President Joe Biden unveiled a comprehensive plan on May 16 that aims to close the affordable housing supply gap over the next five years and help renters struggling with high housing costs.

The plan comes at a critical time for the US housing market. By some estimates, there is a national shortage of about seven million affordable housing units for low-income households. Meanwhile, the US Census Bureau found that the rental vacancy rate, which measures the number of rental units available, fell to its lowest point since 1984 during the first quarter of the year. Together, these issues could force many people into homelessness as rents and house prices continue to climb.

“Now we need the federal government to undo some of the damage done over the past half-century, namely, by addressing racial inequality and the environmental costs of sprawl.”

“This shortfall [of affordable homes] strains family budgets, drives up inflation, limits economic growth, fuels residential segregation and exacerbates climate change,” Biden said in a statement. “Rising housing costs have weighed on families of all incomes, with a particular impact on low- and middle-income families, as well as people and communities of color.”

Housing has been a central part of Biden’s legislative agenda since entering the White House in January 2021. Since then, Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to address his legacy of housing discrimination, building capacity of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. to prosecute fair housing cases and restored funding to thousands of local homelessness resolution programs.

But several parts of Biden’s housing legislative package remain stalled in a divided Congress. For example, the Build Back Better Act contained approximately $170 billion in new housing initiatives, including funding for 300,000 additional housing vouchers and $25 billion to expand emergency housing assistance programs across the country. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, effectively killed the package and forced the Biden administration to try to pass housing investments separately, much to the chagrin of housing experts.

“As rents rise, homelessness increases, public housing deteriorates, and millions of families struggle to keep a roof over their heads, strong federal investment and action is badly needed. and long overdue,” said Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. in a report. “I commend President Biden for taking important and decisive action, but the administration cannot solve the crisis alone.”

To help inspire local governments to address their own housing issues, Biden’s plan aims to mobilize more than $6 billion in federal transportation funding to reward jurisdictions that eliminate exclusionary zoning ordinances and promote density. and rural mainstreet revitalization projects. Localities that have already taken these steps will be prioritized for grants to continue their work, according to the plan.

“The administration’s commitment to using federal transportation funds to reduce restrictive local zoning laws, which can inhibit or prohibit apartment building and are often deeply rooted in racial exclusion, is particularly promising,” Yentel said.

For Nancy Kwak, who teaches urban studies at the University of California, San Diego, Biden’s plan represents a promising move to address the country’s affordability challenges at the federal level. These challenges, Kwak argues, are rooted in the government’s discriminatory housing policies of the 1930s.

For example, New Deal-era federal policies helped promote redlining, increasing the housing stock in the United States while separating landlords. The process worked in two ways. On the one hand, the Federal Housing Administration, which insured mortgages, told banks in its underwriting manual that the agency would not insure mortgages to borrowers of color, which effectively prevented homeowners of color to settle in predominantly white neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the Homeowners Loan Corporation, which was responsible for hiring and training home appraisers, created a neighborhood grading system that made it less desirable for banks to lend to residents of communities of color.

“Clearly, the federal government can craft policies that radically transform access to housing,” Kwak told The Progressive. “Now we need the federal government to undo some of the damage done over the past half-century, namely, by addressing racial inequality and the environmental costs of sprawl.”

The impact of urbanization on the environment has attracted the attention of academics and researchers in recent years. According to a study by Yale University’s Seto Lab, the highest rate of urbanization will most likely occur in “biodiversity hotspots” and could have a far-reaching impact on the environment.

For example, increased urbanization could lead to loss of land for agricultural production, thus putting additional pressure on land resources. Urban expansion could also alter local weather patterns, which impacts local vegetation.

Among other things, Biden’s plan seeks to counteract the environmental impacts of increased housing development by focusing on density rather than building new single-family homes. The plan also aims to spend $25 billion to fund the production of more than 500,000 units for low-to-moderate income rental housing, including modular homes, manufactured homes and those catering to intergenerational households.

“Americans haven’t always lived in low-density residential neighborhoods,” Kwak says. “Biden’s plan rewards communities that move away from that kind of legacy.”


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