NHC and all of our members spent 2021 advocating for historic changes in housing policy. Our successes were unprecedented – $10 billion to avoid foreclosures for those hurt by the pandemic, and $25 billion in additional funding to avoid evictions, doubling the amount approved in December 2020. Renters and homeowners also benefited from trillions of dollars in economic stimulus, including cash payments to families with children and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits that millions used to meet their housing expenses.
President Joe Biden successfully enacted the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021 and another $1 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November. This dwarfs all of the spending on the New Deal enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt over six years, with an estimated value of $833.8 billion in 2021 dollars.
The administration’s Build Back Better bill would dramatically change the affordable housing landscape with over $170 billion in funding and tax expenditures. There is one major problem with it, however. Not enough votes.
In 1937, FDR had 76 Democrats in the Senate and 333 in the House. Today, President Biden has 50 in the Senate and only 221 in the House. Two moderate Senators and a dozen Representatives have expressed serious concerns with the bill. The leading force in this group has been Senator Joe Manchin (D – West Virginia). Months of negotiations have not resolved core differences, and Senator Manchin has made clear that the tactics used by some advocates for the bill have been materially unproductive.
No one should be surprised by this. What is surprising is how little credit the Biden administration has taken for what it has achieved. No president in history has ever enacted so much change with so few votes. Yet, the administration’s political capital continues to decay, as the narrative that the Biden presidency is a failure if BBB isn’t passed continues to be pushed by so many in his own party.
This doesn’t mean our housing priorities are lost. It does mean that our efforts may have to focus on regular order, the process under which nearly all legislation is passed. Funding priorities will have to be achieved the old-fashioned way, through annual appropriations. And much-needed tax policy initiatives, like the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Improvement Act and Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, will have to be passed with the bipartisan support they have earned over years of hard work.
NHC will work for all of these priorities, and if circumstances change, we will work just as hard for the passage of BBB. But if progressives want to change the face of the federal government, they will have to fight for the votes in the House and Senate. The pendulum swings both ways, and eventually, it will swing left just as surely as it will swing right. Bipartisan solutions are hard, but they last. We should not lose sight of this.
One of Senator Manchin’s top concerns about Build Back Better has been the impact the legislation might have on increasing inflation. Concerns about inflation can’t be dismissed. Inflation can wipe out most of the value of many of the programs in BBB in just a few years while fueling even higher housing costs. However, most of the housing provisions in BBB, including those with bipartisan support, are counter-inflationary because the rising cost of housing is a significant component of inflation. The need to address our critical housing supply shortage must be addressed if we are going to create more affordable housing and fight inflation.
Off Capitol Hill, there are other opportunities. Regulators are pursuing overdue modernization of the Community Reinvestment Act, likely to happen in the next six months. With leadership changes at the FDIC, this process may proceed even more rapidly than expected. NHC has been an important voice in this process, and we look forward to working with you to see it through.
We have also been a leader in addressing 50 years of failed policy initiatives to narrow the homeownership gap for people of color, especially Black Americans, whose homeownership rate is as low today as it was when housing discrimination was legal. We expect major progress on the mechanisms to support this cause in advance of the first anniversary of the Black Homeownership Collaborative, an audacious effort by dozens of leaders in affordable housing to create 3 million net new Black homeowners by 2030. You can learn more about the initiative at www.3by30.org.
We look forward to working with you in the months and years to come as we begin our 10th decade of affordable housing leadership. Our work is your work, and our role is to help you achieve our shared priorities. Working together, we can achieve much, even if we have to do it one major initiative at a time.