Our country faces a housing affordability crisis. Nowhere is this clearer than in my home state of South Carolina. In the Eviction Lab’s rankings of communities with the highest eviction rates, South Carolina is all too well represented in all three of the Lab’s categories: large cities, mid-size cities, and rural areas.
With these challenges and others facing my state, housing affordability has been one of my top priorities in Congress. With your help, we have been able to make some progress.
At a minimum, it is essential that anyone facing eviction has access to legal assistance. This can often be the difference between a tenant staying in their home or being evicted. That is why I worked with David Price to introduce the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act, that authorizes funding to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of eviction.
We were able to appropriate $20 million for eviction legal assistance in Fiscal Year 2021. The appropriations bill the House has passed for Fiscal Year 2022 would provide another $20 million. HUD is reviewing applications now, and we expect the funds to go out in the coming weeks.
Of course, our goal must be to ensure that no one finds themselves in need of this legal assistance to prevent eviction. That means we must ensure that all Americans have access to housing that they can afford. One essential policy tool that promotes the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).
After the 2017 Republican tax bill weakened the impact of this credit, I introduced a bill and cosponsored others to restore its full strength. The Consolidated Appropriations Act we passed last December included a provision ensuring that the rehabilitation credit rate does not fall below 4%. This is projected to result in the construction or preservation of 126,000 affordable units over the next 10 years. The Build Back Better Act includes additional provisions to strengthen the credit even more.
In addition to ensuring that the tax code promotes affordable housing, we must also ensure that state and local governments do the same. That is why Senator Booker and I introduced the HOME Act, which would require recipients of federal funds to develop and implement strategies to increase the availability of affordable housing. Thanks to the determined leadership of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, the Build Back Better Act includes $1.75 billion for this purpose.
These challenges and proposals to address them predate the coronavirus pandemic. As you all know very well, this public health crisis has led to nearly unimaginable economic challenges that have threatened housing security for millions of our fellow Americans.
Congress responded to this unprecedented crisis with unprecedented measures, and this assistance has kept millions of Americans in their homes.
However, any eviction is one eviction too many. I serve as Chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Our mission is ensuring that our response to the pandemic is effective, efficient, and equitable.
We have taken a close look at the shortcomings in the distribution of the emergency rental assistance funds. As you well know, many states and local governments were far too slow to disburse rental assistance funds to keep people in their homes.
The Select Subcommittee held a hearing that examined the practices that were slowing these programs down and the best practices for getting aid to those in need. Experts told us that state and local governments needed to increase outreach, reduce paperwork burdens, and take action to help tenants with uncooperative landlords. I urged the slowest distributing states to adopt these best practices and streamline their delivery of aid.
Problems certainly remain, but the data shows the distribution of rental assistance has accelerated and over 1.5 million households have benefited from the aid. The Department of the Treasury has developed a plan for requiring improvement plans from states that have been too slow to distribute aid and will gradually reallocate funds from ineffective programs. The Select Subcommittee continues to monitor these efforts to ensure that the federal pandemic rental assistance funds keep as many families in their homes as possible.
These emergency measures have helped limit the harm caused by the pandemic. But we can’t be satisfied by a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. I often reference Alexis de Tocqueville’s quote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
The coronavirus pandemic exposed many longstanding faults that must be repaired, including when it comes to housing. The Build Back Better Act repairs many of them.
In addition to the provisions that I mentioned earlier, the Build Back Better Act includes significant investments that will fund the construction, rehabilitation, and improvement of more than 1 million affordable homes. It includes funding for rental assistance so that low-income Americans can afford their rent. It isn’t as much as I wanted, but it will make a big difference in rural America and around the country.
Of course, quality housing is about more than just having a roof over one’s head. To participate fully in 21st century life, a person’s housing must include high-quality internet that they can afford. Yet millions of Americans do not have access. Without access, they cannot benefit from telehealth even when the nearest provider is many miles away; students have to do their assignments in the parking lots of fast food restaurants or libraries; and remote work is impossible, even during a pandemic that requires social distancing.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $65 billion to finally bring high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved communities. These funds will be spent on access, affordability, and adoption because we know that solving existing disparities is a multi-faceted issue that deserves persistent attention.
Housing must also be connected to people’s jobs by transportation infrastructure. In addition to all of the investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Build Back Better Act includes nearly $10 billion for an Affordable Housing Access Program that will do just that.
Over the past several decades, Americans have become more and more doubtful that government can make a positive difference in their lives. Because for a long time, it hasn’t. Now is our opportunity to fix that. These investments in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda are the most significant investments in rural America since the New Deal. With your help, we will repair the faults in our housing policy and enable communities to thrive in the 21st century. I look forward to working with you in this effort.
Remarks given at NHC’s Solutions for Affordable Housing online convening on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. James Clyburn represents South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District and serves as Majority Whip in the House of Representatives.