The FWD: New Year, New Housing Policy?

The FWD #140 • 449 Words

a new administration and congress begin work this week. here’s what housers should keep an eye on.

When President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in tomorrow, he won’t be lacking for a to-do list. By Wednesday, over 400,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. More than 120,000 patients remain hospitalized across the country, which is double the initial surge from April. And, despite the end of most lockdowns, nearly 1 million workers filed for unemployment in the first full week of the new year—an increase of 181,000 from the previous week.

Beyond the obvious priorities for controlling the coronavirus—namely, expanding vaccine rollouts—elected officials in Washington may soon pivot toward housing. We think this makes good sense, given affordable housing’s ability to slow the spread of COVID-19. Here are some of the conversations we’re paying attention to.

COVID-19 response 

Last week, Biden outlined his “America Rescue Plan” that called for extending the federal eviction moratorium through September, something the new administration is expected to do unilaterally on day one. The proposal also includes additional dollars for rental assistance, homelessness aid, and legal assistance for persons facing foreclosure or eviction. Congress will debate these funds in the coming days.

Changes at HUD 

Biden’s pick for HUD secretary, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), is expected to move forward with the reinstatement of several fair housing rules that do not require congressional approval. These include restoration of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, as well as Equal Access Rule, which will increase protections for transgender persons in homeless shelters.

Shuffling leadership in congress

With Democrats now holding the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, advocates see new windows of opportunity. Of note, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) will now chair the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Brown has already voiced his commitment to make housing a major priority: “Housing was a word left out of this committee’s title for far too many years and it won’t be left out anymore.”

Long-term agenda

Back on the campaign trail, Biden touted an ambitious 10-year, $640 billion housing plan. If the country is on track to recovery by the end of 2021, expect some elements of this plan to see formal legislative proposals. These include expanding Housing Choice Vouchers to an entitlement program, tying federal community development dollars to local inclusionary zoning reform, and increasing support for fair housing enforcement.Whatever happens, we know that national housing policy will look different at the end of this year than it does today. This is also true closer to home, where the General Assembly gaveled in this week. Members have a litany of housing bills to consider—something we’ll cover in the coming weeks.

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