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President’s Housing Proposals Are Both Practical and Progressive

President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget request both outlines modest increases in funding for housing and homelessness programs and proposes new funding to start making the type of investments necessary to address the nation’s housing affordability crisis. The modest increases would be through discretionary funding, or what policymakers choose to set through the annual appropriations process, which recognizes the political reality that many Republican lawmakers are proposing significant cuts to housing programs. The new funding, meanwhile, would be mandatory (and thus not subject to the instability of the annual appropriations process), which acknowledges that the nation’s housing crisis requires long-term commitment.

The budget would provide $73.3 billion in discretionary funds for programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a 1.6 percent increase over 2023. Here are some critical pieces of the proposal:

  • $32.7 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher program, which currently helps 2.3 million households afford safe, stable housing. This funding — which constitutes the majority of the proposed increase for HUD programs overall — includes enough resources to renew existing vouchers and help the program keep up with rent-related inflation, provide an additional 50,000 households with access to new vouchers, and expand services to increase choice in neighborhoods for households with vouchers. The budget also proposes to give HUD added authority to reallocate unused vouchers and voucher funds from housing agencies that aren’t using them to other agencies that are fully using their resources. This would spend existing, unused funds and could help another 130,000 families, HUD projects. Importantly, and for the first time in recent years, HUD requests full funding for administrative resources for voucher agencies, which will help them use newly clarified flexibilities to ensure households successfully secure housing when they receive a voucher.
  • $3.75 billion, a $116 million increase over 2023 enacted levels (not adjusting for inflation), for Homeless Assistance Grants, which help people connect with emergency shelters and the services they need to obtain and maintain stable housing. An estimated 582,500 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022, about 40 percent of whom were in unsheltered locations with no safe place to eat, shower, or peacefully rest. Additional federal investments would still be needed to reach the administration’s goal of reducing homelessness by 25 percent by January 2025.
  • $8.89 billion, $379 million over 2023 enacted levels, for public housing to help agencies operate, maintain, and improve such housing for the more than 855,000 resident households. The largest portion of this increase is for a new $300 million grant program to help preserve public housing through targeted investments in properties with the most critical needs. This would not fully address the backlog of unmet renovation needs but would start to tackle some of the most urgent health and safety concerns facing residents of public housing.

But these modest increases won’t come close to helping all of the millions of people facing housing insecurity. In fact, the number of renters with low incomes paying more than half their income for housing jumped 10 percent from 2019 to 2021, from 21.7 million to 23.9 million renters — the highest number in 20 years of data collection.

Rental assistance programs are typically funded as if housing is optional for families, not a necessity. Ensuring everyone has stable housing requires a level of investment and commitment that’s better suited for mandatory funding. Budget proposals that would set the stage for this shift include:

  • For the first time in a president’s budget, the Administration’s request includes mandatory funding for rental assistance. Specifically, the budget includes $22 billion to support targeted rental assistance programs: $9 billion to support the estimated 20,000 youth who age out of foster care each year and $13 billion to provide assistance to veterans with extremely low incomes and who are paying more than half of their income for rent or living in severely substandard housing. Rental assistance should be universal, and having a guaranteed, set amount of funding for longer than a single year is an important first step toward that. However, expanding assistance based on income, instead of for certain subpopulations as proposed, is the more equitable and comprehensive approach for expanding federal rental assistance.
  • The budget includes several proposals to increase the supply of affordable housing, including $7.5 billion for new Project-Based Rental Assistance serving households with the lowest incomes, another $7.5 billion for public housing rehabilitation and renovation, $10 billion to help localities reduce barriers to affordable housing development, and $28 billion for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. Such proposals would begin to address the lack of affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes and to sustain a critical existing source of affordable housing. And since these proposals tie rental assistance to specific properties, they should be coupled with resources allowing people to maintain federal assistance if they move, ensuring the family can choose where they live.
  • The budget also includes $3 billion to strengthen existing or create new eviction prevention efforts, such as providing rent relief and expanding access to legal counsel, court navigators, and eviction diversion programs. While some states and localities have used resources from the American Rescue Plan to reform the eviction process, additional resources are needed to solidify those efforts and reduce the number of households forced from their homes.