Affordable Housing Plan
Housing is a basic human need as essential as food and water and yet it remains the single biggest cost to households. Even before the current COVID pandemic, affording housing was the biggest financial challenge facing too many families and individuals. Over one-third of the renter households in the 10th Congressional district are forced to pay more than 30% of their monthly income for housing leaving too little left for food, childcare, healthcare and other basic necessities. And, over the past decade, the cost of housing in Pierce, Thurston and Mason counties has increased faster than household incomes for most working families. The number of people and families experiencing homelessness has increased significantly and the data shows that the high cost of housing is the principle reason for losing one’s home.
This isn’t a challenge unique to our region – communities from Washington state to Washington D.C. and everywhere in between are struggling with the rising cost of rent and a dearth of available housing supply.
Solving our housing crisis must be a major priority for Congress and our federal government in the coming years. The extreme economic tailspin caused by COVID and the extreme racial inequities in housing opportunities only emphasize this need more.
- I recognize that affordable housing is critical to human and family development:
- That where a child grows up can determine their future success in life;
- That without housing, good mental and physical health are impaired; and
- Thus, accessible, affordable housing is as essential as health care and human rights to our communities and people.
- I believe our US government needs to step up to again be a major player and investor in ensuring that affordable housing supply meets the needs of our residents. This is a complex challenge requiring a massive fix and I pledge to join Elizabeth Warren in pledging $500 billion in new Federal investments.
In the past, our federal government has played a much more active role in ensuring and investing in affordable housing. Sadly, the past three decades have seen a dramatic reduction in federal investments in contrast to both our economic growth and expanding housing supply needs.
Housing costs have dramatically increased, especially in our region, leading to widening inequalities for low- and moderate-income families, along with communities of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Rates of homelessness amongst students attending our public schools demonstrates a vastly disproportionate effect on families of color.
While decades of inadequate government investments in permanent, affordable homes is the primary driver of our region’s significant gap, local zoning and regulatory barriers compound the problem. The private market can do more to help lessen the gap of affordable housing production and incentives can be a helpful complement to significant government investments.
To comprehensively address this challenge, here are the steps we need to take:
1. Increase federal investment in permanently affordable housing
The federal government has reduced investments in the past several decades in housing for moderate and lower-income families even as rents and home ownership costs have skyrocketed in our region and as the gap expands by 300,000 needed units of housing every year.
- Expand the National Housing Trust Fund, HOME and other federal programs to bring funds to Washington State that will build more safe, healthy and affordable homes.
- Invest in the operating and capital needs of our region’s Public Housing Authorities and local nonprofit housing providers to help increase their capacity to meet the massive demand for affordable homes.
- Repeal the Faircloth Amendment to allow for further development of new affordable housing.
- Tribal Nations have unique housing challenges, including a changing climate, and I will work to secure additional funding targeted for tribes and their housing organizations that will improve housing opportunities for their members.
- Expand and improve the low-income housing tax credit program to bring more private investors into expanding affordable housing. I pledge to join Senator Cantwell and Representative DelBene to increase the tax credit by 50% or more next year.
- The 10th district is home to about 75,000 veterans, at least 500 of whom are experiencing homelessness and yet there are nearly 300 unused HUD-VASH vouchers. I will work to reform the HUD-VASH program to ensure our veterans can access this program which is particularly ineffective in regions with costly housing markets.
- Housing options at JBLM are extremely limited and competitive and many service members live off-base. While there are some regional adjustments, a soldier having moved from Tennessee to WA only receives $200 additional housing subsidy. We need to have a more accurate accounting for COL in this region for service members.
As a Legislator, I successfully advocated each budget year to increase investments in our state’s Housing Trust Fund (HTF) – up to $175 million in 2019. Congress only recently funded a national version of the trust fund – it is barely larger than Washington’s – just $245 million total for all 50 states. I will push to significantly expand it and ensure strong oversight so funds are reaching their targets and meeting the most critical needs.
2. Reduce Rental Costs
COVID-19 has only exacerbated monthly rental cost stress for many tenants. The rising cost of rent throughout our region reflects a basic supply-and-demand problem. Our region has grown quicker than new housing has been built since the last recession and rental rates on the for-profit market are pegged at higher wage earners, leaving low-and-moderate incomes families with unaffordable and out-of-reach rents. Compounded with decades of lack of investment in affordable homes, the result is a huge marketplace gap and a long-term rise in costs for everyone.
By investing in permanently affordable housing and encouraging new development, we can increase supply and reduce costs. But another driver of expensive housing costs has been state and local zoning rules that needlessly drive up the cost of construction.
These are not necessary rules that protect the environment or ensure that homes meet safety codes. These are rules like minimum lot sizes or mandatory parking requirements, along with remnants of redlining and other racist and classist barriers to housing. As a Legislator, I have worked to reduce these rules where possible and supported bills to incentivize local government to do the same.
As your Congressperson, I will push hard to pass Elizabeth Warren’s American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which will invest $500 billion in affordable housing and provide significant financial incentives for local governments to reduce inequitable zoning and other segregationist rules that increase the cost of housing.
We need to increase investments in the Section 8 rental subsidy programs through our Housing Authorities that have hardly gone up in the past two decades.
And, as discussed in my Climate Plan – I will work closely with state and local government to address the intersection of the climate and housing crises. Together, we can ensure federal tax dollars go where they’re needed and prioritize increasing density options in urban and suburban settings, growing transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and implementing strong energy efficiency standards that bring down costs and emissions.
