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.

On June 29th, the full House Financial Services Committee held a related hearing discussing inequality in the housing market. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) began the hearing by emphasizing the importance of homeownership: “It’s a source of stability and opportunity for families…however, not everyone has been able to realize the dream of homeownership.” She also advocated for passing the Downpayment Towards Equity Act.

Five expert witnesses provided testimony, including:

  • Michael Calhoun, President, Center for Responsible Lending
  • Sam Chandan, Professor of Finance & Director of Stern School of Business, New York University
  • Jung Hyun Choi, Senior Research Associate for Housing Finance Policy Center, Urban Institute
  • Lydia Pope, President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers
  • Norbert Michel, Vice President and Director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, Cato Institute 

Pope and Choi discussed the housing crisis’ disproportionate impact on minority and low-income populations. Calhoun and Chandan discussed the need for more affordable housing and policies that address structural causes of homeownership disparities. Michel largely disagreed with the other witnesses, asserting that reducing demand would increase housing affordability.

Disagreement was clear among Democrats and Republicans about the drivers and solutions for high housing costs. Ranking member Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) blamed government spending for worsening the housing crisis, asserting that increased spending through programs such as downpayment assistance would further damage the housing market. Conversely, Rep. Dean (D-PA) Rep. Lawson (D-FL) emphasized the importance of providing federal assistance to first time and low-income buyers, whether through downpayment assistance or incentivizing sellers to conduct business with FHA buyers.

The hearings also covered rising gas prices, landlord accountability, and supply shortages. The recorded hearing and witness statements are available on the House Financial Services Committee website.

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.

Ranking Member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) agreed with Tubb that Americans who want to make their homes more resilient can do so without government intervention. In contrast, several other committee members spoke about bills they introduced to incentivize and support energy-efficient housing, especially for those living in affordable housing. The bills include:

The full hearing and witness testimonies are available on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee website.

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.

Chairwoman Waters Holds Press Conference on Housing Funds in Build Back Better Act

On Tuesday, October 12, Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) of the House Financial Services Committee held a press conference on housing funds in the Build Back Better Act. Several members of Congress and housing advocates joined her outside at the House Triangle. During her remarks, Rep. Waters stated:

“There were 13 kids in my family and I can’t even tell you what we went through to try to have decent housing… Housing is needed all over this country – in urban areas and in rural areas – and we intend to fight for it.”  

The representatives who spoke at the press event included Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). Each member expressed their support for the proposed housing funds. Rep. Johnson listed a few of the programs that the Build Back Better Act could fund, including:

  • $90 billion for rental assistance (HCV and PBRA)
  • $80 billion for public housing repairs
  • $40+ billion for CDBG and HOME

Congressional leadership is negotiating cuts to the original $3.5 trillion bill. One reporter who attended the conference asked Chairwoman Waters whether she would support cutting the duration of the proposed funds in order to keep them in the package. Waters responded, “I like the idea.” She closed the press conference by chanting “Housing is infrastructure!” with those in attendance. A recording of the event is available HERE on YouTube.

To voice your support for housing funds in the Build Back Better Act, send an advocacy letter from NAHRO’s Action Alert Center. Urge your legislators to keep the proposed housing and community development funds in the final bill.

Treasury Secretary Yellen Testifies on ERAP in House Committee

On September 30, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the full committee. Sec. Yellen’s testimony focused on America’s economic recovery from the pandemic, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and the debt ceiling. On ERAP, Sec. Yellen stated:

“Prior to the pandemic, there was essentially no national infrastructure to get money from government coffers to renters and landlords. Building that infrastructure has been a massive undertaking for states, localities, and tribes. The program is scaling up quickly, with 1.4 million payments made to help struggling renters keep a roof over their heads.”  

Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) questioned Sec. Yellen about the ongoing improvements Treasury is making to ERAP. Rep. Waters promoted her Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 bill to ensure ERAP funding gets to renters at risk of eviction. Ranking Member Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) felt that the oversight hearing should have happened months ago but commended both witnesses for their work during the challenges of the pandemic.

