Housing is a human right, but it’s too often treated as a for-profit business. And every choice must be made keeping this in mind. In Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in Los Angeles County are houseless - the second highest rate in the nation. In some parts of our district, the median income for a family of four is approximately $37,000 while the average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is well over $1800. When you do the math, you wonder how a family of four could live with this kind of income. They can’t.
So many of us live with another family in the same unit; live on debt, with credit cards and loans; work 2-3 jobs; move out of town and/or struggle until we end up getting evicted and then experience houselessness for some time. Due to greater systemic issues of all sorts interplaying with each other, this experience is common to many of us. This is unacceptable. Housing is a human right — no human being should ever have to worry day in and day out about whether they’ll be able to eat, have a roof to sleep under, have access to good healthcare and education, or be able to pay for their basic living expenses and costs. Human value comes before economic value, and we must ensure that every American is able to have access to affordable housing.
Most low-income households pay more than half of their income on rent. This is wrong.
21 million households, disproportionately people of color, spend over 30% of their income on housing. This is wrong.
Only 1 in 5 households that qualify for federal housing assistance actually receive it. This is wrong.
We need to care for our people and ensure that all have the equal ability to pursue a happy life. This starts with directly addressing and responding to America’s systemically racialized housing emergency.
Additionally, with a shortage of 500,000+ units for low income renters in Los Angeles County alone and underproduced housing of 7.3 million homes from 2000 to 2015 federally, per Up for Growth’s Housing Underproduction in the U.S. report (HR 4351 YIMBY Act), we are in a housing crisis. And we aren’t even talking about the 3 million people experiencing homelessness in our country, or the 7,000 unhoused brothers and sisters on Skid Row in our district, or the 60,000+ unhoused neighbors living in LA County.
Even with the public housing that our country does have, existing public housing units require over $70 billion for physical improvements to account for dilapidation and poor conditions, with 66% of public housing residents being people of color. In Los Angeles, we have less than 10,000 units available compared to counties like New York, which has over 175,000 public housing units. This utter failure to fully address these issues further deepens housing inequality and adds to the decades of redlining and institutionalized racism for many more years to come. The time for change is long overdue.
Federal funding for housing assistance has stagnated in recent decades despite the need skyrocketing. In the $1.4 trillion omnibus Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations package Congress passed in December 2020, only $49.6 billion - or 3.5% - was for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), federal housing assistance has dropped from a high of 1.4% of GDP in 1978 to 0.23% of GDP in 2018. According to the Urban Institute, housing needs for low income renters increased by 24% from 2005 to 2015, while the number of households receiving HUD assistance increased by only 7% during the same time period. When adjusted for inflation, federal funding for housing support dropped by nearly 8% across most programs including housing choice vouchers, housing for the elderly and disabled, public housing and public-private housing partnership programs.
We must pass big, bold policies and reforms including a federal Homes Guarantee.
We have the ability to build 12 million new social/publicly funded housing units over the next 10 years with the goal of providing homes to the nearly 12 million renter households who are extremely cost burdened (paying over 50% of their income to rent) and to the millions experiencing homelessness. Rent would be charged according to real costs-based or income-based formulas (i.e., no more than 30% of one’s income), and as social/publicly funded housing would be permanently off the private market, we would eliminate the profiteering and short-term maximization of profits that come at the expense of the people. It’s critical that we increase the supply of homes to all.
We have the power to recommit to public housing, beginning with repealing the Faircloth Amendment — which prohibits new public housing construction — as well as reinvesting into and fully funding the repair and maintenance costs of existing public housing through green, energy efficient improvements and improving the quality of such of existing affordable housing.
We can pass a national tenant bill of rights that is needed to protect tenants all across the country and especially during times like the recent COVID-19 pandemic. These rights would include, among others:
We can pay reparations for centuries of racist land and housing policies.
We can end land and real estate speculation while also serving to de-commodify housing.
We can make federal housing assistance an entitlement, not a lottery, by providing full, permanent, entitled-based funding for public housing agencies (PHAs), housing voucher programs and Native American and Native Hawaiian housing programs, thus eliminating backlogs of millions of people on waitlist for housing and honoring our promises to Indigenous Peoples, while also eliminating all legal barriers to federal housing assistance eligibility for undocumented immigrants.
We can support and strongly incentivize equitable zoning by requiring state and local govt access too to adopt such practices in order to access federal funds, while banning laws that criminalize homelessness and banning exclusionary zoning that have worsened racial wealth and housing gaps for generations by allowing local govts to only authorize construction of single-family homes in certain neighborhoods, impose minimum square footage or building height requirements, and other ordinances that limit the construction of multi-family units and other forms of affordable housing such, as micro homes.
We can provide a universal basic income of $1,000 monthly for every American - documented or undocumented - a necessary tool for economic revitalization and eradication of racial wealth dispairites and poverty. Too many families are on the verge of economic ruin by virtue of a single major expenses, and have to decide between food security and paying rent. UBI would give struggling individuals and families a leg up to live with dignity and improve their quality of life.
We can provide a tax break to renters paying over 30% of income to rent.
We can establish and fully fund a new federal housing program for the formerly incarcerated and eliminate all eligibility barriers for federal housing assistance.
We can eliminate all legal barriers to federal housing assistance eligibility for undocumented immigrants.
A Homes Guarantee will provide a roof over everyone’s head, improve education, health and employment prospects for tens of millions of people, and will provide a meaningful step in equalizing disparities across racial lines. A Homes Guarantee will also play a critical role in the environment and reversing climate change, as every housing intervention within the Homes Guarantee must also be a climate intervention, be it from upgrading the existing building stock and making it carbon neutral, or ensuring that everyone has equal, sufficient access to efficient and affordable energy in their homes, not disadvantaging any community or group of people because of their race or socio-economic status.
In the world’s wealthiest country, we can and we must guarantee safe, accessible, sustainable and permanently affordable housing for everyone.