As house prices and rents rise rapidly across the country, House Democrats on Wednesday approved a measure calling for a $9 billion increase in federal spending on housing.
The $405 billion spending bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and several other federal agencies passed in a partisan 220-207 vote. However, the approval is only the first offer in House negotiations with the Senate and the White House.
The bill gives HUD $1.1 billion more than President Biden proposed in his budget request in March. But with the Senate evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, budget negotiations over the next few months are expected to trim the $62.7 billion the House wants to give HUD.
“The bill, as written, simply overspends,” Florida’s Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the committee’s top Republican, said when the panel presented the spending proposal to the full panel. the House last month.
House Republicans on Tuesday tried unsuccessfully to change the portion of the bill dealing with housing and transportation funding by a third. But the proposal was opposed by Representative David Price of North Carolina, the top Democrat on the housing, transportation and urban development appropriations subcommittee.
“It would make indiscriminate cuts,” he said on the House floor.
The Democrats’ proposal, Price said, would make “critical new investments,” including more than 140,000 vouchers for low-income families and people who are homeless or at risk. He added that it would also create more than 5,600 affordable housing units for seniors and people with disabilities, and provide more than 6,700 new vouchers for homeless veterans and young people coming out of foster care.
Cities and advocates applaud bill
Despite the uncertainty ahead, the House bill has been hailed by groups representing states, cities and low-income housing groups because it would increase spending on a range of housing programs. As well as tackling homelessness, it would provide additional housing assistance and increase the nation’s main affordable housing grant scheme, the HOME Investment Partnerships scheme, to its highest level in a decade.
The House bill also increases funding that could go to states to house the elderly, disabled and people with AIDS.
“It is a very good bill. This is a significant increase across the board that will increase housing supply,” Stockton Williams, executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, said in an interview.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, agreed in a statement to Road Fifty.
“As rents soar, evictions rise and homelessness increases, the House [bill] …includes a significant and much-needed increase in funding for HUD’s affordable housing and homelessness programs,” she said.
However, Michael Wallace, director of the National League of Cities’ community and economic development program, lamented in an interview that the $9 billion in proposed spending increases won’t deliver the transformational changes for Housing Democrats proposed. in the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better bill. The proposal initially included $170 billion for housing, but Senate Democrats cut the funds to win the support of moderate Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
More help for low-income residents
The increases proposed by the House would provide cities with additional relief for residents facing inflation and rising housing prices, Wallace said. “Inflationary pressures hit low-income people the hardest because they don’t have the disposable income to deal with them,” he said.
“But as happy as we are with the increase in funding that is on offer, the significant housing needs will not be met,” he said.
Wallace, however, noted that another boost in the bill is billions of dollars in other allocations.
The House spending measure includes funding for more than 1,800 local transportation and urban development projects requested by 331 House members from both parties, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, said at the hearing. of the committee last month.
Among these, according to the budget documents, are $1.9 billion for community economic development projects, $267.4 million for public transit and $1.2 billion for road infrastructure projects. .
“My God, what if we had done this for the last ten years, think of the huge difference we could have made at home all those years,” said Rep. Cheryl Bustos, a Democrat from Illinois. Bustos secured funding for several projects, including $500,000 to demolish a “worn out” building in Astoria, Illinois that will help pave the way for economic development in the area.
The bill also calls for an increase in transportation spending of $2.4 billion, to $105.4 billion. Much of that money is in the Infrastructure Act, including increased spending for the Highway Trust Fund from $1.3 billion to $58.7 billion.
Meanwhile, the House proposal would keep funding for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity – RAISE Discretionary Grants, formerly known as BUILD and TIGER, at $775 million. However, that does not include the $1.5 billion in grants under the Infrastructure Act that the Department of Transportation will make available in January for the next fiscal year.
The proposal would also, among other things, quadruple funding (from $25 million to $100 million) for the Thriving Communities Initiative. The program pays to help “communities facing persistent barriers” develop plans to be better able to compete for federal grants, according to the House budget document. Biden wanted more, however, offering to increase funding for the program to $110.7 million.
Proposal keeps ‘roofs over heads’
The budget debate comes at a time when rising prices have dealt a blow to Biden’s popularity and pose a significant problem for Democrats in the midterm elections in November.
DeLauro, speaking in the House on Tuesday, said the bill would “reach some of our most vulnerable Americans by funding the programs that keep roofs over the heads of millions of people.”
A key for state and local governments would be an increase in the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the largest federal block grant program for affordable housing, from $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion, this which, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies, would be the highest level of funding. in a decade. However, the increase would not be as high as the $1.95 billion Biden wanted for the program, according to an NCSHA comparison of budget proposals.
The House bill extends larger housing funding increases than Biden has requested, but it doesn’t go far in some programs.
Although Biden called for an increase in funding for the Community Development Block Grants from $3.3 billion to $3.8 billion, the House kept the amount of funding at current levels. The House also failed to include a proposal from the president to direct $195 million in CDBG funds to the 100 poorest neighborhoods in the country.
While it’s a disappointment for cities, Wallace said the House proposal would allow localities to use more CDBG funds to deliver services and spend more subsidies on housing assistance.
The proposal would also increase funding, from $27.3 billion to $31 billion, for housing choice vouchers that are used by low-income families to rent homes.
Additionally, the House bill would increase funding for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative from $100 million to $450 million. Biden had called for cutting the program, which helps communities revitalize struggling neighborhoods and improve public housing, to $250 million, according to the NCSHA analysis.
Among other increases proposed by the House is an increase in homeless assistance programs, from $3.2 billion to $3.6 billion, essentially the same as Biden’s request.
The House would also increase funding for senior housing programs by $1 billion to $1.2 billion, though Biden wanted to cut funding slightly to $966 million.
Other Housing Funds
The House bill also calls for increasing housing funding for people with disabilities from $352 million to $400 million, ignoring Biden’s proposal to cut housing funding to $288 million. Housing programs for people with AIDS would increase from $450 million to $600 million, more than Biden’s $455 million proposal.
The House, however, did not include Biden’s plan to create a $35 billion housing supply fund for state and local affordable housing subsidies. Compared to federal housing tax credits, the grants, Wallace said in March, would allow cities to not be so dependent on where developers want to build units.