House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) held on October 21 a hearing titled “A Strong Foundation: How Housing is the Key to Building Back a Better America.” The hearing focused on the crucial affordable housing investments her committee included in the original “Build Back Better Act,” including NLIHC’s HoUSed campaign’s top priorities: $90 billion to expand housing vouchers; $80 billion to make needed repairs to public housing; and $37 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund to construct and preserve deeply affordable, accessible housing for people with the lowest incomes.
The committee divided witnesses into two panels, the first to speak to the personal impact of housing unaffordability and the second to share the potential impact of robust affordable housing investments. Witnesses for the first panel included Symone Crawford, a first-generation homeowner and incoming executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance; Michael Edmonds, a resident of Tucson House, a public housing development located in Tucson, Arizona; Fernanda Galindo, a cost-burdened renter living in Washington, D.C.; John Harrison Jr., who has formerly experienced homelessness and is a speaker and advocate with the National Coalition for the Homeless and street outreach navigator with the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services; and Jan Lee, a landlord in New York representing the Small Property Owners of New York.
Witnesses serving on the second panel were Raj Chetty, a professor of public economics at Harvard University; Carlos del Rio, distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology, and global health at Emory University School of Medicine; Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance; Khalil Shahyd, senior policy advisor for equity, environment, and just communities at the National Resources Defense Council; and Matthew Dickerson, director of the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at the Heritage Foundation.
“Every day we pay the cost for decades of disinvestment in housing,” said Chairwoman Waters in her opening statement. “We pay for it through increased healthcare costs when people face life threatening health hazards in their homes; when they’re forced to live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions on the streets; and when they defer medical attention to pay the rent or mortgage. We pay for it through diminished life outcomes and economic mobility when parents must forgo investments in their child’s education, or when students’ studies are disrupted by constant moves or because they don’t have a safe place to do their homework. We pay for it by losing trillions in economic activity due to worsening segregation and ongoing discrimination that locks millions out of equal housing opportunities.”
“Simply put,” the chairwoman concluded, “we cannot build back better without investing in housing.” Chairwoman Waters included in the congressional record for the hearing NLIHC’s HoUSed campaign sign-on letter, which currently includes over 1,760 organizations from around the country.
Michael Edmonds, a public housing resident in Tucson, Arizona, emphasized both the stability that public housing provides and the desperate need for additional funding for maintenance and repairs. “The stable housing that Tucson House provides has been life-changing for many residents during the pandemic,” said Mr. Edmonds. “However, the physical needs of our 70-year-old building have created additional stress and uncertainty for residents.” He noted that elevators in the building often break, forcing older residents and residents with disabilities who cannot use stairs to wait long periods to get to their homes, and that the building’s water and cooling systems sometimes fail entirely, requiring emergency response and repairs.
Fernanda Galindo, a mother and housing cost-burdened renter in D.C., noted that there were times she had to work “over 70 hours a week to afford to pay rent and care for [her] son just to make ends meet,” and that even with such an onerous work schedule they still faced the risk of eviction. John Harrison Jr. discussed his personal experience with homelessness, and how housing assistance helped him find stable housing, earn his associates degree, and find employment.
Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY) noted the popularity of affordable housing investments in the “Build Back Better Act,” and addressed the vital role housing plays in advancing equity and opportunity. “An essential element of equal opportunity is access to safe, decent, affordable housing,” said the congressman. “If you are homeless, can it be said you have equal opportunity living in America? If you are so rent-burdened that you cannot afford the bare necessities of life such as food, can it be said that you have equal opportunity in America? If you are a child that has been poisoned by lead in their own home, giving you brain damage for the rest of your life, can it be said that you have equal opportunity in America?”
In his testimony, Dr. Raj Chetty emphasized the variability in life outcomes for children across place, and the impact access to neighborhoods with good schools and lower poverty rates can have on children’s health, educational and economic outcomes. “Well-designed expansions of the Housing Choice Voucher program, public housing, the Housing Tax Credit, and place-based investments could significantly increase housing supply and access to opportunity,” said Dr. Chetty. “We must continue to deploy our resources towards increasing options for low- and middle-income families living in areas currently offering high levels of opportunity, and simultaneously to maintain and expand high-quality housing options and community development efforts in areas that currently offer lower levels of opportunity.”
Watch a recording of the hearing at: https://tinyurl.com/ce7d24se
Read materials from the hearing, including a committee memorandum and written testimony from witnesses, at: https://tinyurl.com/yt896w48