Though the hearing covered several topics, a few committee members questioned Sec. Yellen about ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) cited August 2021 data showing that more than 83% of ERAP funds remain unspent while “millions of renters and property owners remain in limbo.” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) also pressed Sec. Yellen to explain how Treasury will accelerate ERAP spending.

In response to both members, Sec. Yellen reiterated the challenges of implementing ERAP as a new program. She explained that Treasury and HUD are providing technical assistance to grantees and have updated ERAP guidance to reduce program barriers. Sec. Yellen also talked through a few options for reallocating ERAP funds from grantees who are unable to spend them down.  

The full hearing and witness statements are available on the House Financial Services Committee website. The Senate Committee on Housing, Banking, and Urban Affairs held a similar hearing with Sec. Yellen and Chairman Powell earlier in the same week, which is also available online.

Congressional Site Visits are a Tool for Advocacy

During the August recess, NAHRO members in three states hosted Congressional staff members at in-person and virtual site visits. The staff learned about the agencies’ properties, their programs, and the potential for Congress to provide additional support. Site visits give Congressional offices a chance to see how housing and community programs work “on the ground” and understand how their decisions impact households in their state.

The August Advocacy site visits included:

  • Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD): A legislative aide from Sen. Rounds’ office visited the Housing and Redevelopment Commission of Pierre at the Midtown Apartments property.
  • Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO): Staff visited two properties in the Denver area:
    • Maiker Housing Partners
    • Metro West Housing Solutions
  • Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ): A regional director for the office attended a virtual site visit with the South Tucson Housing Authority and the City of Tucson Housing and Community Development Department.
  • Senator Krysten Sinema (D-AZ): Two staff members from the office met with the Tucson agencies listed above and the Phoenix Housing Department for a virtual site visit.

Any agency can host a site visit to build a relationship with legislators and inform them about local affordable housing programs. To host a visit, reach out to the NAHRO Congressional Relations team at or for support. The team will contact your legislator’s office on your behalf and work with you to schedule a visit.

Congress Holds Hearing on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

On Friday, September 10, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Protecting Renters During the Pandemic: Reviewing Reforms to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance.” During the hearing, members considered two bills that aim to improve the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) – one sponsored by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the other sponsored by Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC). In her opening statement, Chairwoman Waters remarked:

“I am very concerned about data showing that state and local governments have only used 11 percent of the $46.6 billion in emergency rental assistance funds that are available… That is why I have introduced new legislation, the ‘Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021,’ which is designed to make sure that individuals and families are not put out of their homes while this virus continues to harm communities across the county.”

Witnesses from Community Legal Services, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, the National Multifamily Housing Council, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Winn Companies provided expert testimony. Although they spoke from different perspectives, the witnesses agreed that Congress must improve ERAP so that the funding reaches landlords and tenants who are most in need.  

For example, David Schwartz, Chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council, asked the committee to streamline document requirements, remove the 18-month limit on arrearages, allow ERAP to reimburse rental property owners even if the renter has moved, and to make other potential improvements. The two proposed bills received a mix of criticism and praise from the witnesses.

The hearing lasted several more hours after the testimonies, as 32 committee members questioned the witnesses. Several Republican members, including Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Rep. French Hill (R-AR), expressed their frustration that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen did not attend the hearing, despite the Dept. of Treasury’s responsibility to administer ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) and many other members spoke about their concern for vulnerable renters and small, “mom and pop” landlords.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) discussed the impact of evictions. Rep. Beatty shared her concern about racial equity in housing, as the data shows that households led by Black women represent the majority of those who have applied for ERAP or are at risk of eviction. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) attempted to summarize where the two parties agree and where they diverge on ERAP, stating:

I think we all agree that there was a failure to get money out the door that not only put renters at risk of eviction, but it also hurt mom and pop landlords who are more likely to own and operate affordable rental units…”

The committee plans to markup the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 on Monday, September 13th. The recorded hearing and written witness testimonies are available here on the House Committee on Financial Services website.