Hearing Recap – Promoting Economic Prosperity and Fair Growth through Access to Affordable and Stable Housing

Mar 1, 2022
Press Release

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WASHINGTON – On March 1, 2022, the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth — led by Chairman Jim Himes (CT-04) — held a hearing, “Promoting Economic Prosperity and Fair Growth through Access to Affordable and Stable Housing,” to listen to experts on how access to safe and consistent housing is crucial to economic wellbeing.

“I am looking forward to a productive discussion on how to access safe and stable housing, which as I think we all know, is essential to living a healthy life, maintaining consistent employment, and engaging productively in society and the economy,” opened Chairman Himes. “Putting forth equitable housing solutions today requires us to better understand past policies and how some have made a prosperous future possible—and impossible for those in underserved and marginalized communities.”

“We will also assess some of our shortcomings,” continued Chairman Himes, “including the institutional and economic forces that turned away Black and Latino Americans and limited their participation in civic and community life, redlining practices that all too often denied people of color and sought to maintain racially white neighborhoods, and missed opportunities to increase economic prosperity by reducing rent burdens for low-income residents.”

Watch Chairman Himes’ full opening remarks here.


The Select Committee presented recorded video testimonials from economically vulnerable Americans and the service providers who help them secure affordable housing:

“It is very hard to find housing when you are a single mom,” said Tracy Ferrell, a mother of four from Richmond, VA and former client of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia. “We need more support and help when it comes down to single parents that are doing everything for their children when it comes down to housing.”

“We see a very intricate connection between affordable, safe decent housing and economic disparity,” said Leah Hall, Affordable Housing Development Director for 3 Rivers Community Action. “A lot of Main Street workers and folks that are working at gas stations and other service industries simply don’t make the living wage needed to live in market-rate housing.”

Watch our storytellers’ full videos here.


The following witnesses testified before the Select Committee on the issues related to the housing supply shortage and the increasing difficulty in accessing affordable rent:

The Honorable Shaun Donovan, former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke to the personal, community, and macroeconomic importance of decent, affordable, and stable housing. “If our children can’t grow up in homes that allow them to reach their full potential as our future workforce, we will never build an economy that provides the prosperity and fair growth our nation deserves,” testified Secretary Donovan.

“This hearing comes at a unique moment as the COVID pandemic has demonstrated, in the starkest terms, the importance of homes to our health and prosperity,” added Secretary Donovan. “During my career in public service, I have seen that we can make progress, and the remarkable work of my fellow witnesses today confirms that hope. Decent, affordable, stable housing is a basic necessity for building life of opportunity and success, yet it is increasingly out of reach for too many Americans.”

Ms. Nikitra Bailey, Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the National Fair Housing Alliance, outlined the historical barriers to homeownership for communities of color and how they affect wealth gaps today. “My testimony shows federal laws and policies created racial segregation, the dual credit market, institutionalized redlining, and other structural barriers,” testified Ms. Bailey. “Families that receive opportunities through prior federal investments in housing are among America’s most economically secure citizens; those who did not continue to be excluded.”

“In this nation, where you live matters — your ZIP code is your destiny,” continued Ms. Bailey. “Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly believe that every child should have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing, and that ZIP codes should not determine success in life. Republicans and Democrats support increased funding for housing.” 

Ms. Jacqueline Waggoner, President of the Solutions Division at Enterprise Community Partners, spoke on the importance of her organization’s mission to increase the supply of affordable homes and advance racial equity in the housing sector. “Where a person lives has profound implications on education, health, lifetime earnings, and even life expectancy,” testified Ms. Waggoner. “There are also economic repercussions when people are forced to spend too much of their paychecks on housing or unable to growth wealth through homeownership.”

“It takes bold actions to address the longstanding economic and racial disparities and promote economic growth so that everyone and every community can thrive,” noted Ms. Waggoner. “At Enterprise, we have three priorities: number one, federal tenant protections through policies like source of income protections; number two, appropriations in support for renters receiving federal housing subsidies, including the expanded use of Earned Income Disregard and increasing funding for family self-sufficiency programs; and third, supporting community ownership models.”

Mr. Kevin Nowak, Executive Director of Cleveland Housing Network (CHN) Housing Partners and CEO of CHN Housing Capital, outlined his organization’s role among local, state, federal, nonprofit, and private entities to meet the need for housing stability. “A safe, stable, affordable place to call home can have dramatic impacts on quality of life, generational wealth, and health and wellness, and at the centerpiece of this wealth building is homeownership.”

“Unfortunately, this critical generational wealth building tool is out of reach for too many Americans, especially for low-income households and Black and Brown households,” continued Mr. Nowak. “CHN’s enrichment programs address these long-term financial and homeownership gaps through counseling and education, creating supply through development, and filling gaps in the lending market.”

Dr. Salim Furth, Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, spoke to how local land use regulation is the primary driver of high housing costs. “The solution to sky-high housing prices has to involve greater housing supply, specifically in markets where it is more constrained.”


