NLIHC’s Advice to Trump and Congress: Affordable Rental Housing Must Be Central to Any Infrastructure Bill

By Sarah Mickelson, Director of Public Policy, NLIHC

Throughout the campaign and first month in office, President-elect Trump has focused on the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure to spur economic growth, create millions of new jobs, and increase wages for American workers. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle agree—including Senate Democrats, making this an issue that could garner broad, bipartisan support.

To maximize this investment’s impact on long-term economic growth, any infrastructure package should include resources to increase the supply of affordable housing for families with the lowest incomes. Investing in affordable housing infrastructure—through new construction and preservation—bolsters productivity and economic growth. By connecting people to communities with well-paying jobs, good schools, and transit, affordable housing infrastructure spurs local job creation and increase family incomes. Investments in affordable and accessible housing boosts local economies and contributes to neighborhood and community development. Moreover, a targeted investment in affordable housing infrastructure could make significant headway towards ending homelessness and housing poverty.

In addition to investing in roads and bridges, NLIHC strongly believes that any comprehensive infrastructure package should include an expansion of the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), a new tool exclusively focused on increasing the supply of affordable homes for those with the lowest incomes. Moreover, Congress should consider an increase in Housing Choice Vouchers or other rental assistance to help connect families to areas of opportunity, resources to rehabilitate public housing stock to preserve this asset for current tenants and future generations, and the inclusion of affordable housing developments among projects eligible for loans and equity investments through a national infrastructure bank.

The HTF should be a top priority for any infrastructure bill. It is the most highly targeted federal rental housing capital and homeownership program; by law, at least 75% of HTF dollars used to support rental housing must serve extremely low income (ELI) households earning no more than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or the federal poverty limit. Because the HTF is administered by HUD as a block grant, each state has the flexibility to decide how to best use HTF resources to address its most pressing housing needs.

An infrastructure investment in the HTF would directly address the severe shortage of rental homes that are affordable to extremely low income households. NLIHC’s forthcoming report, The Gap, found that there is a national shortage of 7.4 million rental homes that are affordable and available to more than 11.4 million extremely low income renters. This means that for every 100 extremely low income renters, there are just 35 rental homes that are affordable and available to them. A full 75% of these households pay more than half of their income on rent. These families – seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and low-wage workers – are forced to make impossible choices between paying the rent and buying groceries, visiting their doctor, commuting to their jobs, or saving for college and are often one unexpected expense away from homelessness.

In 2016, the first $174 million in HTF dollars were allocated to states. Most states have chosen to use their HTF investment to build and preserve affordable rental housing for extremely low income veterans, seniors, people with disabilities or special needs, and people experiencing homelessness. While this initial round of funding is an important first step, far more resources are necessary to meet the need.

The Trump administration and Congress should seize this opportunity for broad, bipartisan legislation to address the full scope of affordable housing infrastructure challenges, including those faced by extremely low income households. By significantly expanding the HTF, the President and Congress can provide the resources needed to help the economy, local communities, and families thrive.