A Bipartisan Plan for Housing that Can End Homelessness?

by Ann Woodward February 28, 2013

“In many respects our housing system is outdated, and not equipped to keep pace with today’s demands and the challenges of the imminent future,”

The Bipartisan Housing Policy Commission report, February 25, 2013

The Commission’s recommendations address the need for more sustainable approaches to homeownership, a reformed system of housing finance, a more comprehensive focus on meeting the housing needs of seniors that responds to their desire to age in place, and 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.

The Commission’s recommendations are music to the ears to those working to end homelessness. Their recommendations to increase capacity for the production of affordable units, and to target rental assistance for the most vulnerable, are particularly relevant.

Yes, it’s music to our ears…and it’s a familiar song. What does the Commission propose that might actually change the game this time?

    • Because federal housing assistance programs currently meet the needs of only one in four of the renter households eligible to receive it, and scarce rental subsidies are often allocated by lottery or long wait lists rather than by level of need, the Commission recommends that over time, households with extremely low incomes (at or below 30% of area median income) are assured access to housing assistance.
    • Because the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is the bedrock of production of affordable units, the Commission recommends increasing production by expanding LIHTC by 50% over current funding levels.
    • Because of the successes of HPRP’s Rapid Re-Housing Demonstration, the Commission recommends federal funding to minimize harmful housing instability by providing short-term emergency assistance for low-income renters who suffer temporary setbacks. This could be used for payment of security deposits, back rent and other housing-related costs to improve residential instability and prevent homelessness.
    • Because some rental housing operators are far better than others at ensuring that affordable housing becomes a platform for increasing resident self-sufficiency and well-being, the Commission recommends that existing rental assistance programs be reformed to improve owner accountability and positive outcomes for participating households.

Moving this agenda forward will require compelling ideas, great leadership, vigorous advocacy, and highly competent implementation. Fully implemented, these recommendations will help meet the needs of an additional five million vulnerable renter households and contribute to the elimination of homelessness – through production, prevention, and rental assistance.

Among the Commission members are two professional colleagues whose leadership and expertise we especially wish to acknowledge: Barry Zigas, Director of Housing Policy, National Consumer Federation of America, and Nan Roman, President and CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness (a Melville Trust grantee). We also want to acknowledge that the Commission report calls out innovative concepts developed by Trust grantees:

    • A Renters Tax Credit – developed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
    • Expanding support for rental housing programs for low-income populations through financing fees mandated in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 and through revenue generated from changes in homeownership tax subsidies – both recommendations of the National Low Income Housing Coalition

The Commission Report is not light reading, but it is essential for those committed to ending homelessness.

Which recommendations are most critical to your work in ending homelessness?  Which recommendations have the best chance of being implemented quickly?  We also invite your comments on Twitter @MelvilleTrust.

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