On May 16, 2022 the Biden White House released a plan to “Ease the Burden of Housing Costs.” While many of the proposals in the announcement were short on detail, some important priorities were raised while others remained conspicuously absent. The Administration must, with all of its funding and policy decisions, prioritize those that are suffering the greatest housing burden: low income people, people of color, and other marginalized communities. To that end, all policy shifts must include mandates for strong tenant and fair housing protections; the removal of housing from the speculative market, the acquisition, construction, and preservation of deeply and permanently affordable, public, and social housing; and shifts that will meaningfully correct racial inequities in our housing system. Over 100 organizations across the country have endorsed the Housing Justice National Platform, a shared vision for what our housing system should be; any federal shifts should move us further toward the realization of that vision.
Providing Incentives for Land Use and Zoning Reform and Reducing Regulatory Barriers
The White House plan lays out several ways it intends to encourage zoning reforms, including providing communities with incentive payments for housing and transportation projects that prioritize density and housing, including:
Leveraging transportation funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)
Integrating affordable housing into DOT Programs
Including land use within the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) investment priorities
While it is undeniable that exclusionary zoning laws and policies were instituted to, and have succeeded in, furthering racial discrimination, segregation, and lack of opportunity in housing, zoning reforms must be carefully crafted so that they truly serve the goals of advancing fair housing and racial and economic justice. For example, repealing single family zoning rules in an exclusionary-zoned, upper-income community without also mandating affordable housing could mean that a community could fulfill zoning reform goals by building a series of million dollar condo buildings. Similarly, upzoning already dense urban areas without strong renter protections will drive displacement of already marginalized communities. All zoning reform plans must include the zoning equity principles that were sent in a letter to the White House and Congress last year from over 100 housing justice organizations from across the country, which this plan does not do.
Piloting New Financing for Housing Production and Preservation
The plan aims to utilize more federal financing tools to support affordable housing acquisition, construction, and preservation. While there is clearly a need to fully support truly affordable, public, and social housing with all the tools at our disposal, it is critical that these supports come with requirements that protect low-income tenants and homeowners, and policies that remove more land and housing from the speculative market and into permanent affordability.
Supporting production and availability of manufactured housing
While providing more conventional financing for manufactured home loans to lower the costs for homebuyers is a worthwhile goal, it must go hand in hand with efforts to support community-based ownership models of manufactured housing parks, such as non-profit land trusts, public ownership, and resident cooperatives, and to stop the flood of private equity and Wall Street take-over of the sector.
Scaling Up ADUs and piloting ADU and home renovation financing tools
Providing more affordable financing for rural, small multi-family housing and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be a part of the solution to ease the housing crisis, but our shared federal resources must come with strong tenant protection and fair housing requirements. Resources must also be targeted at where the actual need is the greatest: housing that is affordable to low, very low and extremely low income people. The federal government has disinvested from public housing over many decades, to the detriment of the people most in need in our communities. Preserving and improving existing public housing and financing new social housing should be an essential piece of the White House plan.
Improving and Expanding Existing Federal Financing
Strengthening Enterprise financing for multifamily development and rehabilitation
The plan touts the increasing and streamlining Fannie and Freddie financing for construction and rehabilitation of multi-family rental properties and requiring that 50% of their business be for mission driven affordable housing. While taking steps to ensure that there is more affordable financing available for the construction of multi-family housing is a worthwhile goal, the Administration, through the FHFA, must go much further than what is proposed in the White House plan. In virtually every community in the U.S., the shortage of housing units is not at the high end or even at the mid-range. As reported in the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Gap Report, the desperate shortage is for housing affordable to low, very low, and extremely low-income families and individuals and the impact on Black and Latinx families is stark, with the number of affordable neighborhoods plummeting since 2013, according to the latest National Equity Atlas report. The answer is plain; our federal priorities must meet this reality head on. In addition, safeguards must be put in place in the form of mandatory tenant protections, anti-displacement policies, and fair housing enforcement to ensure that streamlining federal financing doesn’t end up streamlining corporate landlord displacement and gentrification.
Leveraging American Rescue Plan funds for investments in affordable housing
The proposal recommends that states and counties use remaining American Rescue Plan funds to support affordable housing. The Administration must go beyond encouraging jurisdictions to use these funds for priorities that build communities and combat racial and economic inequality; the White House must mandate it and prohibit funds from being used to prop up failed strategies like over-policing and surveillance.
Advancing HOME as a key tool for the production and preservation of affordable rental and home ownership housing.
Updates to the HOME program, and all federal housing funds, should include mandating strong tenant protections and strict fair housing compliance as a condition of funding, along with preferences for funding housing that is permanently affordable, community or tenant owned and controlled and permanently taken off of the speculative market.
Dispose of federal properties to create affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness
More should be done to ensure that our publicly-owned lands and buildings be used for the public good and efforts to convert suitable structures for deeply affordable housing is a worthy goal. However, like with all of our shared resources, the primary goal should be to ensure that they are used to create permanently affordable and community-controlled housing so that these properties aren’t recycled back into the speculative market.
Preserving the Availability of Affordable Single-Family Homes for Owner Occupants
Directing supply to owner-occupants and mission-driven entities instead of large investors
A target of at least 50% of sales of FHA, Fannie, and Freddie owned properties to owner-occupants and mission driven non-profits vs. large investors through first right of purchase programs is not enough. We cannot allow any of our shared federal resources to support the corporate take-over of our communities. The devastating impacts of large investors' extractive ownership model of single and multi-family homes is well documented. This strategy drives displacement and increases housing costs dramatically for residents, while decreasing repair, upkeep, and quality of life. Corporations’ profits have skyrocketed since this strategy became commonplace following the Great Recession. Not one more penny of our shared federal resources should go toward supporting that extractive business model. 100% of Fannie, Freddie, and FHA owned homes should be reserved for sale to owner-occupied, tenant purchase, public or mission driven non-profit ownership.
Encouraging use of CDBG for local acquisition and local sales to owner-occupants and mission-driven entities
New rules and guidance should go beyond encouragement and require the preference for housing that will be permanently affordable; community controlled; and publicly, tenant, or non-profit owned.
Calling for Congressional Action on Build Back Better Housing Provisions
The Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a final rule to implement the Duty to Serve provisions which require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to serve three specified underserved markets – manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation and rural housing – by improving the distribution and availability of mortgage financing in a safe and sound manner for residential properties that serve very low-, low- and moderate-income families". This language needs to be codified at the federal level prior to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lending to predatory entities.
All of the proposals from the Administration can, if implemented well, help to ease the cost burden and availability of affordable housing. But we cannot tackle the scale of the affordable housing crisis without action from Congress to codify protections and fund the need for deeply, permanently affordable housing that is removed from the speculative market at the scale of the crisis.