Senior Policy Analyst
As policymakers consider proposals to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, they should prioritize funds to address public housing’s unmet renovation needs and build and preserve other housing that’s affordable to the lowest-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Like other infrastructure investments, affordable housing funding creates construction activity and jobs. Many projects funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have the added benefit of requiring that some of the resulting jobs and small business opportunities go to public housing residents and other low-income people — groups that often miss out on opportunities that other infrastructure projects create.
Investments in affordable housing also would advance such important goals as:
Most urgently, an infrastructure package should fund renovation of the nation’s public housing, which has a massive backlog of unmet capital needs due to decades of federal underfunding. A 2010 HUD-sponsored study estimated those needs at $26 billion, and the figure is now likely higher. With more funding, local public housing agencies could address unsafe and unhealthy conditions and preserve housing developments that provide affordable homes to close to 1 million households. These investments can be especially cost-effective, since they can reduce future costs for repairs (for example by patching a leaky roof before damage spreads) or utilities.
Policymakers should also include funds for privately owned affordable housing, most importantly by expanding the National Housing Trust Fund — which preserves and develops housing affordable to the lowest-income families, but at its current funding level can meet only a small fraction of the need for such housing.