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Large-Scale Investment in Rental Assistance Needed for Equitable Recovery

While the President’s American Jobs Plan includes critical resources to renovate existing public housing and develop more affordable housing, it fails to adequately invest in expanding rental assistance to reach those who need it most. As recovery legislation advances, lawmakers should craft a balanced package that not only builds more housing but also makes sure families with incomes near or below the poverty line can afford a home by significantly expanding Housing Choice Vouchers.

In nearly every community — including the many areas with an ample supply of housing — people near the poverty line find it hard to secure housing because market rents are above what they can afford. Even in areas where the supply is inadequate, simply building more housing won’t help poor renters because rents will typically remain out of reach. Thus, the President’s plan to boost housing supply (more details of which were released this week) will do little to help people who struggle most with high housing costs.

The single most important step policymakers can take to stabilize families and reduce overcrowding, eviction, and homelessness is to fund more Housing Choice Vouchers, which help low-income households afford decent, stable housing, usually by helping them rent a modest unit of their choice in the private market. Today, vouchers are available to just 1 in 4 eligible families due to funding limitations. Waiting lists can stretch for years.

Providing more vouchers would also substantially reduce poverty and racial disparities. Of the 24 million people in low-income households paying more than half their income for rent and utilities, more than 60 percent are people of color, due to a long history of racial discrimination and unequal access to housing opportunities. They include low-wage workers with children as well as many seniors and people with disabilities.

The American Jobs Plan’s low priority on rental assistance is striking because President Biden proposed during the campaign to expand Housing Choice Vouchers to reach all eligible households. The President’s 2022 budget would add 200,000 vouchers; this is a beneficial proposal that Congress should enact but would help only a small fraction of the millions of people who struggle to pay rent. The Jobs Plan would provide limited funding for low-income rental assistance programs other than vouchers, but even that amounts to less than 1 percent of its total investment in housing.

Including a large-scale rental assistance expansion in recovery legislation would help ensure that people of all incomes, races, and ethnicities benefit fully from the broad-based recovery it aims to foster. Anything less wouldn’t address the crisis millions of families face in affording the most basic of needs: a place to call home.