How Fannie and Freddie Can Make Us Whole

Housing is a part of our lives that is at once so important, and yet so taken for granted that its impact on us is nearly invisible. Invisible, that is, until a health emergency, job loss or other major life tragedy results in its loss.

Home is the foundation of the lives we live and of our access to opportunity. Imagine your daily routine: you get up to the sound of your alarm clock, make coffee, shower, put on clean clothing, maybe pack a lunch, and head out the door to work. Now, imagine doing that in a homeless shelter. Or in an apartment so unsafe and run-down that the water runs brown or electrical wires peek out from behind switchplates. Or in no home at all.

Time and again we’ve laid out the facts: with only 30 rental units affordable and available for every 100 extremely low income renter households, there are simply not enough decent places to live for the working poor families, senior citizens and people with disabilities who need them.

That’s why the National Housing Trust Fund was signed into law in 2008. It was designed to provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes affordable for extremely and very low income households- exactly those people who need that housing most. The authorizing legislation called for the National Housing Trust Fund to be funded with a dedicated source of revenue, and the original funding source was to be proceeds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These government-sponsored enterprises were taken over by the Federal Housing Finance Administration due to the financial trouble they experienced as part of the housing crisis, and their contributions to the National Housing Trust Fund were suspended. To date, the National Housing Trust Fund has never received funding.

Four years later, the housing problems of the lowest income Americans still have not been solved, but the prospects for the housing enterprises have significantly improved. As the New York Times noted Wednesday, Fannie and Freddie returned to profitability recently and have been repaying their debt to taxpayers. The Times argues that, “[n]ow that those companies have turned the corner, the time may have come to divert some of their profits to affordable housing.”

We agree: the time has come to ensure the opportunity and promise of America are available to all people, including those with the nation’s lowest incomes. Finally closing the affordable housing gap would mean more children doing well in school, more families with disposable incomes they could spend in their communities, and better health for seniors. Certainly, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must pay back taxpayers for the bailout we funded. But beyond just paying us back, they could truly make us whole by investing in the National Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve the affordable housing our communities so desperately need.

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