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Spend war chest on building cheap homes, Barney Frank tells New York conference

Barney Frank, the Democratic Congressman who proved to be a polarizing figure during the housing crisis, is prescribing a unique approach to solving the nation’s housing crisis.

Barney Frank speaking at the MCNY Housing Symposium Photo by Filip Wolak
Barney Frank speaking at the MCNY Housing Symposium
Photo by Filip Wolak

“We will not be able even to maintain the current level of support for affordable rental housing, if we don’t attack the military budget,” he said during a speech at an affordable housing symposium held at the Museum of the City of New York last week.

“It is eating up everything else. If we were, in fact, to reduce our military activity in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, and do other things, it may be the first time when support for affordable housing is where it should be.”

This is not the first time that Frank, who served as a Massachusetts representative for more than three decades, has called for cuts to military spending.

“I do not think it will be hard to make it clear to Americans that their well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face,” he wrote in a 2009 op-ed published in the Nation.

Pointing out that he was working with analysts for his recommendations, he argued that reducing the US military budget by 25 percent would not diminish the country’s military standing. He also claimed that not doing so would mean “it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity.”

For 2015, the US allocated $601 billion in defense spending, with a large chunk earmarked for buying equipment and keeping bases running. Frank believes that redirecting some of that money can solve the country’s affordable housing problem.

This is especially significant because of what conservatives claim was his role in the previous housing market crash. In the aftermath of the housing crisis, Frank was blamed by Republicans such as John McCain for failing to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in line, thereby allowing the housing bubble to further inflate.

However, one of Frank’s enduring marks in American commerce is the law that bears his name — the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — which aims to prevent another market crash.

The law, one of the most significant regulatory measures to emerge from the crisis, placed safeguards on financial markets such as limits on bank proprietary trading and stricter derivatives oversight.

Frank’s comments come as the rent burden of Americans continues to rise. According to a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and affordable housing non-profit Enterprise Community Partners, 11.8 million households paid more than half of their income on rent this year.

Rent is affordable when it comes to about 30 percent of a person’s income. When it’s over 50 percent, the renter is considered severely rent-burdened. According to the study, the number of severely rent-burdened families will grow to 15 million households over the next ten years.

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