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Senator Jeff Merkley Introduces “Making Affordable Housing Opportunities More Equitable Act”

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced on March 12 the “Making Affordable Housing Opportunities More Equitable Act” (S. 3452). This comprehensive bill is designed to reduce the shortcomings of current housing policies and funding levels by boldly addressing disparities and systemic obstacles to decent, accessible, and affordable housing for all. NLIHC supports the bill.

Senator Merkley’s bill would target the underlying cause of the U.S. affordable housing crisis – the severe shortage of affordable rental homes for people with the lowest incomes – through a $40 billion investment in the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is the first new housing resource in decades targeted to building, rehabilitating, preserving, and operating rental housing for extremely low-income people. The bill would also create an emergency rental assistance voucher program to provide an additional 1 million vouchers by 2030, including a set-aside for Native tribes who are not eligible to administer Housing Choice Vouchers. The proposal also includes several measures to directly address homelessness, including $10 billion over ten years for permanent supportive housing.

S. 3452 also includes critical resources to address the unique housing needs and challenges in rural areas. The proposal would authorize the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization program, allowing for loan restructuring and decoupling of rental assistance from USDA-backed mortgages as a way to preserve the current affordable housing stock in rural areas. The bill also includes $1 billion over ten years for the construction of multifamily rental housing projects financed through USDA Section 515 loans, which would help address the lack of accessible, affordable housing in rural communities. In addition, Senator Merkley proposes a grant to help nonprofits, resident cooperatives, tribal housing authorities, and public housing agencies or other state housing entities to acquire and preserve manufactured housing communities, an important source of affordable housing in many rural communities.

The bill includes several other provisions to promote fair housing and help protect tenants. One provision would add source of income as a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, prohibiting landlords from denying leases to voucher households. The bill would also establish the Office of Restorative Housing Justice within HUD to address the lasting impacts of historical government-backed discrimination, such as redlining. Senator Merkley also proposes restrictions on no-cause evictions and federal funding for right to counsel for people facing evictions, foreclosures, termination of a housing subsidy, or other housing issues. The bill would instruct jurisdictions to consider manufactured and modular housing, community land trusts, cooperative housing ownership models, accessory dwelling units, and other non-traditional forms of affordable housing in their Consolidated Plan processes.

More about the bill is at: https://bit.ly/2weh8fD

More about the national Housing Trust Fund is on page 3-1 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide.