House Ways and Means Committee Holds Hearing on the Housing Affordability Crisis

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee held a hearing, “Nowhere to Live: Profits, Disinvestment, and the American Housing Crisis,” on July 13. Witnesses included Dr. Elora Lee Raymond (School of City and Regional Planning in the College of Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology), Dr. Akilah Watkins (Center for Community Progress), Dr. Christopher Herbert (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University), Audra Hamernik (Nevada HAND), and Edward J. Pinto (American Enterprise Institute Housing Center). The hearing focused on measures Congress can take to address demand for and increase the supply of affordable housing units for low- and moderate-income families in America.

“Our families and our communities can’t thrive without quality affordable housing,” said Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA). “Too many Americans face skyrocketing housing costs, long waiting lists, new pressures from institutional investors, and unprecedented bidding wars that keep them out of the housing market. The pandemic underscored the importance of having a safe place to shelter, raise families, and often to work.”

Dr. Elora Lee Raymond explained that institutional investors exacerbate racial outcomes by targeting homeowning black neighborhoods, purchasing properties in cash to outbid homeowners, and then engaging in unfair eviction practices to drive up rental prices. “Institutional investors have moved from distressed properties to outcompeting homebuyers…We’ve seen prices rise much faster than the price that homeowners pay in the market,” said Dr. Raymond. In response to an inquiry from Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Dr. Raymond recommended that Congress focus on understanding corporate institutional investors’ submarket share through better data collection.

“White households possess more than ten times the wealth of Black households and home equity is a big contributor to this gap,” said Dr. Akilah Watkins. “New housing must be built. But to address the housing crisis, we need to tap into vacant housing.” Dr. Watkins advocated for the use of landbanks as a pipeline to develop affordable housing by effectively using existing vacant properties and incentivizing private investment for housing creation.

In response to a question from Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) about the renters’ tax credit proposed in the “Rent Relief Act,” Dr. Akilah Watkins stressed that the tax relief subsidy would “help hardworking families be able to afford rent. It is a really big opportunity for renters to deal with skyrocketing costs and not have to use more than 30% of their income towards paying rent…This tax relief is important, it is courageous, and it is needed.” Representative Davis reintroduced on July 14 the NLIHC-supported “Rent Relief Act,” which would help bridge the widening gap between incomes and housing costs by providing a refundable tax credit for millions of housing cost-burdened renters. (For more information about the Rent Relief Act, see the article on the act in this section.)

Audra Hamernik discussed the importance of using the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to create and preserve affordable rental housing through financed development, stating “affordable housing is affordable because of financing. LIHTC is the backbone of affordable housing development in the United States.” NLIHC supports the expansion and reform of the LIHTC program, as it is currently the primary source of financing for construction and preservation of affordable housing.

To address the housing crisis, Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA) proposed Congress invest in “building more housing, building more multifamily units for low-income housing, expanding LIHTC, and leveraging the tax code to drive investment in areas that need it most.”

View a recording of the hearing and read witnesses’ testimony here.