Housing Commission Recommends Rental Assistance be Provided to Anyone Who Needs It

written by Steve Berg
March 12, 2013

At a time when low-income renters are spending a larger percentage of their incomes on housing than ever before, current federal housing policy and the institutions that support it are outdated and inadequate, according to a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Housing Commission. In the report, the  Commission recommends housing policy reforms that, if implemented, could greatly improve the lives and  well-being of the most vulnerable Americans.

Released Monday, February 25, “America’s Future: New Directions for National Policy,” is the culmination of a 16-month examination of housing issues, including roundtable discussions, regional housing forums, and research by the (BPC) Housing Commission and housing experts. In the report, the Commission warns that the aging Baby-Boomer population and shifting demographics will soon present new challenges for housing providers throughout the country.

While most of the headlines about the report concerned its recommendations around financing owner-occupied housing, the aspect of the report most closely related to homelessness was the recommendation that rental assistance be provided to anyone who needs it and has an income below 30 percent of area median income.  This would be a major change in current federal housing policy, where HUD’s major programs of rental assistance and public housing  serve only about 25 percent of those eligible.  This rental assistance would be supplemented by short-term assistance, similar to HPRP, for people with incomes between 30 and 80 percent of area median, who are experiencing a housing emergency.  Finally, supply of affordable housing would be expanded through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, with additional funding through the HOME program to allow those units to be affordable to people with the lowest incomes.

The report recognizes that this would involve an increase in federal funding for housing assistance, along the lines of $30 billion per year. It also suggests that as part of the ongoing debate on tax reform and budget priorities, incentives for home ownership could be modified to make more money available for affordable rental housing.

This is a proposal, of course, that would completely change the landscape around homelessness. It would make basic housing affordable to everyone.  And it is entirely consistent with arguments that conservative economists have made for years, regarding the market-distorting effect of a subsidy program that only benefits a small portion of those in need.

For a more detailed look at the commission’s housing recommendations, see the full report here.

Alliance President and CEO Nan Roman is a member of the commission, and Alliance Board Member and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros is a co-chair of the commission.