, including affordable housing, housing finance, and access to homeownership.

Chairman Brown (D-OH) noted that it had been nine years since the committee held a hearing on housing for all Americans, especially, “homeowners looking to buy a lower cost home, seniors on a fixed income, and renters working a minimum wage job.”  

Five witnesses spoke about the areas of housing within their expertise. Dr. Chris Herbert from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies explained how the public, private, and nonprofit sectors can work together to address major housing issues. Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) outlined the housing needs of extremely low-income households. She urged the committee to support the “Public Housing Emergency Response Act,” which would authorize $70 billion for the public housing capital needs backlog.

The remaining three witnesses covered affordable homeownership and housing finance. They included Nikitra Bailey from the Center for Responsible Lending, Edward J. Pinto from the AEI Housing Center, and Ed DeMarco from the Housing Policy Council.

After presenting their testimonies, each witness answered questions from committee Senators. Senator Ossoff (D-GA) asked about the best way to distribute emergency Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) in response to COVID-19. Ranking Member Toomey (R-PA) spoke to the last two witnesses about housing market reform, including changes to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Senator Smith (D-MN), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, asked Dr. Herbert about increasing the stock of affordable housing in rural communities.

Senator Warren (D-MA) discussed public housing with Diane Yentel, stating, “through decades of underinvestment and unnecessary restrictions, Congress has helped create this crisis – that means that Congress can help fix it by making serious investments in increasing the supply of affordable housing and expanding public housing for the first time in decades.”  

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will consider several pieces of housing-related legislation in the upcoming months.