Invest in Affordable Housing as Infrastructure
An investment in our nation’s infrastructure may be an issue where Democrats in Congress can find common ground with the new president. While running for office, President Donald Trump proposed to spend $1 trillion dollars to rebuild America’s infrastructure, and Senate Democrats unveiled their own $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan in January.
A large, bipartisan infrastructure spending bill could provide additional resources to build and preserve America’s affordable housing infrastructure. The Senate Democratic proposal includes $100 billion for “revitalizing America’s Main Streets,” which could include investments in affordable housing.
“An investment in affordable housing infrastructure for the lowest income people would provide our nation with the resources it needs to help the economy, local communities, and families thrive,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel.
Research shows that an investment in affordable housing infrastructure would boost productivity and economic growth, support job creation and increased incomes, and help connect low income families to communities of opportunity.
NLIHC advocates that any comprehensive infrastructure package should include an expansion of the national Housing Trust Fund, an increase in Housing Choice Vouchers or other rental assistance to help connect families to areas of opportunity, and resources to rehabilitate public housing.
Tax Reform is a top priority for President Donald Trump and the new Congress, and it could provide advocates an opportunity to significantly increase affordable housing resources. Previous efforts at a broad tax reform package have been stalled by partisan gridlock, but this Congress is likely to move forward with a bill that has numerous implications for housing programs.
Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced H.R. 948, the “Common Sense Housing Investment Act,” to reform the mortgage interest deduction—a $70 billion tax write-off that largely benefits higher-income households—and to reinvest the savings to provide affordable rental homes to people with the greatest needs. If enacted, the bill would allow an additional 15 million low and moderate income homeowners who currently do not benefit from the mortgage interest deduction to receive a much-needed tax break. The bill would also reinvest the significant savings—$241 billion over 10 years—into the national Housing Trust Fund, Low Income Housing Tax Credit, public housing, and rental assistance solutions.
NLIHC and the United for Homes campaign—which has been endorsed by more than 2,300 national, state, and local organizations and government officials—strongly support H.R. 948. We encourage all advocates to ask their Members of Congress to cosponsor H.R. 948.
It is time for Congress to reinvest scarce federal resources to serve families with the greatest needs. Just one in four families eligible for rental housing assistance gets the help it needs. Meanwhile, half of all homeowners do not benefit from the mortgage interest deduction, and nearly all of the mortgage interest deduction goes to households with incomes over $100,000.
For our nation to fully address the affordable housing crisis for families with extremely low incomes, we must rebalance scarce resources to increase investment in proven solutions. To learn more about the United For Homes campaign, visit www.unitedforhomes.org
Housing is a Crucial Aspect of Criminal Justice Reform
There’s no way around it: The United States incarcerates its people at an outrageous rate. For every 100,000 people, there are 716 in jail or prison. Although the U.S. represent just over 4% of the world’s population, we “house” almost 25% of the world’s total prison population. In fact, the FBI estimates that as many as one in three Americans has a criminal record.
Throughout America’s incarceration binge, costs for constructing and maintaining prisons and jails have eaten up state and federal budgets—money that could have been spent elsewhere: on education, on health, on housing. Families have been torn apart.
Even after people have served their time and try to return to their families and communities, they often face insurmountable barriers that jeopardize their opportunity to make the most of their second chance.
Finding a place to call home poses a particular challenge for justice-involved people because housing providers, including public housing agencies (PHAs) and owners of federally-assisted housing, have broad discretion in screening out applicants with criminal records. When this happens, returning citizens are at risk of becoming homeless or recidivating.
Numerous studies and pilot programs throughout the country have shown why housing is so critical for people returning from incarceration. Housing provides a stabilizing platform that leads to positive outcomes for the formerly incarcerated, their communities, and their families. Other studies have shown that without housing, formerly incarcerated individuals are more likely to end up back in prison.
Given the growing cost of our criminal justice system, both in terms of families and dollars, criminal justice reform (CJR) has become more of a bipartisan issue. Both the House and Senate have increasingly moved to pass pieces of CJR legislation in the last few years.
Unfortunately, CJR stalled in 2016, but lawmakers have indicated they would again like to take up the issue. However, with the Senate bogged down with confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court and federal agencies, it remains unclear when senators will turn their attention to CJR.
Additionally, there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether the Trump Administration will support these renewed efforts given the president’s earlier rhetoric on the issue and his selection of Senator Jeff Sessions, an opponent of past reform proposals, to serve as U.S. Attorney General.
Some advocates believe that the Trump administration may be less interested in working on more controversial reforms, such as reducing prison sentences, and might instead focus their efforts on reentry issues, which could include housing access for people with criminal records.
When Congress finally does turn its attention to CJR and legislative proposals begin to take shape, it is essential that the housing needs of people with criminal records be addressed.