Senate Holds Hearing on Rental Housing Affordability

This article was written by Richa Goel, NAHRO’s Legislative Affairs Intern.

As rents skyrocket across the country, many Americans are struggling to find safe, affordable housing. On August 2, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the impact of today’s housing market on renters and communities.

Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opened by discussing the impact of housing shortages on renters:

“We’re 3.8 million homes short of what we need. Not a single state in the country has enough housing. For the lowest income renters, there are just 36 units affordable and available for every 100 renters who need them…this huge shortage of housing means renters have to make do with what they’ve got.”

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Housing Bills Pass Committee Along Party Lines

This article was written by Richa Goel, NAHRO’s Legislative Affairs Intern.

The House Financial Services Committee held a markup on July 27 and July 28 that included multiple housing-related bills. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) led the markup, overseeing amendments offered by committee members. Waters began the markup by offering a brief overview of the housing-related legislation:

“This markup includes a slate of bills to strengthen oversight of our country’s affordable housing and give communities the tools they need to address the homelessness crisis”

The “Studying Barriers to Housing Act” and “Housing Inspections Accountability Act of 2022” would increase transparency and oversight of affordable housing. The first bill would instruct the Government Accountability Office to produce a report about the barriers that make it difficult to address homelessness with Housing Choice Vouchers. The second bill would require HUD and the USDA to provide a joint report to Congress about failed inspections in public housing. Rep. John Rose (R-TN) proposed an amendment to require HUD and the EPA to also analyze the prevalence of superfund sites within one mile of public housing. Rose’s amendment did not pass. Both bills passed along party lines.

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Senate Holds Hearings on the Housing Crisis

This article was written by Richa Goel, NAHRO’s Legislative Affairs Intern.

Affordable housing is becoming increasingly scarce in the United States. Last week, the Senate held three hearings discussing drivers and solutions to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. On July 19th, the Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee held a hearing addressing homelessness. The Finance Committee held a hearing on July 20th discussing the importance of tax incentives in affordable housing. On July 21st, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing about rising costs in both the homebuying and rental markets.

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House Holds Hearing on the Affordable Housing Crisis

This article was written by Richa Goel, NAHRO’s Legislative Affairs Intern

Housing is a basic necessity, but many Americans struggle to find affordable housing, both in the rental and homeownership markets. On July 13th, The Ways and Means Committee held a hearing about the affordable housing crisis and its impacts on communities across the country.

Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) opened the hearing by discussing the impacts of affordable housing shortages on minority and low-income communities:

“The housing affordability crisis has deepened the already wide racial, wealth, and homeownership gaps. Today’s racial disparities in housing and wealth grow out of a long legacy of discrimination and unequal access.”

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Congress Holds Hearings on Homeownership

This article was written by Richa Goel, NAHRO’s Legislative Affairs Intern

With housing prices and rents skyrocketing, homeownership has become out of reach for many Americans, especially low-income and minority populations. On June 28th, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing analyzing the impact of institutional investors on individual homeownership and rent prices.

Chairman Rep. Al Green (D-TX) opened the hearing by discussing predatory purchasing practices: “Private equity companies have bought up hundreds of thousands of single family homes and placed them on the rental market…these homes tend to be located in communities with significantly more families of color than the national average.

Five expert witnesses testified in front of the subcommittee, including:

  • Jim Baker, Executive Director, Private Equity Shareholder Project
  • Shad Bogany, Agent, Better Homes and Gardens
  • Sofia Lopez, Deputy Campaign Director of Housing, Action Center on Race and the Economy
  • Elora Lee Raymond, Assistant Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Jenny Schuetz, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute

Baker, Lopez, and Raymond discussed the relationship between institutional investors acquiring single-family homes and increased rents and eviction filings. Bogany spoke about institutional investors targeting minority communities, charging high rent prices, and diminishing minority chances of homeownership. Schuetz highlighted the increasingly tight housing market, asserting that local zoning policies and regulations have hindered home building and driven high housing costs.

Democrats and Republicans disagreed on the causes and remedies for high housing costs. Ranking Member Rep. Tom Emmer and Rep. William Timmons (R-SC) emphasized inflation, accusing Democrats of using institutional investors as a scapegoat for policy and spending mistakes. In contrast, Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA) and Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) emphasized the impact of institutional investment on minority communities. They advocated for closing the gap between investors and individuals in the homebuying process.

