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Affordable Housing Takes Center Stage in President Biden’s Policy Agenda

American Rescue Act Goes Big

United States, 20 May 2021 | Social, Economy, The future of the EU & Housing

Just a few months after the 2020 US Presidential election, a new day dawned regarding President Joe Biden and the federal government’s stance on affordable and social housing, Joshua Crites from Washington County, Oregon writes for Housing Europe's blog. Josh is an American Social Housing professional. He currently is the Assistant Director for a social housing organization in the Portland, Oregon metro area. He spent time working in and researching affordable housing and social housing in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Portugal and Estonia.

Over the last four years, affordable housing and homeless programs in the United States have been at risk under the former Trump administration.  The former President made threats year after year in his proposed budget to either slash the budget or in some cases eliminate funding for important systems like the federally funded Public Housing program.  Just a few months after the 2020 Presidential election, a new day dawned regarding President Joe Biden and the federal government’s stance on affordable and social housing.

American Rescue Act Goes Big

On March 11th of 2021, just weeks into his new Presidency, Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus relief package.  Within that package, around $50 billion was allocated to both housing and homelessness assistance.  The bill provided:

  • $27.4 billion is being allocated to renters who may have lost their jobs or been affected by COVID-19.  These funds will pay off rent arrears and hopefully contain or stop evictions.
  • $5 billion was allocated to create new emergency vouchers.  This is the single largest new allocation of vouchers in the United States in decades.  The voucher program in America is the largest social housing program and allows renters to find places to live in the private market while receiving rental assistance from the government.
  • $5 billion for homeless assistance for those sleeping rough or at risk of falling into homelessness
  • $10 billion is being set aside to assist homeowners at risk of losing their housing
  • $5 billion is being set aside to help with utility bills.

This bill showed that housing is a major commitment from President Biden and his administration.  The range of funding assists everyone from homeless up to homeowners.

Biden’s 2022 Budget Proposes 15% Increase in Funding

Perhaps more important than the one-time funding under the American Rescue Act is President Biden’s proposed budget.  After years of under investment and threats under President’ Trumps budget proposals, President Biden’s blueprint considers a $9 billion dollar increase over 2021’s budget.  One of the largest components of Biden’s plan would be to create 200,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) which would be a game changer for the country.  The proposal also recommends an additional $500 million in funding for homeless programs which could help up to an additional 75,000-100,000 people experiencing homelessness in the country. 

The Public Housing program which is a fixed asset nationwide portfolio experienced historic underfunding for the last three (3) decades.  There are billions of dollars in deferred capital repairs across the country with many units being lost every year due to the lack of maintenance and upkeep.  President Biden proposes to invest $3.2 billion in the capital fund to help fix the years of neglect that this important nationwide portfolio experienced.  The budget proposal also calls for full operational funding as tenants only pay 30% of their income for rent leaving major operational short falls for day to day management and maintenance.

Affordable Housing IS Infrastructure

President Biden aims to create a historic Presidency by making major investments into infrastructure across the country.  One of the major areas of investment in the multi-trillion-dollar plan is housing.  An estimated $213 billion dollars would be allocated to various housing projects that fall under the umbrella of infrastructure. 

One of the key parts of the plan would be to build 500,000 new homes for low- and middle-income buyers.  Although this does not fall under the typical category of what is considered social housing in the United States, owning a home is the major vehicle for wealth building in the US.  A series of tax credits would help this major building program get off the ground and create new housing units for lower income individuals and families.  Another part of his agenda would be to rehab an existing 1 million rental homes that are used as affordable housing.  This shows a dedication to preserving existing affordable housing while also retrofitting and improving energy efficiency. 

As mentioned earlier, the public housing portfolio across the USA has major capital issues that need to be resolved.  While the President’s proposed 2022 budget is a good start, this infrastructure bill would help solve many of the portfolio’s issues.  Biden proposes $40 billion dollars to repair the public housing portfolio while also increasing energy efficiency at these sites and making them more accessible.

Biden’s commitment to affordable housing and homelessness is laudable.  His agenda is ambitious, and he may only have another 1.5 years to get it done before potentially losing either the house or senate or perhaps both.  It is important to note that President Biden is committing to ensuring communities of color who have been historically discriminated against in the housing system and overrepresented in homeless counts be prioritized.  The new programs proposed by Biden could make a major difference across the country while centering equity in all of this spending.

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