Meeting America's Urgent Housing Needs
It has been nearly two months since the public release of the BPC Housing Commission report, and the overwhelmingly positive response we have received has been very gratifying. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to review the report and provide feedback on what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we may have missed. The commission’s work continues – we are fine-tuning our recommendations, drilling down deeper into some of the issues raised in our report, and examining new approaches to meeting America’s urgent housing needs.
So please stay connected and involved.
The commission has proposed what we believe are the necessary elements of a more resilient and effective housing system:
- A responsible, sustainable approach to homeownership that will help ensure that all creditworthy households have access to homeownership and its considerable benefits;
- A reformed system of housing finance in which the private sector plays a far more prominent role in bearing credit risk while promoting a greater diversity of funding sources for mortgage financing;
- A more targeted approach to providing rental assistance that directs scarce resources to the lowest-income renters while insisting on a high level of performance by housing providers; and
- A more comprehensive focus on meeting the housing needs of our nation’s seniors that responds to their desire to age in place and recognizes the importance of integrating housing with health care and other services.
The commission offers these recommendations at a time when fierce, and sometimes bitter, partisanship seems to dominate the discussion in Washington. Far too often these days, it seems our nation’s leaders are talking at each other rather than with each other in an effort to find a common approach to solving our nation’s problems.
Over the years, I have observed that most human beings process information in a way that permits easy access to data that are consistent with prior beliefs, while making it difficult for contradictory data to be received or remembered. We have a highly developed capacity for rationalization, to interpret events and facts in a manner consistent with our own worldview. In recent years, this phenomenon has become particularly pronounced in Washington. The challenge we face, individually and collectively, is to do the best we can to contain our biases and prejudices and to work to develop genuine bipartisanship with those with whom we may disagree.
The commission, comprised of 21 members from both political parties and representing a board range of ideological viewpoints, is proof that bipartisan solutions are indeed possible in one important area of national policy: housing.
If history is any guide, I am optimistic that the commission’s bipartisan recommendations will make a difference. It may take some time for these recommendations to work their way through the policymaking process, but the commission has succeeded in laying down some important markers that can serve as the basis for bipartisan action.
Why I am so confident? While the track record has not been perfect, working to meet the American people’s diverse housing needs has traditionally been a bipartisan enterprise.
After World War II, Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio worked with President Truman to remedy a national housing shortage and respond to the housing needs of America’s returning veterans with the Housing Act of 1949.
Two decades later, President Johnson and Everett Dirksen, the Republican Senate Leader from Illinois, worked collaboratively to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Both parties came together again to pass the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a bill that received the support of a bipartisan majority in Congress and was signed into law by President Reagan. A key element of the Act was the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a program that I am proud to have authored with the able help of my fellow commissioner, Bob Rozen.
More recently, the Hope VI program – with its focus on the de-concentration of poverty – is widely considered one of the most significant housing policy innovations in a generation. That effort, too, was bipartisan, with Henry Cisneros, Kit Bond, and Barbara Mikulski taking the lead in the program’s creation.
The commission’s report, I believe, fits squarely within this long bipartisan tradition.
Again, thanks to everyone who has contributed to the commission’s efforts. We have a lot more ground to cover, and I look forward to continuing our work together.
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell serves as a co-chair of BPC’s Housing Commission.
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