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Housing Bills Move Forward in Committee

Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) held a markup for several housing-related bills. The House Financial Services Committee offered amendments to bills that will move forward once approved by a committee vote. Chair Waters opened the markup, saying, “The bills we are marking up today will benefit working families all across this country… by reducing the cost of housing…”

Two bills, the “Housing Temperature Safety Act of 2022” and the “Public and Federally Assisted Housing Fire Safety Act of 2022,” address the issue of fire safety in federal housing. The members who introduced the bills both represent cities where tragic fires occurred earlier this year – Philadelphia and the Bronx in New York City. After hearing comments from the bill sponsors, the committee voted to pass both bills.

The committee considered three other housing bills, including:

  • HR 68, the “Housing Fairness Act of 2021” (Passed 28-24)
  • HR 3111, the “Grandfamily Housing Act of 2021” (Passed 29-24)
  • HR 4495, the “Downpayment Toward Equity Act of 2021” (28-23)

The bills would provide additional funding for fairness in homeownership and housing support for grandparents raising children. Committee members expressed greater disagreement on these bills. Republican members said they would not vote for additional funding until inflation subsides, while Democrat members said the bills address long-standing issues that deserve timely action. The committee voted to pass all three bills along party lines.

In addition to housing, the committee heard bills related to the banking industry and small businesses. The full markup and all bill texts are available on the House Financial Services Committee website.

Senate Holds Hearing on Energy-Efficient and Resilient Housing

With the looming threat of climate change and frequent natural disasters, there are more options available for energy-efficient, resilient, and weatherized housing. The upfront costs of these investments are too expensive for many low- and moderate-income households, however. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a May 18th hearing to explore options for climate change-resilient housing.

Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opened the hearing by connecting the housing affordability crisis to the issue of resilient housing: “Nearly one third of families said they had difficulty paying energy bills in 2020… We can build more housing protected from fires and floods, we can renovate and upgrade the homes we already have.”

Three expert witnesses testified for the committee. Ruth Ann Norton from the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative spoke about the relationship between housing quality and health outcomes such as childhood asthma. Krista Egger from Enterprise Community Partners spoke about the long-term financial benefits of installing energy efficient appliances and green standards in government-funded affordable housing. A witness from the Heritage Foundation, Katie Tubb, argued that energy-efficient and resilient housing is desirable, but that it should not be mandated or funded by Congress.

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Congress Holds Hearing on Affordable Housing and Economic Mobility

Housing is a significant part of economic wellbeing for most American families. The House Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth held a March 1 hearing on “Affordable Housing and Economic Mobility.” Chairman Jim Himes (D-CT) and Ranking Member Bryan Steil (R-WI) opened with remarks on affordable housing construction, inclusive zoning, and homeownership. On the purpose of the hearing, Chairman Himes said,

“We will examine the critical role that stable and affordable housing plays in creating paths to economic prosperity and giving every American the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Following the opening statements, five expert witnesses testified before the committee, including:

Bailey and Waggoner both discussed the history of inequity in housing policies. Former Secretary Donovan proposed three pathways to promote prosperity through housing: increase investments in rental assistance and construction programs, expand homeownership, and invest in improving disadvantaged neighborhoods. Nowak spoke about the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) as one of the best tools developers have for creating more affordable housing. Finally, Dr. Furth testified about the regional differences in housing markets and affordability.

Disagreement was clear among committee members about whether subsidies are helpful or harmful in addressing the affordable housing crisis. Ranking Member Steil (R-WI), Rep. Davidson (R-OH), and Rep. Arrington (R-TX) argued that subsidies only drive up costs within the housing market, making rents even more expensive. In place of subsidies, they argued for an increase in housing supply through reduced regulations and fewer taxes in the construction supply chain.

In contrast, Chairman Himes (D-CT), Rep. Jayapal (D-WA), and Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) talked about the benefits of housing subsidies for those in their communities who struggle to afford housing. Rep. Jayapal said in Seattle there are people working full time at $15 per hour who still cannot afford a home. In response to a member’s question, Bailey pointed out that, in addition to rental assistance subsidies, many Americans benefit from homeownership subsidies that make it financially feasible for them to own homes.

The hearing also covered homelessness, source of income discrimination, zoning restrictions, Housing Choice Vouchers, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), and credit scoring. The recorded hearing and all witness statements are available on the Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth’s website.

