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Biden administration can address nation’s housing crisis head-on

It is time to put the contentious presidential election behind us and focus on the hard work of addressing the critical issues facing everyday Americans – especially the growing housing crisis, which knows no political party and is impacting families and individuals across the nation.

The housing platform advanced by President-elect Joe Biden during the campaign, coupled with his transition plan, which addresses a number of issues related to housing – including climate change – are strong initial steps towards keeping vulnerable families in their homes.  The incoming Biden administration clearly is prepared to lay the groundwork for the foundation for a long-term solution to housing insecurity.

Such an effort is long overdue.

Even before the pandemic, a person working full-time and earing minimum wage could not afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the county, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, and just 5 percent of minimum wage workers could afford a one-bedroom rental.

This already shaky foundation all but collapsed as a result of the pandemic-induced recession. While his proposals are a good place to start, President-elect Biden must also make implementation of a comprehensive rental relief program a top priority as he looks to change course in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

The need is massive. In New York alone, it would take $500 million in monthly rental assistance to keep residents in five critical regional anchors – Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers – in their current homes. In Massachusetts, that figure is $135 million a month. And in California, 42 percent of renters who are behind on rental payments due to a loss of employment income fear that they will be evicted in the coming months. Too many other states across the country are in a similar position.

Emergency rent relief measures would be welcome, but we must recognize that they will not fix the fundamental problem, which stems from a severe shortage of affordable housing. The Biden administration, through its stated commitment to implementing smart, sustainable housing policies, has the potential to make it easier and more cost effective to create and preserve affordable housing from coast-to-coast.

One way this could be done is to expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which finances the vast majority of nationwide affordable housing construction. A bipartisan effort to increase housing credit allocation by 50 percent over five years would result in the development of 450,000 new affordable homes over the next decade. This has long been an opportunity, and one on which lawmakers have thus far failed to capitalize. The Biden administration can seize on this unprecedented moment and make it a reality.

Another piece of outstanding legislation with bipartisan support is the YIMBY Act, which would require municipalities receiving Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) to take concrete steps to remove discriminatory land use policies that block housing production. This new incentive would go a long way in changing the status quo and aligns with President-elect Biden’s commitment to ending discriminatory laws and regulations in our communities.

These changes would help meet the basic needs of struggling Americans across the country. But that’s not their only benefit. They would also stimulate our national economy and help drive our recovery from the financial fallout caused by the pandemic by creating jobs and sustained economic activity.

A New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) analysis found that a typical 100-unit affordable housing project in New York creates up to 175 construction jobs, 20 additional permanent jobs, and $3.6 million in sustained local economic activity. The impact of unleashing the power of affordable housing development across the nation would be extraordinary, and also would come at a time when Americans are ready for change.

The 2020 election reported record levels of voter turnout on both sides of the aisle. Addressing our housing crisis is a non-partisan issue that will improve the lives of millions of individuals and their families, regardless of their political affiliation – or lack thereof. The incoming Biden administration would do well to lead the charge and prioritize the creation of affordable, stable communities for those who need it most.

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