3. Ensure stronger fair housing protections
The Fair Housing Act was passed to take on discrimination in housing and prevent someone’s race, national origin, sex, religion, or disability status from being used to deny them access to housing. The time has come to expand the Fair Housing Act’s coverage – ensuring protected classes include gender identity, sexual orientation, veteran status, source of income, and more – and then ensuring these protections are enforced.
Under the current administration, federal protections against housing discrimination have been weakened and more challenges are ongoing. Federal requirements to affirmatively further fair housing are critical for ensuring that state and local governments take action to enact equitable policies and use federal funds to address the needs of communities of color.
I will work to restore Obama era advancements and ensure that federal protections are backed by enforcement that has teeth. I will also fight to prevent any weakening of key protections already in place.
There are already too many barriers that prevent working families from accessing housing – we cannot let discrimination be one of them. The data shows that many groups – seniors, people with disabilities and Black Americans and other people of color are drastically losing the ability to afford their housing. I pledge to push for greater federal investments and tax credits to change the dynamic for meeting these targeted housing supply needs.
4. Invest more federal funds to provide down payment insurance for low income, first time homebuyers to help close the home ownership gap for families of color
Home ownership is a long held American value that boosts community stability and family equity. Rising home costs in our region have left many families unable to afford this dream. I support greatly expanded down payment assistance for first time homeowners that will help low- and moderate-income families, and will help close the wealth gap that data shows occurs for families of color.
Additionally, better protections and financing opportunities for manufactured homeowners and renters will ensure and protect more diverse, affordable housing.
We also need to do more to ensure that the COVID related economic downturn does not result in families losing their homes. The federal government needs to take extraordinary steps to prevent foreclosures and evictions. I will push for new investment in foreclosure counselors and access to legal assistance that helps Washington households navigate the state and federal protections they already have.
5. Tackle homelessness and fund solutions to the level of this crisis
Homelessness has been an emergency in our region for years and solving it has largely been left to the state and local communities. Local and state governments simply have not had the resources or coordination needed to adequately address this challenge.
When elected, I will advocate for the federal government to treat this issue like the emergency it is – stepping up funding and engagement to meet the level required to solve this problem. Some of the key steps we need to take include:
- Greatly expand and modernize the Housing Choice (section 8) voucher program for families and veterans to afford rents in the for-profit rental market. Section 8 should expand to meet the housing needs of all very low-income families; be available for shared housing arrangements; and to more effectively house those with past criminal records.
- Create the National Housing Stabilization Fund to provide emergency housing options where they are needed.
- Expand permanent supportive housing investments which are proven to save money and solve long-term unsheltered homelessness for our most vulnerable residents.
- Provide more resources for temporary assistance to low-income households with no savings to prevent housing instability and homelessness. Rapid, temporary assistance can stabilize households experiencing major economic shocks before it leads to situations which require more prolonged and extensive housing assistance.
- Invest in services and enact reforms that expand access to programs and specialty courts that address addiction and mental health challenges. This will provide people experiencing homelessness with access to support and treatment as needed.
6. Overcome the well-documented inequities in home ownership, rental housing stability and people experiencing homelessness
Homelessness disproportionately impacts communities of color in Washington State. Recent survey in Pierce County confirms that Black, Native and Latinx renters are 11 times more likely to be evicted than Whites! Something is horribly wrong with this picture. Many of the actions outlined above will directly help communities of color, but more must be done to address the impacts still felt today from our nation’s legacy of slavery and from the taking of native land. I will support greater capacity building and funding to nonprofit housing developers led by persons of color.
Likewise, the asset gap between Black Americans and White Americans clearly rose in part due to lack of access to homeownership, and that inequity should be corrected. A general program for first time homebuyers is not good enough – discrimination against Black Americans caused this disparity, we need to have the courage to correct that wrong and affirmatively support Black families to become home owners. We must have a national conversation on reparations and, as your Congresswoman, I will fight to ensure that this conversation happens. I will also fight and be a champion in our WA delegation to ensure that the federal government does more to protect renters who are disproportionately composed of households of color, as well as ensure fair housing protections are restored and expanded.
The lack of federal leadership on housing issues is a great detriment to our communities and neighbors – and we have seen locally how this lack of engagement has left state and municipal governments struggling to take on this challenge on their own. That must change – the federal government can no longer remain disconnected from one of the biggest issues facing American families across the country.
Rep. Heck has been a leader in Congress on affordable housing. With his congressional retirement, we must send a leader in his place who is not only well versed in these issues, but who is also accomplished in getting results.
I made housing a top priority in the legislature. Along with helping to drive $288 million into housing, I also passed two significant bills. The first gives local governments access to $750 million for housing and mental health and the second helps non-profit housing providers pay less in property taxes and more toward housing for the extremely poor. I recognize the importance and overlapping role this issue has with others like climate change, equity, and social justice. I am prepared to keep up the same work in the US House of Representatives, fighting for a future where everyone has a roof over their head and a support system to stay on their feet.
I am proud to have the sole endorsement of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance Action Fund, along with support from some of our region’s most prominent housing leaders. They recognize my commitment to this issue and that I will take the bold and necessary action to get our country’s housing situation back on track.
This is not an issue we can fix overnight – but with steady, focused, and unwavering leadership, recognizing the root causes of our housing and homelessness crises, the diverse array of affected populations, and the variety of solutions that must be adopted and funded, we can begin making real progress.