Housing Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Homelessness

Over 500,000 people are homeless in the United States. The number of homeless individuals and families has increased in recently years, partly due to the economic instability of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development Insurance held a February 2nd hearing on “Housing America: Addressing Challenges in Serving People Experiencing Homelessness.”

In his opening statement, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said the lack of housing resources across the nation is a barrier to solving homelessness. He supports the $150 billion proposed in the Build Back Better Act that would go toward housing and community development programs. Ranking Member Rep. French Hill (R-AR) talked about several nonprofits that successfully serve homeless veterans and others in his district. In his comments, Rep. Hill said homeless service providers should not have to comply with the Housing First approach to receive HUD funding.  

Five witnesses provided testimony on their areas of expertise regarding homelessness:

  • Adrienne Bush, Executive Director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky
  • Marc Dones, Chief Executive Officer of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority
  • Ann Oliva, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Nan Roman, Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Harriet McDonald, President of the Doe Fund

The witnesses explained that homelessness has increased steadily each year since 2016. Homelessness disproportionately impacts people of color. Bush said only 8% of Kentucky identifies as Black, but 25% of the state’s homeless population is Black. In many cases, homeless individuals have jobs but cannot afford housing because their wages are too low and rents are rising too quickly. All witnesses urged the committee to increase funding for affordable housing and homeless service providers.

Republican members of the subcommittee questioned McDonald about homeless services at the Doe Fund. She said their “three-legged stool” approach includes work, services (including drug treatment), and job training. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) said he believes the Housing First approach ignores services, such as drug treatment, which are critical to addressing the homeless crisis. Both Oliva and Dones responded to Rep. Steil’s comments, explaining, “Housing First does not mean housing only.” The witnesses described the Housing First model as housing programs with voluntary wrap-around services.

Democrat subcommittee members spoke to the witnesses about several topics, including Housing Choice Vouchers, wages for homeless service providers, and affordable housing development. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) said, “The solution to homelessness is housing… homelessness is a policy choice.” Oliva agreed and advocated for affordable housing development through the National Housing Trust Fund and rental assistance through an expanded Housing Choice Voucher program.

Witness testimonies and the full recorded hearing is available on the House Financial Services Committee website.

House Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, Build Back Better Act Delayed

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) and the Build Back Better (BBB) Act are officially decoupled. Democrats spent last Friday engaged in intense negotiations to try to move both the BIF and the BBB bills forward. Things looked promising at the beginning of the day, but quickly unraveled. Democratic moderates had previously warned Congressional leadership that they would not vote on BBB without a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to see exactly how much the bill would cost, and they did not back down.

Progressives still insisted that they were unwilling to vote on the BIF until the BBB was approved. It appeared that the dynamics that have been holding up votes for over a month still had not changed. At the end of the day, moderates drafted a letter to progressives pledging to vote on the BBB no later than November 15 and assured progressives that they would support the bill if the CBO score shows that there is no impact to the deficit. This de-escalated the situation. Here is where each bill currently stands:

Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF): The BIF (officially the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”) contains the “hard” infrastructure proposals in President Biden’s agenda. It does not include any funding for housing programs. While the Senate passed the BIF back in early August, the House finally passed it late last Friday, November 5. The House approved the BIF, sending it to President Biden for his signature. It passed the House with the support of most, but not all, progressives and 13 Republicans.

Build Back Better Act (BBB): The Build Back Better Act is a separate, $1.75 trillion bill that includes $150 billion for housing and community development programs. On Friday, the House approved a rule to bring the BBB to the floor for a vote. The rule passed along party lines with all Democrats voting in support. Congress is currently in recess and the BBB vote may happen the week of November 15. However, the CBO says it may be closer to Thanksgiving until they’re able to score the bill.

If the CBO score is consistent with the Democrats’ claim that the bill has no impact on the deficit, then the BBB Act should be able to pass the House along party lines. If it shows that it increases the deficit, there may be an issue. The text sent to CBO for scoring includes $154 billion in housing funding and a last-minute addition of housing tax credit provisions. The bill will not be changed while the CBO is analyzing it.

Although these two pieces of President Biden’s agenda have been intertwined over the past few months, they are now moving separately through Congress. The President is expected to sign the BIF into law this week. The pathway for the BBB Act is less clear as Congress waits on the CBO score.

To urge your legislators to pass the BBB Act with the $150 billion proposed for housing funds, visit NAHRO’s Action Alert Center.