This week, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, FHFA Director Sandra Thompson, and Senior Advisor to the President Gene Sperling hosted housing leaders at the White House. Leaders of the Bipartisan Policy Center, the National Housing Conference, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities joined the CEOs of the five major housing trades, the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, the National Association of REALTORS®, National Multifamily Housing Council, Mortgage Bankers Association, and National Association of Home Builders. Given that these organizations span the political spectrum, it would have been easy to expect a cacophony of housing policies. Not so.
Instead, the groups communicated significant unity and alignment. While we don’t concur on everything, it’s safe to say that the Administration’s leadership was impressed by how much we agree. We must build more housing, and the housing economy needs to be much fairer, especially for minority homebuyers and low-income renters who are enduring record increases in housing costs.
We discussed our shared legislative priorities and regulatory and administrative changes that can improve existing programs so that every dollar of taxpayer money dedicated to housing can go further. The bottom line, however, is that if we want to address the housing affordability crisis, close the racial homeownership gap, and address record housing insecurity and homelessness, we will have to do a lot more. For example, a recent GAO study found that a median rent increase of $100 per month is associated with a 9 percent increase in rates of homelessness.
A Rare Opportunity to Address Housing Issues
I have often said that the Biden Administration has the strongest housing leadership team of my career. And housing leaders have not been this aligned in many years. While there are things we disagree on, we agree on a lot. We are simply not building enough homes affordable to most Americans. This is as true for first-time and especially first-generation homebuyers as it is for extremely low-, low-, moderate-, and even middle-income renters.
That’s the good news. But the bad news is that it would be a tragic failure if we can’t leverage this to build more affordable housing. When would we get a similar opportunity? Politically, housing suffers from being the fifth most important priority on a list of three things that get done. This has to change.
Our immediate focus is on an end-of-the-year, bipartisan tax bill and Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations. NHC’s top housing priorities for the remainder of 2022 include the passage of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act and Neighborhood Homes Investment Act. These bills would add over 2.5 million affordable housing units over the next ten years and have strong bipartisan support. In addition, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program should be improved with bipartisan reforms, and no one should be turned away from a rental because they have a housing voucher. They are called housing choice vouchers for a reason. We also want robust funding for a wide range of housing appropriations, including fair housing enforcement.
We were asked to be blunt, which I appreciate, but I rarely need that invitation. I was clear that while we have made real progress on racial equity over the past 50 years, you would never know it sitting in a zoning hearing in any community in the country – red or blue. We have to get real about calling this out for what it is. This means we have to get tough on transportation funding. The American taxpayer should not pay to repave roads worn down by longer commutes caused by racially and economically motivated discrimination through exclusionary zoning.
Well into the 21st century, that anyone in America would have to “whitewash” their home before an appraisal is disgusting. Whitewashing is the practice of Black borrowers having White friends come to their homes to greet an appraiser after removing any artwork or photographs indicating an African American family lived there to avoid a dramatically lower appraisal that can make refinancing impossible.
And the fact that the Black homeownership rate is no higher today than it was in 1968 is completely unacceptable. Secretary Fudge and Director Thompson have leaned into these issues, and we look forward to continuing to work with them through the Black Homeownership Collaborative and the 3by30 initiative.
Building material supply chain shortages continue to cause housing construction delays and higher home building costs. Builders report concrete shortages in several states and a dearth of transformers providing electricity to homes, slowing development across the country. Lumber prices are lower, but this is partly due to rising rates resulting in fewer homes getting built.
Where We Go From Here
We discussed the importance of improving the Section 8 and HOME programs, developing robust special purpose credit programs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and addressing racial discrimination in the appraisal industry and zoning. Three-quarters of housing in America is restricted to single-family housing, which helps drive up rent for everyone, especially those at the lowest end of the income spectrum, who have to make impossible tradeoffs with food and medical expenses. Those who can’t become homeless.
I want to be clear. There is not a single item of the priorities discussed that NHC doesn’t fully support. We need it all, but we’ll take what we can get. Our number is more.
At the end of the meeting, we agreed we would continue to work together to leverage our agreement and unique perspectives to do everything we can with Congress and the Administration. It would be easy to be distracted by the honor of being invited to the White House and meeting in the iconic Roosevelt Room. But we cannot settle for talk over action and results. As I said, housing has suffered from being the fifth priority on a list of three things that get done. It’s time that we are number one.