The subsequent Q&A portion of the hearing produced the following points of exchange between the Select Committee members and invited witnesses:

Chairman Jim Himes (CT-04) asked Secretary Donovan to underscore effective national housing programs. “Rental assistance and homelessness prevention programs are the single best use of a dollar to avert not just the most extreme housing problems, but the economic consequences [of] ruining childhoods [and] ruining the prospects of families,” replied Secretary Donovan.

Ranking Member Bryan Steil (WI-01) asked Dr. Furth what States are doing to raise supply and bring down costs. “California’s [bipartisan] accessory dwelling unit policy” was applauded by Dr. Furth, as were Wisconsin and North Carolina’s decisions to end their “protest petition process.” Dr. Furth went on to describe the protest petition process that 20 states currently employ which “allows a very small number of neighbors to hold up rezoning.”


Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) discussed various ways the federal government can promote stable housing and asked Mr. Nowak to highlight the most valuable subsidies to decrease racial disparities. He replied by talking about the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, noting that “to construct or preserve affordable housing for people who are low- to -moderate-income, the rents…do not pencil out to allow for that development without the subsidy.”  

Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA-53) spoke to the importance of housing vouchers but added that “it is unacceptable that only one in four families who are eligible for housing vouchers receive them, especially when we know these vouchers are such an important strategy.” She opened the conversation to Ms. Waggoner, who added that expanding vouchers “is one pathway to ensure that property owners can get their rent paid and people can afford to sustain themselves, take care of their families, and get to their jobs.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) highlighted the national homelessness crisis, noting that “private equity has become increasingly prevalent in the rental market during the pandemic,” and asked Secretary Donovan “how this impacts families with vouchers trying to get leases.” Secretary Donovan replied by saying “there is no question that we continue to see pervasive discrimination against voucher-holders based on race and ethnicity, based on their incomes.” He added that “it is absolutely critical we invest more in vouchers, but that we also create pathways for those families to actually use them in markets…where there are barriers to using them.”

Earlier in the hearing, Ms. Bailey noted that one out of seven homes had “been purchased by investors, driving up the cost of housing.” She added that “we have a national market that has regional implications, but investors in California or New York are buying homes in Wisconsin and in places like Durham, North Carolina, driving up the cost of housing for ordinary working Americans.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) uplifted an example of communities failing to produce enough affordable housing, noting that “Huntington, New York, which is an affluent commuter neighborhood that is just a ten-minute train ride away from [her] district, approved construction of just 146 subsidized homes after 40 years of fighting for its approval.” She juxtaposed this figure against the fact that “in 2021, the New York City Department of Homeless Services counted over 100,000 homeless individuals who slept in our shelter system, [including] over 30,000 homeless children.”

Ms. Waggoner recommended that “the federal government should really incentivize state and local jurisdictions to ease land-use zoning restrictions that contribute to housing supply and the affordability issues [mentioned].”


Summary of Memorandum Prepared by the Select Committee’s Majority Staff:

Access to safe and stable housing is a prerequisite to living a healthy life, maintaining consistent employment, and engaging productively in society and the economy. Even before 2020, a growing share of renters were spending unsustainable amounts of income on rent, while homeownership was becoming increasingly out of reach for lower- and middle-income Americans—especially those of color. Ensuring that housing is not an obstacle—but rather a complement—to success is key to providing all Americans with the means to live their most productive lives and participate fully in the economy.

Key Facts about the Affordable Housing Crisis

 

  • Prices have significantly outpaced wages in recent decades. In 2021 dollars, the median asking price for a rental unit in the United States increased by 61% between 2000 and 2021, while the real median price of houses sold in the US increased by 49%. Yet over the same period, real median weekly earnings rose by just 10%.

 

  • Construction has slowed compared to past decades. In the 2010s, construction started on an average of 21,000 new homes annually for every 100,000 residents—just 50% of the 42,000 constructed on average annually in the 2000s, 1990s, and 1980s. As of 2020, the US had a housing deficit of 3.8 million units, with much of this shortfall concentrated in entry-level homes.

 

  • In 2001, 41% of all renters were rent-burdened, meaning they spent 30% or more of income on rent. By 2017, that figure had increased to 47%. In 2020, the average minimum-wage worker had to work 79 hours per week—nearly two full-time jobs—to afford a one-bedroom rental home without being rent-burdened.

 

  • Being rent-burdened leads to lower rates of future homeownership. In 2001, 41% of non-rent-burdened prime buying-age renter households (those headed by people aged between 21 and 34) became homeowners by 2005, compared to just 25% of rent-burdened households. By 2011, just 25% of non-rent-burdened prime buying-age renter households transitioned into homeownership in four years, while only 14% of rent-burdened households did.

