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House Committee Holds Hearing on Affordable Housing, Gentrification, and Evictions

The House Financial Services Committee held a full committee hearing on January 14, “On the Brink of Homelessness: How the Affordable Housing Crisis and the Gentrification of America is Leaving Families Vulnerable.” Witnesses included: Karen Chapple, professor and chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkley; Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology at Princeton University, director of Eviction Lab, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; Priya Jayachandran, president of the National Housing Trust; Jeffery Williams, tenant advocate from Richmond, VA; and Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute. Committee members questioned the witnesses about how the national shortage of affordable housing has spurred gentrification and the eviction of low-income residents, as well as about possible solutions to the affordable housing crisis. 

In her opening remarks, Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) highlighted the need for increased investments to address the needs of low-income households and people experiencing homelessness. Chair Waters noted her bill, the “Ending Homelessness Act of 2019” (H.R. 1856) would provide the much-needed resources by investing approximately $13.3 billion over five years to construct new affordable housing units, increase the supply of housing vouchers, and increase homeless outreach services (see Memo, 4/8/19). In addition, Chair Waters’ and Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) “Housing is Infrastructure Act” (H.R. 5187/S.2951) would also help address the need for deeply affordable housing by fully funding the public housing capital-needs backlog and investing $5 billion in the national Housing Trust Fund (see Memo, 11/25/19). Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) blamed the national increase in homelessness (see Memo, 1/13) on “blue states,” and stated that local regulations such as zoning laws drive up the cost of affordable housing development.

While Mr. Hendrix emphasized the necessity of zoning reform to address the severe affordable housing shortage, Dr. Chapple urged the committee to take a “holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing the housing affordability crisis,” including increasing and strategically targeting housing choice vouchers, investing in the preservation and construction of new affordable housing units, and increasing the minimum wage. Dr. Desmond similarly emphasized that a multi-faceted approach is necessary to address the affordable housing crisis, and noted wage stagnation, an alarming rise in housing costs, and decades of inadequate federal funding for housing assistance programs are the driving force behind the housing crisis.

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) pointed out that Housing First models have been supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations and called the model “the way forward” in addressing homelessness. There is a large and growing evidence base supporting the efficacy of Housing First as an effective solution to homelessness. Research suggests that individuals who participate in Housing First models are able to access housing more quickly and are more likely to remain safely, stably housed. In addition, the majority of Housing First clients choose to participate in the optional supportive services provided.

Ms. Jayachandran advocated for both the construction of new affordable housing and the preservation of existing affordable housing units, and remarked that the displacement of residents in gentrifying areas causes residents to “[lose] the opportunity to benefit from decreased crime rates, and the enhanced access to jobs, quality schools, and reliable transit that often accompany economic growth.” She stated HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule could have been used as a tool to combat the displacement of low-income residents by pressuring local governments to reform zoning restrictions; however, the Trump administration suspended the AFFH rule that had been in-place since 2015 in favor of its own proposed regulations (see Memo, 1/13).

Mr. Williams described his personal experience with eviction, homelessness, and the difficulties he and his family faced finding affordable housing with an eviction on their record. “Everywhere we turned, we were told ‘no’…as soon as a prospective landlord saw [we had an eviction on our record], we got turned down…[when] you pay such a big percentage of your income on rent, it’s very easy to get behind because of something simple, a car breakdown or some other issue. And then you fall through the cracks so fast you can’t catch yourself.” Mr. Williams said that affordable rent and assistance to help pay for rent in the event of an unexpected expense would have prevented his family’s eviction and their eventual homelessness.

An Emergency Assistance Fund, like the one established in the “Eviction Crisis Act of 2019” (S.3030; see Memo, 12/16/19), would provide direct financial assistance and stability services to help the lowest income households like Mr. Williams’ overcome an unforeseen economic shock that threatens their housing stability. In his testimony, Dr. Desmond stated the bill “would go a long way toward reducing unnecessary evictions, mitigating the harm of displacement, and deepening our understanding of the problem.” In addition, the “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act of 2019” (S.3083; see Memo, 12/23/19) would provide targeted assistance to low-income families with young children. The bill would create an additional 500,000 vouchers specifically for these families in order to expand their access to neighborhoods of opportunity with high-performing schools, strong job prospects, and other resources. 

Watch a recording of the full hearing at: https://bit.ly/372ColF

Read Dr. Chapple’s testimony at: https://bit.ly/360TNtM

Read Dr. Desmond’s testimony at: https://bit.ly/3afImSj

Read Ms. Jayachandran’s testimony at: https://bit.ly/2R23Sm2

Read Mr. Williams’ testimony at: https://bit.ly/2to3yF1

Read Mr. Hendrix’s testimony at: https://bit.ly/2FW9LuI

Read the Committee’s Memorandum on the hearing at: https://bit.ly/35UpfK4