When President Joe Biden was elected, and HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge was confirmed, housing advocates hoped for a sea change in federal housing policy to address America’s skyrocketing housing shortage and affordability crisis.
Now, some 60+ days into his administration, housing proponents need to keep the pressure on the White House and Congress to do more than what they’ve committed to when it comes to funding federal housing programs and fueling the construction of new affordable housing.
Given how insufficient HUD has been for the past four decades (more on that in a minute), Biden’s housing proposals are only a small step in the right direction and far more funding is needed to make a demonstrable impact for the millions of Americans who are rent-burdened, housing insecure, or without homes altogether.
To understand why federal funding is so woefully inadequate today, we need to look back at the history of the federal government’s housing efforts, and apply the lessons learned to address our current housing challenges. Putting these numbers in perspective shows why housing advocates need to press the current administration to do a lot more.
How Bad is Today’s Housing Crisis? A Look at the Numbers
America’s decades-long housing crisis has only been made exponentially worse by a year-long pandemic. But even before COVID began, our national housing crisis had been growing exponentially worse, as evidenced by:
- Increasingly rent-burdened Americans. In 2020, 25% of all renters spent more than 50% of their income on housing. And while 21% of white renter households were severely cost burdened in 2019, 29% percent of Black renter households were severely burdened.
- Housing insecurity. In 2020, nearly 10 million Americans were facing “housing insecurity” (i.e. problems including affordability, safety, quality, insecurity, and loss of housing”). That number is now undoubtedly higher after a year of Covid.
- Rising homelessness. 2019 saw more than 568k people experiencing homelessness across the U.S. Black neighbors made up approximately half of the nation’s homeless population, despite the fact that they only represent 13% of the total population.
- Racial inequities in homeownership. In 2020, the homeownership gap between Black and white Americans was 30%. The last time this gap was so pronounced was back in 1960.
And Now, A Brief(ish) Look at the History of Federal Funding for Housing
Many (though certainly not all) of today’s housing problems can be explained by decades of chronically underfunding housing programs. While Ronald Reagan was entirely responsible for gutting federal housing funding (among other things) to disastrous effect in the 1980s, HUD funding has since been wholly insufficient under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
How insufficient? Let’s look (briefly) at 90 years of federal funding.
- 1930s. In response to the Great Depression, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (1934) to help make home ownership affordable for more American. They also established The Public Housing Program (1937) to provide public housing for low-income people.
- 1960s. Post World War II, Congress created the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (1965) and passed the Housing Act of 1968 that committed the federal government to creating 2.6 million units of housing per year, with 600,000 specifically for low-income families.
- 1970s. Building on the momentum of the 1960s, the federal government created the Section 8 housing program (1974) to address the housing needs of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. In 1976, HUD created 517,000 units of housing just before the Carter administration (1977-1981) began. These efforts were so effective that “homelessness” was starting to be regarded as a problem of the past.
- 1980s. (Or, Thanks Reagan.) Everything took a dramatic and cataclysmic turn for the worse when Reagan took office in 1981 and immediately decimated HUD’s budget, directed HUD to cut funding for Section 8 rental housing assistance and public housing, ended production of new housing under the public housing program, and cut funding for the Government National Mortgage Association Tandem Program.
During his eight years in office, Reagan slashed HUD’s budget by 65%, from more than $113 billion (adjusted for inflation) in 1980 to $34 billion in 1989.
Thanks to Reagan’s budget cuts and policies, homelessness began to balloon into the decades-long crisis that persists today. In 1983, for example, HUD proposed building only 142k homes to house the 350k people experiencing homelessness. And by 1987, the number of unhoused people sharply rose to 600k.
- 2000s. During the 1990’s there was a slight increase to HUD’s budget under the Clinton Administration, but the lasting impact of Reagan’s draconian cuts meant that HUD funding has never returned anywhere close to its robust pre-Reagan numbers. HUD’s budget in 2000 was $47 billion (adjusted for inflation), a 41% decrease since HUD’s inception.
- 2010s. Following the housing and economic crises resulting from the Great Recession (2007-2009), HUD’s 2010 budget under Obama was $45 billion – not nearly enough to combat the devastation of the recession.
- Biden’s Budget. During his 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden committed to investing $640 billion over 10 years to assure that “every American has access to housing that is affordable, stable, safe and healthy, accessible, energy efficient and resilient, and located near good schools and with a reasonable commute to their jobs.”
Of the $640 billion total, he proposed $300 billion for new housing construction, $100 billion to build an upgrade new affordable housing, and funding to create more than 400k new homes for people experiencing homelessness.
Upon taking office, President Biden’s proposed 2021 HUD budget commits $47.9 billion to federal housing programs, most of which is earmarked for rental assistance.
How Does Biden’s Budget Meet Today’s Need?
While Biden’s proposed housing budget and goals are certainly a step in the right direction, federal funding still needs to increase exponentially in order to undo the damage from decades of chronic underfunding that began under Reagan
In addition to far more funding overall, it’s equally important to increase spending for the construction of new housing to help address the country’s severe housing shortage and create housing at all levels of affordability.
So What Should Housing Advocates Do Now?
Against this backdrop of policy and politics, housing advocates must strenuously and relentlessly press lawmakers to increase federal funding for housing to levels that will actually meet the need. While federal funding alone won’t solve every housing problem everywhere, devoting more money to housing is an essential measure.
And you can start right now by urging Members of Congress to increase HUD funding and new housing construction at all levels of affordability. Click here to send a letter today!