 

  • The economic fallout from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the ability of households to save. 16% of upper-income Americans drew on savings or retirement funds to pay bills in 2020, but 33% of middle-income and 44% of lower-income Americans did. Moreover, just 3% of upper-income Americans had problems paying rent or mortgages, compared to 11% and 32% of middle- and lower-income Americans, respectively.
     

Historical Context of Housing Policy

For nearly 100 years, the federal government has intervened in the housing market to promote stability and affordability. In response to the slew of mortgage foreclosures spurred by the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which insured mortgages and duly increased the amount of credit available to Americans for home improvements and purchases. In 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill, was signed into law to provide low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans for homeownership to over 16 million World War II veterans.

Between 1940 and 1960, homeownership rates rose from 44% to 62% and fluctuated around 69% between 2004 and 2006 in the leadup to the Great Recession. This substantial rise has been attributed to a slew of intersecting and complementary factors—including demographic shifts; changing attitudes towards homeownership; income increases; the preferential tax treatment of homeownership; the development of the modern mortgage finance system; and federal encouragement of homeownership through mortgage market intervention, the FHA, and the Veterans Administration.

Yet federal action did not benefit all Americans equally. The FHA refused to insure mortgages in predominantly Black neighborhoods and often required homes built with its loans to be sold exclusively to white families. Racial discrimination also occurred in the New Deal-era Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), which drew maps for over 200 American cities to rate the perceived riskiness of lending across neighborhoods—a practice known as “redlining.” In doing so, the HOLC considered non-housing characteristics of neighborhoods such as racial, ethnic, and immigrant composition as negative attributes. With banks unwilling to make loans for mortgages in neighborhoods considered “risky,” Black Americans and their families were often unable to benefit from the intergenerational wealth benefits of homeownership.

In an effort to reverse some of the harm inflicted on communities of color from previous government actions, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, including Title VIII—also known as the Fair Housing Act—which prohibited discrimination in the selling, renting, and financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability, among other characteristics.

The subprime mortgage crisis of the 2000s, a period during which lenders expanded mortgage credit to borrowers with below-average credit histories or small down payments, likewise triggered substantial federal intervention. Due to the opacity surrounding untested financial products that pooled high-risk mortgages as well as predatory practices among various mortgage lenders, the subprime mortgage crisis culminated with an estimated 7.8 million home foreclosures between 2007 to 2016 and millions of Americans transitioning to renting.

Since 2008, the federal government has taken on a greater role in supporting financial housing markets to limit the likelihood of another related crash. In 2008, the Federal Housing Finance Agency placed the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) under conservatorship to “ensure that the enterprises operate in a safe and sound manner and that their operations and actions of each regulated entity foster a liquid, efficient, competitive, and resilient national housing finance market.”

Past Successes


Section 8 Amendment to the Housing Act: In 1974, Congress passed the Housing Choice Voucher Program, an amendment to the Housing Act of 1937, which provides federal vouchers to low-income households to rent from private landlords. Tenant contributions to rent payments are capped at around 30% of income, while the remainder is covered by the federal government. The Section 8 program, as it is commonly referred, drastically reduces homelessness and overcrowding and prevents more than one million people from falling into poverty—outcomes that are strongly correlated with educational, developmental, and health benefits. Despite the clear benefits of vouchers for recipients, the average household spends two and a half years on the waitlist before receiving them. Only one in four households eligible for some type of rental assistance actually receives any due to funding limitations.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit: The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, is the federal government’s primary policy tool to encourage the private development and rehabilitation of affordable rental housing. Through the LIHTC, developers are awarded federal tax credits to offset construction costs in exchange for reserving a certain share of rent-restricted units for low-income tenants. Since the 1990s, the LIHTC has supported the construction or rehabilitation of over 2 million affordable rental units.

Zoning Reform:
Oregon’s HB 2001 eliminated single-family zoning in most jurisdictions in the state and varied compliance requirements by city size. Massachusetts’s Chapter 40B, which “allows developers to bypass local zoning laws in communities that lack affordable housing options when a project includes units with long-term affordability restrictions,” has increased the supply of affordable housing in areas with local exclusionary barriers.

Proposals to Further Narrow the Gaps


Build Back Better: The Build Back Better framework as laid out by the House Committee on Financial Services aims to enable the construction, rehabilitation, and improvement of nearly two million affordable homes, extend housing vouchers to hundreds of thousands of additional eligible families that do not currently receive them, and help close the racial wealth gap by providing down payment assistance to hundreds of thousands of first-generation homebuyers.

Federal Emergency Rental Assistance: Calls for emergency rental assistance began when the federal government implemented eviction moratoriums during the first two years of the pandemic. Introduced by Senators Michael Bennet, Rob Portman, Sherrod Brown, and Todd Young, the Eviction Crisis Act of 2021 would establish a permanent emergency assistance fund to increase housing stability to financially vulnerable tenants. The legislation would also create a national database to track evictions, increase funding to study evictions, and “support increased legal representation for tenants.”

Read the full Select Committee memorandum here.

 

117th Congress