Warren and Cleaver Lead Introduction of 'Historic' Bill to Address US Housing Crisis

Supporters of a Massachusetts bill to stop evictions during the coronavirus pandemic gather outside the State House in Boston on March 14, 2021. (Photo: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Warren and Cleaver Lead Introduction of 'Historic' Bill to Address US Housing Crisis

"It's time to stop nibbling around the edges and, instead, pass this big, bold proposal," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrats on Friday reintroduced what they describe as "historic" legislation to tackle a national housing crisis in the U.S. exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The American Housing and Economic Mobility Act (pdf), also introduced in the last congressional session and now backed by over two dozen advocacy groups, aims to make renting or buying a home more affordable and address decades of housing discrimination against communities of color.

"The cost of housing is squeezing American families in communities all across the country--rural, suburban, urban--whether they're struggling to pay rent or trying to buy a home," Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "The legacy of government discrimination and negligence means that communities of color have been hit the hardest."

"It's time to stop nibbling around the edges," she said, "and, instead, pass this big, bold proposal to solve our housing crisis and take steps to address the legacy of housing discrimination."

Cleaver (D-Mo.) asserted that "the rising cost of housing is holding back working-class families throughout the United States, preventing them from climbing the economic ladder, building generational wealth, and achieving the American dream in the 21st century."

"With the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, we have an opportunity to rectify decades of discrimination and transform housing in America," he said. "Timid and incremental investment in housing has failed to solve the affordable housing crisis. Substantial investment in affordable housing will ensure a more equitable economy where millions more families of all backgrounds have a safe place to rest their head at night."

As Warren's office summarized (pdf), the bill:

  • Controls the cost of renting or buying a home by leveraging federal funding to build around three million new housing units--bringing down rents for lower-income and middle-class families by 10%, according to an independent analysis from Moody's Analytics;
  • Provides assistance to people hurt by federal housing policy failures;
  • Reduces the cost of housing across America by creating incentives for local governments to eliminate unnecessary land-use restrictions that drive up costs;
  • Holds financial institutions accountable for providing access to credit for all Americans;
  • Promotes mobility by strengthening anti-discrimination laws and improving the housing voucher program; and
  • Increases the amount of accessible housing.

Specific initiatives to assist those hurt by past policies include down payment grants for first-time homebuyers living in formerly redlined or officially segregated areas as well as extending eligibility for home loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to direct descendants of veterans who served between the enactment of the G.I. Bill and the Fair Housing Act but did not receive the benefit.

The lawmakers call for covering the cost of their multi-faceted proposal by increasing estate tax.

The other co-sponsors are Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Mich.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Jan Shakowsky (D-Ill.).

"Decades of discriminatory practices have harmed communities of color and their ability to access safe and affordable rental housing or access to a mortgage," said Gillibrand. "The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges and Congress must do more to ensure Americans have access to affordable rental housing and the tools necessary to purchase a home."

"I thank Sen. Warren for her leadership on this issue and I'm proud to join this legislation to enact fair housing laws, invest in affordable housing, and end discriminatory practices that have historically barred minority families from purchasing a home," she added. "This legislation will reaffirm the commitment to fair housing for all Americans by making bold investments and improvements to these critical programs to level the playing field in the housing sector."

Housing advocates and mayors (pdf) supporting the bill also applauded the Democrats for tackling the issue and celebrated the scope of the legislation.

"More than ever, we need bold solutions to ensure that people with the greatest needs have a stable, affordable home," declared Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She said the bill would "transform lives and communities by significantly expanding investments the national Housing Trust Fund to help millions of the lowest-income and most marginalized households who struggle to pay rent and the half a million people without a home at all."

Referencing a broader proposal that President Joe Biden is expected to put forth next week, Yentel added that "Congress should enact this bill as part of the American Jobs Plan to ensure that everyone has the breadth of opportunities that come from having a stable, affordable place to call home."

The bill's reintroduction comes as people across the country are facing evictions or homelessness resulting from lost income related to the pandemic. Reutersreported Friday that "landlords have persisted in pursuing evictions across the United States, despite government measures meant to keep tenants in their homes," including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium.

Although there is not comprehensive national data, Reuters noted Princeton University Eviction Lab's found that 318,091 households have faced eviction proceedings during the pandemic in 27 U.S. cities.

Meanwhile, Moody's Analytics estimates that by next month, seven million renters across the country will owe a collective $40 billion in back rent, utilities, and fees.

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