The Housing is Infrastructure Act is the Latest Pro-Housing Bill Introduced in Congress

December 13, 2019 | Mike Kingsella
Reading time: 4 minutes min

In late November, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Housing is Infrastructure Act (H.R. 5187/S. 2951). The legislation seeks to fill the backlog of investment in public housing and support low- and mixed-income housing through direct infrastructure spending, along with other noteworthy reforms. Up for Growth Action joined an impressive list of organizations supporting this legislation, including the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Homebuilders, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, and the National Multifamily Housing Council.

The big-ticket provision in the legislation is a $70 billion investment in the United States’ public housing, which would come through both new construction and modernization and rehabilitation of the existing stock. It also invests in other low- and moderate-income housing programs like the National Housing Trust Fund, the Capital Magnet Fund, the Rural Multi-Family Preservation and Revitalization program, and the HOME Investment Partnership program. The elderly, persons with disabilities, and Native Americans living on tribal lands would also see specific set-asides for housing construction dedicated these communities. The bill sets hiring and contract goals for minority- and women-owned businesses and outlines preference on boosting energy efficiency in public housing infrastructure.

While many bill provisions are laudable and deserve consideration, the section that caught our eye is the $10 billion expansion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding. This new revenue stream would be designed for cities and states that eliminate impact fees and otherwise streamline the development of new affordable housing.

If this approach sounds familiar, it’s because the legislation’s goal is similar to that of the Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY) Act, which is one of the signature bills on Up for Growth Action’s legislative agenda. Rather than creating a reporting requirement on policies that hinder housing production of all kinds, as outlined in the YIMBY Act, the Housing is Infrastructure Act would provide communities committed to breaking down these artificial barriers with additional federal dollars. In one respect, these bills are complementary. The YIMBY Act shines a light on potential discriminatory policies, while the Housing is Infrastructure Act provides a funding source to incentivize cities and states to take positive steps to reverse said policies.

Beyond the substance of the Housing is Infrastructure Act, its introduction is important from a symbolic perspective. The Chairwoman of the committee that oversees the bulk of housing policy in the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator with a national profile and following are acknowledging that local policies and regulations are needlessly making housing unaffordable. They join the third-ranking Democrat in the House a current 2020 Presidential hopeful who recently introduced the HOME Act, which also relies on the CDBG program to push for meaningful local zoning reforms. And, it’s worth noting that Chairman of the Housing, Community Development & Insurance Subcommittee on Financial Services, Rep. William Lacy Clacy (D-MO), is a co-sponsor of the YIMBY Act.

The flurry of housing legislation is yet another sign that elected officials in Washington, DC are waking up to the housing crisis that millions of Americans are facing. That these officials understand that zoning and other local barriers to housing play an outsized role in the crisis is certainly a welcome development. Up for Growth Action is proud to support the Housing is Infrastructure Act and looks forward to working with Chairwoman Waters, Senator Harris, and other pro-housing legislators from both parties to enact sound housing policy.