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Michael Stegman and Dennis Shea: Affordable Housing Policy – A Bipartisan Path Forward

Affordable Housing Finance

Thursday, December 15, 2016

With Republicans set to control both houses of Congress and the executive branch, some affordable housing advocates fear a future in which federal rental assistance programs will be starved for resources. But that does not have to be the case. The transition to a fresh set of decision-makers in Washington offers an opportunity to forge an enduring bipartisan consensus on the methods and goals of these programs.

Achieving this consensus, however, will require something that has been in short supply in Washington: a willingness to engage those with opposing views and to compromise on smaller points to achieve larger, more important objectives.

The grand bargain we envision has two key elements that incorporate thinking from both the left and the right.

The first element—a new “mobility voucher” program—has its origins within the Obama administration. Implementing it would require a significant dedication of additional federal resources. The second element involves reforms to existing federal rental assistance programs that reflect concepts with a Republican pedigree: deregulation, greater self-sufficiency through asset building, and more tightly linking federal housing aid to work.

Any discussion about funding levels for federal rental assistance programs must begin with these facts: Just one in four eligible households receives a federal housing subsidy. In many communities, the subsidies are allocated through long waiting lists and by lottery. The already strong demand for rental housing will intensify as millions of young Millennials form households for the first time and the overall U.S. population grows increasingly diverse. Federal resources for rental assistance will be stretched even thinner without additional support.