Responding to reports about housing costs dramatically outpacing inflation over the past decade, the president of a new nonprofit group believes the federal government should make housing a priority.
Ali Solis, the president of Make Room, outlined steps policymakers could take, noting federal housing subsidy programs have stagnated and housing prices have risen 38 percent more than inflation since the end of the last recession in 2009.
In a subsequent statement, Solis applauded a bill to form an 18-member bipartisan affordable housing task force. “It is only through bipartisan support that the affordable housing crisis will get the attention it needs to create real, long-term solutions,” she emphasized.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is one of eight original co-sponsors of the Task Force on the Impact of the Affordable Housing Crisis Act. The group is charged with evaluating and quantifying the impact of affordable housing on other government programs and providing recommendations to Congress on how to use affordable housing to improve the effectiveness of other Federal programs and improve life outcomes.
With a focus on ending the rental housing crisis and elevating affordable housing to the national agenda, Make Room’s president believes “there needs to be a full commitment from the president down to the city council level to come together and made housing a national priority.”
Three steps the federal government could take, according to Make Room, are:
- Massively increase funding for federal housing subsidies. Research shows the number of low-income renters jumped by 6 million between 1987 and 2015, yet only 950,000 more people have received federal rental assistance. To fix the lack of HUD’s investment in new public housing developments and deflation of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, Make Room calls for bipartisan legislation that would boost the LIHTC program by 50 percent. Costs to create another 400,000 units of housing over 10 years are estimated at $4.1 billion.
Another approach, estimated to cost $6 billion per year, is backed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It would create a “renters’ tax credit” to help cushion the impact of rising rents. A third option being advanced by Princeton professor Matthew Desmond, would guarantee housing vouchers to all Americans making less than 30 percent of the local median income, allowing them to pay no more than 30 percent of their own income on rent. Desmond, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist, estimates that program would cost a maximum of $22.5 billion per year, “without counting the economic and social benefits of helping people avoid homelessness.”
- Discourage local over-regulation. The gradual accumulation of local regulations in some markets, such as minimum lot sizes, parking requirements, and extensive approval processes, reduce the number of units that can be built. Make Room cites National Multifamily Housing Council estimates that regulation on all levels of government make up 32 percent of the cost of new multifamily developments. One idea, resurrected from similar attempts in 1991 and 2001, is to have the federal government award competitive grants to cities that relax their codes or condition transit investments on allowing maximum density around rail and bus stations. Proponents believe “scarce rental subsidies would go further if housing were more plentiful in the first place.”
- Decrease the cost of construction. Acknowledging the price of land is hard to control, the Make Room officials believe the White House could make lumber and steel cheaper by lifting tariffs it imposed on these materials. Furthermore, they say the challenges of finding skilled workers could be eased with beefed-up training programs and improved provisions for income security, along with easing the crackdown on immigrants.
As part of its campaign, Make Room has created a digital platform to bring constituents, advocates and elected officials together “to start a real dialogue about solving America’s housing affordability crisis.
Its research indicates 11 million households pay more than half their income for rent.
The organization also polls voters to gauge public opinion on its priorities. A recent survey found 76 percent of likely voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate who made housing affordability a priority.
Make Room partners with and convenes corporations, policymakers, nonprofit organizations and advocates “to give a voice to Americans struggling to make rent.” Its partners include The MacArthur Foundation and The Ford Foundation.
Make Room and its logo are registered trademarks of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc, which creates and advocates for affordable homes in thriving communities linked to jobs, good schools, health care and transportation. Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Enterprise has created nearly 529,000 homes and invested $36 billion to create opportunity for low- and moderate-income people.