In 2018, organizations across the country like Empower Missouri started to elevate the conversation around affordable housing. We wanted housing to be a major issue in the 2020 Presidential election, and we succeeded. Candidates talked about affordable housing policy at every debate and were pushed to release housing policy plans. All of this groundwork from the field helped to prepare the Biden administration to include housing reforms immediately in the beginning of his administration.
President Biden hit the ground running, issuing this Memorandum on Redressing our Nation’s and the Federal Government’s History of Discriminatory Housing Practices and Policies on January 26, less than a week after his inauguration. Beginning with a history lesson, the Biden administration makes it clear that the housing problems we all face today were engineered. Redlining, block-busting, unfair banking practices, and discriminatory transportation policies were all publicly known policies which drive the systemic inequities we experience today. Households of color are less likely to be homeowners, more likely to be evicted, and more likely to experience homelessness today because these policies were so successful at shutting Black and Brown families out of the middle class.
Biden has suggested many policies to improve these outcomes as a Senator, candidate, and now President. His administration recognizes the importance of housing alongside other types of long-lasting infrastructure, making it a cornerstone of his $2 trillion dollar recovery plan. Two-hundred and thirteen billion would go to support households with low and extremely low-incomes to purchase or maintain their homes. This is a historically large sum of money, but experts caution it may not be enough. The administration says it can build two million new homes with the infusion. This is a sizable dent in the need, but The National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) says America has a shortage of 6.8 million rental homes for extremely low-income renters.
Empower Missouri’s Affordable Housing Coalition has been working to change local zoning laws since its inception. Mr. Biden is calling on congress to make a sweeping change to these laws at the federal level. Zoning laws, which require large houses with large lawns, make it extremely difficult for multi-family affordable housing development in many communities across our state. These homes are also big resource consumers, with hefty utility use.
Utilities cannot be left out of the affordable housing calculation, and Mr. Biden’s plan includes $300 billion for upgrades. It would include direct assistance to homeowners to weatherize and upgrade their homes as well, which would ultimately lower their utility costs. Finally, all of these investments result in more jobs close to home, jobs in construction, maintenance, and transportation. Housing is infrastructure, the kind that directly impacts quality of life.
Perhaps the biggest thing Biden could do to help meet the affordable housing need across our country is move housing vouchers from the discretionary portion of the budget to become an entitlement. This policy change must be accompanied by a source of income protection to be the most effective. Currently only about 25% of households who qualify for a housing voucher will receive one because funding is so low for the program. Voucher holders then struggle to find landlords willing to accept that payment, and may even lose that voucher if they can’t locate housing.
It is clear, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that everyone in Missouri has access to safe and affordable housing. Our Affordable Housing Coalition will continue calling on all elected officials to prioritize housing as a sustainable solution to many of the problems facing our neighbors. We urge our federal elected officials to recognize the importance of housing as infrastructure to help us course correct from the discriminatory policies that got us here to start with. Join us.
Policy and Advocacy Director