Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing

The Current Reality

Housing is a human right, but it’s too often solely treated as a for-profit business. And every choice must be made keeping this in mind. In Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 75,000 people in Los Angeles County are houseless – the second highest rate in the nation. In some parts of our district, the median income for a family of four is approximately $37,000 while the average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is well over $1800. When you do the math, you wonder how a family of four could live with this kind of income. They can’t. 

So many of us live with another family in the same unit; live with debt, with credit cards and loans; work 2-3 jobs; move out of town and/or struggle until we end up getting evicted and then experience homelessness for some time. No human being or American should ever have to worry day after day about whether they’ll be able to eat, have a roof to sleep under, have access to good healthcare and education, or be able to pay for their basic living expenses and costs. 

But why can’t we simply rely on the market to accommodate everyone’s housing needs? It’s because the demand for a place to live is an unavoidable constant, and therefore housing is an inelastic good. Developers and corporate landlords have free reign to gouge prices, while artificially decreasing the available supply of housing. The “market equilibrium” reached does not ensure that people with the highest demand for housing receive it. Instead, it simply limits available housing to those who can pay the most, while the rest of Americans struggle to find anything affordable. Through efficient public support, we can offset the imbalanced relationship between desperate buyers/renters and powerful developers and landlords. 

Most low-income households pay more than half of their income on rent. This is wrong.

21 million households, disproportionately people of color, spend over 30% of their income on housing. This is wrong.

Only 1 in 5 households that qualify for federal housing assistance actually receive it. This is wrong.

We need to care for our communities and ensure that everyone has an equal ability to pursue a happy life. This starts with directly addressing and responding to America’s systemically racialized housing emergency.

Additionally, with a shortage of 500,000+ units for low income renters in Los Angeles county alone and underproduced housing of 7.3 million homes from 2000 to 2015 federally, per Up for Growth’s Housing Underproduction in the U.S. report (HR 4351 YIMBY Act), we are in a housing crisis. And we aren’t even talking about the 3 million people experiencing homelessness in our country, or the 7,000 unhoused brothers and sisters on Skid Row in our district, or the 60,000+ unhoused neighbors living in LA County.

Even with the public housing that our country does have, existing public housing units require over $70 billion for physical improvements to account for dilapidation and poor conditions, with 66% of public housing residents being people of color. In Los Angeles, we have less than 10,000 units available compared to counties like New York, which has over 175,000 public housing units. The utter failure to fully address these issues further deepens housing inequality and adds to the disparity of past redlining and institutionalized racism. The time for change is long overdue.

Federal funding for housing assistance has stagnated in recent decades despite the need skyrocketing. In the $1.7 trillion omnibus Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 appropriations package Congress passed in December 2020, only 1.9% allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), federal housing assistance has dropped from a high of 1.4% of GDP in 1978 to 0.23% of GDP in 2018. According to the Urban Institute, housing needs for low income renters increased by 24% from 2005 to 2015, while the number of households receiving HUD assistance increased by only 7% during the same time period. When adjusted for inflation, federal funding for housing support dropped by nearly 8% across most programs including housing choice vouchers, housing for the elderly and disabled, public housing and public-private housing partnership programs.

What Needs To Be Done

We must pass big, bold policies and reforms including a housing public option

We have the ability to build 12 million new social/publicly funded housing units over the next 10 years with the goal of providing homes to the nearly 12 million renter households who are extremely cost burdened (paying over 50% of their income to rent) and to the millions experiencing homelessness. Rent would be charged according to real costs-based or income-based formulas (i.e., no more than 30% of one’s income), and as social/publicly funded housing would be permanently off the private market, we would eliminate the profiteering and short-term maximization of profits that come at the expense of the people. It’s critical that we increase the supply of homes to all. 

We have the power to recommit to public housing, beginning with repealing the Faircloth Amendment — which prohibits new public housing construction — as well as reinvesting into and fully funding the repair and maintenance costs of existing public housing through green, energy efficient improvements and improving the quality of such of existing affordable housing.  

We can pass a national tenant bill of rights that is needed to protect tenants all across the country and especially during times like the recent COVID-19 pandemic. These rights would include, among others:

  • Strengthening protections to stop predatory practices on renters
  • Banning discrimination based on tenant source of income (including public assistance) 
  • Prohibiting landlords from enacting annual rent increases above 3% unless significant building improvements are made
  • Strengthening protections for LGBTQ+ individuals by closing loopholes that allow discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation
  • Establishing and fully funding a new federal housing program for LGBTQ+ communities and youth, who make up 40% of all houseless youth nationwide
  • Banning no-cause, no fault and 1-strike evictions 

We can make federal housing assistance an entitlement, not a lottery, by providing full, permanent, entitlement-based funding for public housing agencies (PHAs), housing voucher programs, and Native American and Native Hawaiian housing programs. This would eliminate the backlog of millions of people on waitlist for housing and would honor our promises to Indigenous Peoples, while also eliminating all legal barriers to federal housing assistance eligibility for undocumented immigrants. 

We can support and strongly incentivize equitable zoning by requiring state and local governments to adopt such practices in order to access federal funds, while banning laws that criminalize homelessness and banning exclusionary zoning that have worsened racial wealth and housing gaps for generations. We must encourage local governments to cease practices that severely limit housing availability: only authorizing construction of single-family homes in certain neighborhoods, imposing minimum square footage or building height requirements, and passing ordinances that limit the construction of multi-family units and other forms of affordable housing, such as micro homes.

We can provide a tax break to renters paying over 30% of income to rent.

We can establish and fully fund a new federal housing program for the formerly incarcerated and eliminate all eligibility barriers for federal housing assistance. We must then eliminate all legal barriers to federal housing assistance eligibility for undocumented immigrants.

What This Will Do For Us

A public option to housing will provide a roof over everyone’s head, improve education, expand health and employment prospects for tens of millions of people, and will provide a meaningful step in equalizing disparities across racial lines. A public option will also play a critical role in the combating climate change, as every federal housing support must also be a climate intervention, be it from upgrading the existing building stock and making it carbon neutral, ensuring that everyone has sufficient access to efficient and affordable energy in their homes, and upholding equity among all communities across race or socio-economic status.

In the world’s wealthiest country, we can and we must guarantee safe, accessible, sustainable and permanently affordable housing for everyone.