The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing, “Building Consensus to Address Housing Challenges,” on April 26. The hearing addressed bipartisan proposals to help solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis. Witnesses included NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel; Lou Tisler, executive director of the National NeighborWorks Association; and Vanessa Brown Calder, the director of opportunity and family policy studies at the Cato Institute.
Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opened the hearing by highlighting the severe shortage of affordable housing, the rising gap between incomes and housing costs, and the impact of the housing crisis on education, healthcare, and economic growth. Chair Brown highlighted several NLIHC-supported bills and emphasized the importance of the Committee’s work to build consensus on legislation to address the housing challenges facing people and communities across the country.
In her testimony, Diane advocated for an array of bipartisan bills designed to ensure that the lowest-income and most marginalized renters have access to stable, safe, affordable housing. “Rents have skyrocketed, eviction filings are rising and surpassing pre-pandemic levels, and homelessness is increasing,” said Diane in her testimony. “The country’s lowest-income people are struggling to stay housed, and Congress’s inaction costs us all. But quick, bipartisan action by this Congress can – just as it did during the pandemic – save lives, save money, and provide housing relief for many. I urge this Committee and this Congress to act quickly and, at minimum, advance the multitude of bipartisan housing bills before us.”
Two of the bipartisan bills that Diane advocated for – both championed by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home and HoUSed campaigns – were re-introduced on April 25: the “Fair Housing Improvement Act” (S.1267/H.R.2846) introduced by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Representative Scott Peters (D-CA) and the “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act” (S.1257) introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN).
The Fair Housing Improvement Act expands housing choice by prohibiting housing discrimination by landlords on the basis of “source of income,” “military status,” and “veteran status.” While several states and localities have passed source-of-income protection laws, federal law does not provide protections against this type of discrimination, leaving half of all households with housing vouchers unprotected from discrimination.
The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act would create 250,000 new housing vouchers, paired with mobility-related services, to help low-income families with young children move to communities of their choice, including neighborhoods with high-performing schools and high-quality childcare and early education programs. In response to a question from Senator Van Hollen on the impact of the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act, Diane explained that the bipartisan bill could “significantly address family homelessness and housing instability for households and communities across the country.”
Diane also urged Congress to invest in cost-effective eviction prevention tools by enacting the bipartisan “Eviction Crisis Act.” Introduced in the last session by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the bill would provide emergency, short-term assistance to help stabilize households in crisis, building on lessons learned from and the infrastructure developed during the pandemic to keep families stably housed. Additionally, she called on Congress to improve and streamline existing housing programs with the “Choice in Affordable Housing Act” (S.32); build housing for people with the lowest incomes through the “Yes In My Backyard Act” (S.1614/H.R.3198); improve oversight of federal disaster resources with the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” (S.2471/H.R.4707); and build more affordable housing by expanding and reforming the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, among other bipartisan opportunities.
In response to a question from Senator JD Vance (R-OH) about Housing First, Diane highlighted that approach is an evidence-based practice backed by multiple, national studies. Additionally, she emphasized that the root cause of homelessness is the lack of access to decent, stable, affordable housing. “The evidence and data are clear that Housing First does work. We know how to end homelessness. Individuals have their homelessness ended every day – in Ohio and throughout the country,” explained Diane. “What we can’t do is stem the tide of people newly falling into homelessness as rents increase much faster than incomes do.” Learn more about Housing First here.
View a recording of the hearing and read the witnesses’ testimony at: https://bit.ly/43VhORW
Read Diane’s written testimony at: https://bit.ly/3oEuo84