Housing and Homelessness Services Infrastructure Investment Package (for inclusion in the American Jobs Plan Act)

U.S. Senate bill: S. Con. Res 14, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — A concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2022 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2023 through 2031.

Committees:

Senate Committee on the Budget

Status:

The measure has passed the Senate, and it is likely to be voted on by the House during the week of August 23.

Impact

Homelessness and Low-Income Housing Priorities for the American Jobs Plan

The American Jobs Plan represents a historic investment in creating better jobs, rebuilding our national infrastructure, advancing racial equity, and helping the least advantaged among us to live safe and meaningful lives and contribute to the well-being of their nation.   

  1. Extending Rental Assistance to Every Eligible Household

Housing Choice Vouchers are flexible, maximize choice, and are low-cost mechanisms that allow lower-income households to become securely housed, but there aren’t nearly enough to go around. 

There simply are too few affordable homes for people with low incomes; and housing costs continue to exceed income growth for the poorest workers.  Left to the marketplace, the mismatches will only get worse.  Federal intervention is necessary.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the federal government can and, indeed, must play a vital role in providing emergency rental assistance to households in danger of being made homelessness because of a severe economic slowdown.  Similarly, the federal government must also intervene with rental assistance when the economy is unable to produce affordable rental units for lower-income households. 

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.  Recent studies have demonstrated that rental assistance is critical to reducing homelessness, improving outcomes for children and families, lifting people out of poverty, and helping people with disabilities live independently in their communities.  For families with children, research has found that vouchers reduce homelessness by 75% and reduced housing instability by 80%, which has a direct result on children’s behavior and overall well-being. 

Housing vouchers work, in large part because they are flexible, maximize choice, and are a low-cost way to make rental units affordable.  However, three out of four low-income renters do not receive assistance because of limited funds.  Almost 25 million people pay more than half of their income in housing costs, well above the 30% of income the federal government considers affordable–and when families and seniors face a choice between paying their rent and buying other necessities, they are far more likely to forego food and medicine to avoid getting evicted and becoming homeless.  It is imperative that the American Jobs Plan be used to help more families, seniors, and people with disabilities to live in stable and affordable homes. 

Project-based rental assistance (PBRA) helps poorer households afford rent it is particularly useful for creating specialized housing for seniors or people with complex health conditions who are recovering from homelessness, or to expand affordable options in more desirable areas.  As the number of housing vouchers is expanded, it is imperative that permanent, project-based vouchers be among the first established. 

In order to take advantage of authority provided in the American Rescue Plan Act for communities to acquire and redevelop commercial properties, including hotels, motels, and dormitories for non-congregate housing, there must be a sufficient number of project-based vouchers, which provide a more or less guaranteed revenue stream so that funds invested in capital acquisition create a permanent, affordable community housing asset.  And this in turn requires that the vouchers be project-based and available for continued renewal if the original tenants leave or are no longer eligible.  To ensure that the homeless families and individuals who are being sheltered in hotels, motels, and dormitories right now will have permanent housing placements at the end of the pandemic, a sufficient number of project-based vouchers must have been established.  The Alliance commends the Administration for explicitly calling for additional project-based rental assistance in the American Jobs Plan Act and House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) for including $2 billion in PBRA in her revised draft of her much-celebrated Housing is Infrastructure Act.    

The Senate budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) directs the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to draft legislation that would invest an unspecified amount of money in housing vouchers.  

  1. Increasing Investment in the Housing Trust Fund and Public Housing

Such investments would pay for much-needed additional units of permanent supportive housing for people with acute needs (including mental illness, substance abuse, and physical disabilities;, new units of housing for lower-income renters; and make safe, sanitary, and habitable thousands upon thousands of public housing units. 

The deficit in affordable housing cannot be made up exclusively with housing choice vouchers.  In some parts of the nation, particularly coastal cities, it is necessary to construct new units for low-income renters; and the need for new permanent supportive housing (PSH) is experienced by communities all over the nation.  The Housing Trust Fund (HTF) is the most important federal program today for the preservation and construction of affordable rental homes.  The market has failed to ensure enough affordable rental units; consequently, the American Jobs Plan should sufficiently resource the HTF to get the job done. 

PSH, which pairs a housing unit or rental subsidy with supportive services for people with acute needs, is a proven solution to chronic homelessness.  It has been shown to not only help people experience chronic homelessness achieve long-term housing stability, but also improve their health and well-being.  PSH has also shown to lower public costs associated with the use of crisis services such as shelters, hospitals, and prisons. 

However, most PSH is paid for with funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care (CoC) program, which comes in the annual appropriations process.  Despite the best efforts of HUD’s Congressional appropriators, CoC funding usually allows for communities to do little more than meet their existing PSH obligations because of the expense and the relatively low turnover.  Consequently, communities find it difficult to establish new PSH spaces to care for more people experiencing chronic homelessness. 

The Administration is exactly right that, “(y)ears of disinvestment have left our public housing in disrepair. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing system in America. This funding will address critical life-safety concerns, mitigate imminent hazards to residents, and undertake energy efficiency measures which will significantly reduce ongoing operating expenses. These improvements will disproportionately benefit women, people of color, and people with disabilities.”

Cost: The Housing Trust Fund should receive an additional contribution through the American Jobs Act of $45 billion, of which $26 billion should be set aside exclusively for the establishment of new PSH.  The American Jobs Plan Act’s investment in public housing should be at least $40 billion and perhaps as much as $70 billion.  The Alliance commends Chairwoman Waters for including those overall amounts in her Housing is Infrastructure draft. 

The Senate budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) directs the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to draft legislation that would invest unspecified amounts of money in public housing and the national Housing Trust Fund.  

  1. Funding, Coordinating, and Incentivizing the Provision of Supportive Housing Services

Americans experiencing homelessness, housing instability, and unnecessary institutionalization need supportive housing services in order to remain in assisted housing.

Increasing the number of units that can be used for permanent supportive housing through the establishment of new housing choice vouchers and investments from the Housing Trust Fund are vital steps.  However, a significant fraction of people in assisted housing with acute needs—because of, for example, mental illness or substance abuse–also need supportive housing services in order to remain satisfactorily housed.  Supportive housing services include general case management as well as searching and applying for housing, negotiating leases and ultimately preventing evictions by identifying tenant problems before they become crises.

Inspired by social determinants of health–that we can improve our health and spend less on health care by taking into account the conditions which govern our lives, including housing—the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, under both Presidents Obama and Trump, have issued waivers that allow states to spend Medicaid dollars on supportive housing services–with encouraging results. 

Legislation (H.R. 4131 and S. 2210) has been introduced by Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) to expand Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program.  The Biden Administration has committed itself to using the infrastructure bill to spend $400 billion to “expand access to long-term case services under Medicaid”.  The budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) directs the Senate Committee on Finance to prepare legislation that would spend an unspecified amount of money to expand the HCBS program.  

 

Summary

The Alliance strongly supports the inclusion of several important items in any infrastructure investment package, including a significant expansion of Housing Choice Vouchers, significant investments in the House Trust Fund and public housing, and the provision of supportive housing services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.   

The Senate budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) directs the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to draft legislation that would invest unspecified amounts of funding in new Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, and the national Housing Trust Fund.  The measure also directs the Senate Committee on Finance to draft legislation that would invest an unspecified amount of funding in the expansion of Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Care program, which would pay for supportive housing services for people experiencing homelessness with acute needs.  The House is scheduled to vote on the same budget resolution during the week of August 23.  

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