The Fight for Transformative Federal Investments in Low-Income Housing Continues

With the House and the Senate back in session, Representatives and Senators returning to Washington, DC, and a non-binding October 31 deadline looming larger, this could be the week when the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats come to an agreement on cost and contents of the Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation package.

However, given how difficult it is for Congress to take decisive action because of wafer-thin Democratic margins in both chambers, a breakthrough may not come until later in the month, or even next month. There is much at stake for affordable housing in this bill that can shape the future of homelessness, and advocates should not pass up this opportunity.

Here’s what we know:

  1. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make momentous investments in the creation and preservation of housing for low-income households. Pending before Congress are three historic investments that have already been approved by the House Financial Services Committee and endorsed by the Senate Banking Committee:
    1. $90 billion in new rental assistance that would provide 1 million additional families with safe and decent housing;
    2. $80 billion in new funds for public housing that would repair units that would house 2.5 million residents; and
    3. $37 billion in new Housing Trust Fund (HTF) funds that would allow 330,000 affordable homes to be built and preserved for people of extremely modest means.
  1. Opposition from moderate Democrats is forcing Congressional leaders to reduce the overall cost of the BBB package by at least 40%. Instead of spending $3.5 trillion, BBB proponents will likely have to agree ultimately to a package of less than $2 trillion. This means that some items will be dropped entirely from the package or be so significantly cut that we no longer recognize them.
  1. Some reporters, based entirely on anonymous sources, insist low-income housing investments are likely to be dropped from the BBB package. Consistent champions of affordable housing insist, however, such accounts are incorrect. House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) held a press conference last week to build interest in her proposed low-income housing investments. Chairwoman Waters and her Senate counterpart, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), will hold another press conference this week. And Chairwoman Waters will hold a hearing to further publicize her low-income housing proposals this Thursday, October 21 at 10am ET; “A Strong Foundation: How Housing is the Key to Building Back a Better America.”
  1. Thanks to an outpouring of activism by determined housing and homelessness advocates across the nation, scores and scores of lawmakers signed on to correspondence which insists that low-income housing investments be included in the BBB package:
    1. 125 House lawmakers signed on to an October 18 letter circulated by Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY) which advocated specifically for the rental assistance, public housing, and HTF investments identified above.
    2. 36 Senators signed on to an October 14 letter circulated by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in support of including low-income housing investments in the BBB package.
  • Alliance activists are already thanking their Democratic lawmakers who signed on to these letters, and politely asking those Democratic lawmakers who didn’t to speak out in support of these priorities.

The fight goes on. Because BBB proponents are hearing, again and again, that investments in low-income housing and other high priority items will have to be cut, Alliance activists continue to follow up with those lawmakers about why we can’t afford to miss this historic opportunity to finally address the critical lack of affordable housing for people of modest means. Going back to the same Congressional offices, over and over again, may seem repetitive. However, until the very difficult decisions are made about how much smaller to make the overall bill, the housing investments continue to be in danger. We don’t know when final decisions will be made, so we need to keep delivering the message to our Representatives and Senators: the investments in rental assistance, public housing, and the HTF will be transformative for the communities they represent.