In a year when so much of the conversation among political pundits in Washington D.C. is centered on the November general election, Congress needs to remain focused on addressing the staggering low supply of affordable homeownership options in the United States.
Each week, another headline touts a cause of the housing crisis — high mortgage rates, the increasing cost of labor and construction, wages that have not kept up with inflation — the list goes on.
All these reasons and more add up to millions of households spending more than half of their income on housing. This is unsustainable and demands immediate action. The challenge with such a multi-faceted problem is that each of these issues must be addressed, and there is no single solution.
However, there are specific, bipartisan actions Congress can take now to help.
- Revitalizing Communities: A major challenge is the lack of housing across all markets, but especially affordable homes. To help increase supply, Congress can pass the bipartisan Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, which would offer federal tax credits to mobilize private investment to build and sustainably rehabilitate homes for low- and moderate-income homeowners.
- New Home Construction and Critical Home Repair: Construction of entry-level homes has been declining since the 1970s and has left many first-time homebuyers locked out of the market. Again, Congress has options to help spur development. Robust funding for vital housing and community development federal programs must be a priority in the fiscal year 2025 budget. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnership Program is a flexible block grant that provides states and localities with critical resources to respond to local housing needs. HOME is used in every congressional district and supports nonprofit developers like affiliates of Habitat for Humanity — where I am president and CEO — to produce and preserve affordable units. Congress needs to allocate $2.5 billion to this program to help fund purchasing, building and rehabilitating affordable housing.
- Rural Investment: Every zip code in the nation has been impacted by skyrocketing home prices, including rural communities. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations bill contains the USDA Section 502 Direct Loan Program, which is a mortgage program that assists low- and very-low-income applicants in purchasing a safe, decent, and affordable place to call home. This program, which, unfortunately, did not pass a House vote, needs to be funded at $1.5 billion to ensure rural communities are not left behind as solutions to the housing crisis are enacted.
The need for affordable housing is urgent and vast. Habitat and other nonprofit developers cannot build enough to close the housing gap, but lawmakers can take these immediate steps to meaningfully reduce the housing deficit. And crucially, when housing is prioritized, research shows a direct link to improved health outcomes, education and employment. If we, as a nation, care about addressing societal challenges, housing can be the lever to improve so many lives.
Historically, an election year can remove the focus from legislative action in D.C. But Americans already cannot afford housing and even if every one of the issues covered here could be implemented immediately, more would still need to be done.
But by acting now, Congress can create housing relief for countless families and ensure it remains a priority on the campaign trail in 2024.
Jonathan Reckford is president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity International.
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