Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing

written by naehblog
October 25, 2010

Today’s blog post comes from Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the Alliance.


As a member of the Alliance’s policy team, I have the privilege and responsibility of meeting with elected officials, members of President Obama’s administration, national advocacy groups, and other stakeholders in the world of homelessness and housing. We share ideas, challenges, strategies, and innovations to best meet our common goals.

Earlier this month I had the distinct honor of attending a White House-sponsored gathering called Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing. A policy that could do more to help the lowest-income Americans afford decent housing would provide a powerful wind at the back of everyone who works to end homelessness – so the issue is key to our work.

The event took place in a building that looks like a small warehouse, planted in an internal courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), next door to the White House. Inside was a comfortable, well-appointed auditorium. About 200 people were there – federal officials, people from the development and financing industry, researchers who study housing, and advocates for low-income people.

Speakers included members of the Obama Administration: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council. Academics, advocates, and practitioners from the affordable housing world also spoke, offering their ideas for change. Among them was our friend and colleagueRosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, who gave an astute pitch for supportive housing and its positive impacts for homeless people.

A number of messages relevant to homelessness came through in this event.

  • The need for a more active policy on affordable rental housing has captured the Administration’s attention.
    This was evident from the fact that this session was taking place, the time devoted to the session by members of the Administration, and the clear commitment expressed to develop a policy proposal that would address the problems people are having affording rental housing.
  • The Administration and others see wide ranging benefits in increasing the amount of affordable rental housing. Melody Barnes spoke about affordable rental housing improving joblessness and revitalizing communities. Panelists addressed how a better housing policy can combat poverty, address social inequity, create incentives for wealth building, and promote fair housing. Linking housing policy to these broader goals draws in new allies and builds a stronger case for investments. (The more modest goal of ending homelessness has been embraced by this Administration and is on the list.)
  • A universal policy, of decent, affordable housing for everyone, as an end in itself, may not be on the short-term agenda. Concern about the amount of federal debt and resulting difficulty enacting new spending programs was on everyone’s minds. If the policy being developed, however, is one for the next generation (i.e. the next 25 years or so), it will be appropriate to keep a universal approach as a longer-term goal while pursuing partial solutions over the next couple years that either don’t cost a lot or save money elsewhere.
  • Housing produces results that can save money, but the savings are hard to predict. In fact, sometimes these savings don’t “count” in deliberations by Congress or the Administration for a number of reasons. Since the publication of research showing the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing, people working on homelessness have been struggling to realize these savings in a concrete way. It’s up to us – housers, policymakers, and advocates – to clearly demonstrate how housing is not only an effective solution but a cost-efficient one as well.

The convening closed with Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President and an important mover for the Obama Administration’s policies related to homelessness. Douglas said that staffers at the White House will be developing a policy proposal and that he expects that there will be additional consultation with people who attended this gathering about key details.