Yes, Congress, Housing Is Infrastructure

Housing improves health. While I see this every day in the bustling urban neighborhoods that CAMBA serves, it is a principle Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has long held. In 1990, the senator authored the Rural Rental Housing Affordability Act, which would have used USDA funds to increase rental subsidies for rural residents. More recently, McConnell championed the CAREER Act, which was to “promote long-term sobriety for individuals in recovery through a stable job and reliable housing.”  

Housing is the infrastructure the allows for a healthy life. But the Senate-approved bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill did not include a single provision to house more Americans. The budget reconciliation lawmakers are writing now includes more than $300 billion to ensure housing stability.    

Congress must approve this investment. 

Because our country has failed to see housing for what it is — infrastructure — we face a severe affordable housing crisis in this country. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States has a shortage of 6.8 million rental homes affordable and available to renters whose household incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or are 30 percent of their area median income. No state — not New York, and not Kentucky — has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for these families.  

I see the results of this crisis every day. The impact has been especially profound during the COVID-19 pandemic. To help our country’s housing crisis, Congress should:  

  • Approve the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (the House Ways and Means Committee has included provisions of this bill in its budget reconciliation draft); 
  • Expand rental assistance to every eligible household and make it mandatory;  
  • Provide $40 billion to build new homes through the national Housing Trust Fund;  
  • Make the New Markets Tax Credit permanent; and 
  • Invest $70 billion to preserve public housing. 

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act improves the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) by increasing housing allocations by 50 percent over current levels and creating better mechanisms to better serve hard-to-reach communities. It would result in the production of more than 2 million additional affordable homes over the next decade, support the creation of nearly 3 million jobs and generate more than $346 billion in wages and business income and nearly $120 billion in additional tax revenue.                                                                  

Rental assistance is a critical tool for helping people afford stable housing, and it has a track record of reducing homelessness. Research has found that rental assistance can also improve health and educational outcomes and enhance children’s chances of long-term success.  

A major cause of today’s housing crisis is the fundamental mismatch between housing costs and stagnant incomes. Making rental assistance available to all income-eligible households in need is central to any successful strategy to rebuild our economy. Funding for rental assistance is not guaranteed, however, and rental assistance is funded through the annual appropriations process. Because of decades of chronic divestment by Congress, three-quarters of households in need of housing assistance are left to fend for themselves. 

The Housing Trust Fund is the first new federal housing resource in a generation exclusively targeted to build and preserve rental homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes. To keep up with demand for affordable options, Congress must invest an additional $40 billion in the Housing Trust Fund.  

The New Markets Tax Credit increases the flow of capital to underserved communities. While the credit is an effective financing tool, many nonprofits have been unable to leverage it since it is only a temporary part of the tax code. Investors prize certainty and temporary tax provisions do not provide that. Congress must make this provision permanent — an idea the Ways and Means Committee also has embraced as part of the budget reconciliation process.   

Public housing is critical to ensuring that people with the greatest need have a safe, decent, affordable and accessible place to call home. Congress has divested from public housing for decades, resulting in over $70 billion in unmet capital backlog needs. As a result, our nation loses 10,000 to 15,000 units of public housing every year to obsolescence or decay, and other units fall into disrepair. 

If the two parties fail to come together to act on these priorities, Americans’ health will suffer. Together, Republicans and Democrats must build affordable housing now.  


Joanne M. Oplustil is president and CEO of CAMBA, Inc. and CAMBA Housing Ventures, Inc., a social services provider and affordable housing provider in Brooklyn. 

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