National, local groups push Congress to keep housing in social spending bill

By: - October 5, 2021 5:30 am

The state is expected to finish reviewing applications for the first half of $500 million in federal funding in August and award allocations in September. (Photo: Ronda Churchill)

The social spending legislation Democrats in Congress are trying to pass includes substantial investment to address the nation’s housing crisis assuming it doesn’t get cut out of the final package.

Local and national groups are concerned the proposed infusion of more than $300 billion into creating and preserving affordable housing could be on the chopping block.

“There are a lot of areas in need, but as we have seen here in Nevada, without stable housing, it is difficult to have positive outcomes in health, education and business for all Nevadans,” said Christine Hess, the executive director for the Nevada Housing Coalition. “Without this investment, housing will continue to be under-resourced and a barrier to an equitable recovery and equitable opportunity.”

The Build Back Better Act calls for $3.5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years in order to respond to the growing climate crisis and invest in “human infrastructure” with funding for paid family and medical leave, child care, home care workers and tuition free community college. 

The House Financial Services Committee proposed including $322 billion within the Build Back Better Act to fund new and existing federal housing programs, which is needed to address America’s housing and homelessness crisis.  

Hess said it’s the first major public housing investment since the 1950s.

“Nevada’s growth has outpaced the country’s since after the Great Depression, and especially since the last major housing investment by the federal government – which means we missed out on much of that last major investment,” she said. “This is contributing to our current extreme shortage of affordable housing to our lowest income Nevadans especially. A federal investment in housing is critical, as our inventory remains stagnant. The demand is outpacing the capabilities of the market.”

The total package also proposed investing money to expand the child tax credit, monthly checks sent to households with children that has shown to already help decrease rates of childhood poverty. 

Though major investment in any one component of the package – whether it’s child care, education, health care, or extending tax credits for working families – would be significant, Quentin Savwoir, the deputy director with Make it Work Nevada, said many of these issues are “inextricably linked” to housing stability. 

“Say we make permanent the child tax credit, I would say we’d see families using said child tax credits for their rent to supplement where they are already coming up short,” he added. “The child tax credit had been intended to try to make daycare and child care more affordable. The government hasn’t outlined any guidelines for how people have to spend it. But the families we’ve talked to are buying groceries or paying for daycare. It wasn’t intended for you to have to use it to keep a roof over your baby’s head.”  

Current proposed funding toward housing and homelessness includes investments in rental assistance, public housing, community restoration and revitalization funds, energy efficiency and climate resilience grants, tribal housing and down payment assistance. 

Amid growing concerns the proposed funding could be cut from the package, The National Low Income Housing Coalition along with 1,601 organizations across the country, are asking Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders not to chop investments to housing. The letter was sent to Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and Senate. 

The Nevada Housing Coalition, the Nevada Homeless Alliance and the Children Advocacy Alliance are among several groups in Nevada that signed onto the letter. 

Of the proposed funding on the line, the letter singles out the need for $90 billion in rental assistance expansion, $80 billion to preserve public housing and $37 billion to invest into the national Housing Trust Fund, which could build 330,000 affordable homes for the lowest incomes. 

“NLIHC estimates that Nevada would see $360 million (from the national Housing Trust Fund) if this passed,” Hess said. “These housing trust funds support affordable housing for our lowest income Nevadans, which is of course also our greatest deficit.”

The Nevada Housing Coalition released recommendations in September asking the state to use $500 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding to create affordable housing. 

While $125 million was recommended to preserve existing housing stock in Nevada, Hess said “the public housing needs alone could come close to exhausting these funds. 

“With 7,500 Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties at risk of going to market in the next few years,” Hess said an additional federal infusion proposed by the Build Back Better act is needed.

Hess also said there needs to be an expansion of rental assistance. 

“In Nevada, there are not enough vouchers to meet the needs of families that are paying too much for their housing costs,” she said. “This is especially true in our urban centers. And here in Nevada, like we see nationally, voucher holders are serving populations that were disproportionately disadvantaged pre-pandemic and certainly disproportionately impacted in the pandemic, including female head-of-household and communities of color.”

The Manchin-Sinema albatross

There are no guarantees any investment in housing, a low priority among most politicians and policymakers for decades, will make it into the final bill. 

Support from both Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will be needed for Democrats to bypass a Republican filibuster and pass the legislation through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 50 votes. And both senators have indicated they will not agree to vote for the human infrastructure legislation unless it is dramatically scaled back.

Manchin said his top line would be $1.5 trillion, leaving many worried that long overdue investments in expanding the social safety net would be cut. 

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that “policy experts, lobbyists, and congressional aides say the administration’s housing proposal, which calls for more than $300 billion to build or retrofit over 3 million housing units, may prove among the first to hit the cutting-room floor.”

“When Democrats are in power, we always lose the narrative to something frivolous,” Savwoir said. “In this case, that’s the dollar amount of the bill. While it’s a substantial amount of money, I say it’s frivolous because people are dying. If we’re going to be the country we say we are, there can be no amount of money that’s too much to invest in the poor.”

The pandemic has only underscored the presence of the housing crisis nationally as well as in Nevada. 

“Even before the pandemic, America was in the grips of an affordable housing crisis, most severely impacting the most marginalized and lowest-income people, including seniors, people with disabilities, families with children and others,” according to the letter. “Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to renters with extreme low incomes. For every 10 of these households, there are fewer than 4 affordable and available homes. There is not a single state or congressional district with enough affordable homes to meet this demand.”

The coalition estimates that Nevada has an 84,000-unit deficit for extremely low-income renters, or those earning less than 30% area median income, and the state lacks more than 105,000 affordable units. 

Savwoir said housing instability hurts Black communities the most, adding that it’s “Black women who will be disproportionately impacted by eviction and driving out of neighborhoods that have all the resources they need to raise their kids.”

Though Black households account for 13% of all households nationwide, they represent 26% of all extremely low-income renters and 40% of those experiencing homelessness, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

Similarly, Latino households are 12% of all households but account for 21% of extremely low-income renters and 22% of people experiencing homelessness.

In its letter, groups said “housing justice is central to racial equity because disparities in education, income, wealth, employment and health are driven in large part by racial segregation and discrimination in housing.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.