Make Housing More Affordable and Address Homelessness
Housing plays a critical role in determining life opportunities and has become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your house not only impacts your living space and household budget, it determines the quality of your schools, the safety of your streets, the length of your commute, the availability of fresh food, hospitals, healthcare, and more. All communities struggle to ensure that low-income families can live in healthy homes in safe neighborhoods that connect them to opportunity – amid rising housing costs and stagnant wages. We must ensure that those families are not displaced from their neighborhoods once they start coming back, physically, and economically.
We begin with a simple principle:
- Since the benefits of homeownership are so numerous, homeownership should be attainable for any family that wants to plant roots in their community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, foreclosures will increase without significant federal intervention. There should be a moratorium on home foreclosures, and assistance provided to homebuyers facing foreclosure when the moratorium ends.
Our housing policy must also provide rental housing for our citizens, especially those in tight rental markets where low- and moderate-income renters deserve housing they can afford. Just as important is inclusive housing policy that helps first-time homebuyers and renters, upgrades and preserves subsidized and “naturally affordable” housing, increases mixed-use areas and diversity in our neighborhoods and strengthens our economies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, renters face eviction. There should be a moratorium on evictions beyond the time that is presently available.
Across the country, mayors and other local leaders focus on community development and housing policy because small business development, education, public safety, and economic growth are all tied to the success of our neighborhoods. Through low-income housing tax credits, inclusionary zoning, and developer incentives for mixed-use and affordable housing, mayors and local leaders are working in their communities to build thriving neighborhoods and rebuild a stronger and more inclusive middle class.
Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Programs
Investment in the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Program has not kept pace with need over the last several years. In fact, both partnerships have been severely cut since 2010.
CDBG responds to current and emerging community development needs. The program assists businesses in creating and retaining jobs in low- and moderate-income areas, improves the existing housing stock, funds public improvements such as senior centers and homeless facilities, and provides vital public services such as day care for low-income working families, health care for children, and meals to the elderly.
CDBG was cut by nearly $1 billion from FY 2010 to FY 2015, down to a level of $3.0 billion. A total of 594 grantees were eligible to receive CDBG formula grants in 1975; today that number has grown to nearly 1,200 grantees receiving direct allocations. The overall outlay to CDBG has not increased proportionally. The program has never been adjusted for inflation, but the associated costs, such as construction, labor, leasing, and maintenance of facilities, increase annually.
Serving as a resource to expand affordable housing through state and local public-private partnerships, HOME has completed nearly 493,000 units for new homebuyers, over 230,000 units for owner-occupied rehabilitation, and over 464,000 rental housing units. It has also provided direct rental assistance to over 228,000 households. Yet the HOME program has been cut over 50 percent, or $925 million, since FY 2010 and is now funded at the lowest level in its history. The need continues to increase, with 300 more communities now participating in the program than when it started in 1993.
With respect to these two vital programs, mayors call on the President and Congress to:
- Restore CDBG funding to a level commensurate with clearly established needs taking into account the inflation over the course of the program’s existence, and raise the public service cap.
- Reverse the deep cuts to the HOME program made over the past decade in an effort to align funding with the dramatic increase in the need for the program over this same period.
Blighted Neighborhood Restoration
During the Great Recession, thousands of residential and commercial properties were foreclosed, leaving blighted neighborhoods and communities throughout the country. This problem has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 2008 to 2010, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program distributed nearly $7 billion, supported an estimated 88,000 jobs, completed rehabilitation of nearly 50,000 units of affordable housing, and demolished nearly 25,000 blighted properties. But the work is not yet done, so we call on the President and Congress to:
- Create a new program designed to purchase, rehabilitate, and redevelop foreclosed, abandoned, demolished, or vacant properties on both commercial and residential lots.
There is an increased need for rental housing. The Nation needs to create and pursue policies to develop more rental housing. Specifically, mayors call on the President and Congress to:
- Create a new rental housing production program to serve the needs of working families.
- Support the National Housing Trust Fund.
- Increase funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships program.
- Maintain one of the Nation’s largest infrastructure investments – public housing – through significant funding increases geared toward capital improvements.
- Provide Section 8 vouchers for all eligible recipients.
A Comprehensive Approach to Homelessness
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that roughly 553,000 people were experiencing homelessness during a point-in-time count in January 2018. About one-third (35 percent) of these individuals were in unsheltered locations, such as on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in places not suitable for human habitation. The United States Conference of Mayors’ Annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey has consistently found the lack of affordable housing to be the leading cause of homelessness.
Therefore, mayors call on the President and Congress to:
- Support local governments in developing a systemic response that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or, if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.
- Recognize that people living in unsheltered locations is unacceptable and that cities face a crisis of homelessness and lack of affordable housing that requires immediate comprehensive and bold federal action, which should include expanded eligibility for housing/homeless resources through the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Increase funding for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants
Support Holistic and Inclusive Community Development
Housing Affordability and economic mobility are perhaps the greatest challenges faced by cities. As the affordability crisis grows, both renters and homeowners become increasingly stressed and cost-burdened. The challenge before us is to ensure that as cities continue to grow and prosper, our longtime residents can remain in their homes and neighborhoods and are not displaced. To promote the growth of strong, vibrant cities, there must be a connectivity network and a community development infrastructure plan which leads to stable, quality, affordable housing. Therefore, we call on the President and Congress to:
- Support the Capital Magnet Fund.
- Incentivize local governments to adopt and implement policies that foster inclusive growth.
- Increase funding for housing vouchers and prohibit discrimination based on the source of income.
- Strengthen consumer protections for homebuyers to reduce predatory lending practices.
- Strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) which provides access to credit for low- and moderate-income communities from financial institutions.
Increase support to women and minorities in the development of small businesses. Provide for the development of entrepreneurial skills. Continue significant support for small businesses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Support the 2015 regulations that strengthened the implementation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act that would affirmatively further fair housing.
Affordable Workforce Housing
Whether it is aiding first responders – police, fire, and hospital workers – or teachers and other workers in essential public and private sector positions, investing more in making housing more affordable must be part of the Nation’s post-COVID-19 recovery. Going forward, affordable workforce housing must be seen as a key part of the Nation’s infrastructure investment strategy, to be addressed alongside increased funding for our energy, transportation and water systems, among other commitments.
Mayors call for greater federal funding commitments to support the production of more affordable workforce housing. Existing program delivery systems – CDBG, HOME, Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – can be readily adapted to deliver substantially more federal resources in support of these efforts.