A quick guide to the future of federal housing policy advocacy

April 24, 2024
by Michael Santos, Associate Director, U.S. Poverty Policy

Federal housing policy is complex. It can be intimidating. This post serves as a resource to those new to housing advocacy. It will help explain the need for a more comprehensive policy set to solve our housing crisis. There will also be information on current housing policies and which policies help address which issues within housing. 

So next time you talk to your lawmaker about a certain housing policy, you can make sense of where that fits into the broader policy work. And this can help you plan on how to keep building your relationship with that lawmaker.  

To solve our housing problems, we need a complex policy solution that contains different elements or buckets. There are three “buckets” of policies that RESULTS believes could help address the housing crisis:   

Bucket #1: Policies that do not punish people simply because they are living in poverty. 

This bucket includes policies that make changes to social systems like our criminal justice system or the child welfare system. Often, these systems punish people because they are living in poverty. Usually, this punishment comes in the form of fines and fees. Fines and fees especially harm people living with poverty because they are least able to afford them. For example, a $100 ticket has different consequences for a person earning $32,000 per year versus $90,000 per year. Fines and fees make it harder for people to escape poverty. Yet, it is common that laws and systems fine people for experiencing homelessness. For example, sleeping on the sidewalk is often punishable by a fine. Some communities even put people living in poverty in jails if they violate laws designed to keep poverty out of the public. These policies do not solve our housing problems, they do not provide housing to anyone. The same could be said about our child welfare system. People living in poverty often come into contact with foster care because they are too poor to care for their children. 

Bucket #2: Policies that keep housing affordable. 

This bucket includes policies that would make the cost of housing affordable to all. Existing programs belong to this bucket (e.g., housing choice vouchers). Policies that provide economic security or relief from high housing costs, like renter tax credits belong to this bucket too. Right now, some states have renter tax credits, but there is no federal renter credit. Monetary policies like cash assistance, universal basic income, and assistance for first-time homeowners are in this category. Efforts to increase the housing supply also fall under this bucket. Other applicable policies include those that prevent homelessness and evictions (e.g., eviction moratoriums). Programs and policies that prevent people from slipping back into poverty or help people lift themselves out of poverty go here too (e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit). 

Bucket #3: Policies that increase access to safe, decent, secure, and affordable housing. 

Keeping housing affordable is one thing. But making sure that those affordable housing units are accessible is another. These types of policies are in the spotlight with April being Fair Housing month. This bucket includes policies that address housing discrimination. Zoning ordinances and other policies that address gentrification can increase access. For example, a policy allowing multi-family housing (apartments) in single-family housing neighborhoods. Even policies that address racial bias in home appraisals are part of this bucket. 

These three buckets highlight the need for comprehensive response to the housing crisis. Current solutions should blend with new and creative solutions. Yet we often only see lawmakers propose piecemeal policies that do not address all our housing problems. And this is why we need your help. We need to make sure we develop comprehensive solutions. Right now, that means urging Congress to include renter tax credits are part of any policy solution to the housing crisis. 

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