The many ways to address the affordable housing crisis

May 31, 2022
by Michael Santos, Senior Policy Associate

Over the past two years, COVID-19 wreaked havoc in our communities, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged and oppressed, in so many ways. The threat of being infected with and dying from the virus forced people to shelter in place and isolate in their homes, disrupting people’s personal and professional lives and negatively impacting their social, mental and emotional well-being.

The federal government intervened to prevent the imminent threat of further economic fallout from the pandemic crisis. President Trump enacted a national eviction moratorium; and Congress passed historic bipartisan spending bills and other reforms to the tax code to provide immediate cash relief to struggling renters and families through rental assistance, multiple rounds of economic stimulus payments, and temporary expansions of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

These federal interventions proved effective in lifting people out of poverty and helping many people stay stably housed so they can shelter in place and prevent further spread of COVID-19. Because of these critical investments, the United States prevented an eviction tsunami that would have harmed millions of people.

But helping people stay stably housed during the pandemic is not enough to address the ongoing affordable housing and homelessness crises, which already existed decades before the pandemic hit.

The shortage of affordable housing in the United States is creating greater housing demand and causing home and rental prices to go further up. As we learn to live with COVID-19, the pandemic continues to change and reshape the housing market. Economists predict that rising rents and home prices are unlikely to slow down anytime soon, putting more pressure on already struggling families. 

Even worse, most of the federal interventions enacted and passed during the height of the pandemic ended. The Supreme Court struck down the federal eviction moratorium. Funding for rental assistance is almost depleted. And some policymakers blocked efforts to extend CTC and EITC temporary expansions past 2021.  

The affordable housing and homelessness crises are also occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Ukraine, food and infant formula shortages, continued need for COVID funding, supply chain issues, fight for abortion rights, and recent deadly mass shootings. Given these other pressing crises that Congress needs to address, it’s easy to forget or misunderstand the dire urgency to address the worsening housing crisis.   

Congress provides some funding for conventional housing assistance and homelessness programs. And recently, the Biden administration released a five-year plan to increase the supply of affordable housing. Many states and local communities are also taking additional steps to address the affordable housing crises.  

But these actions are not enough to ensure everyone who needs federal housing assistance receives it. Many are not covered by these programs. Those who can endure extremely long wait lists or face discrimination in the housing market. And long-term plans to increase the supply of affordable housing will not provide already suffering and struggling families direct and immediate relief.  

In the short term, Congress still has an opportunity to address this gap in housing assistance — and pass a bill that provides an additional solution to the demand for housing affordability while lifting people out of poverty through the Child Tax Credit.  

Studies have shown that the CTC helps families, including those unable to access federal housing assistance, to afford necessities like food, childcare, and rent. CBPP’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey collected between July and September 2021 showed how nearly half of surveyed low-income families used their CTC payments to pay rent. Housing has become so unaffordable that many pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities each month.  Other advocates for young people and their families, like SchoolHouse Connection and First Focus for Children, support the CTC and other similar tax benefits because they help keep families stably housed.  

The pathway towards passing a large-scale bill that includes long-term investments on conventional housing assistance in this Congress remains murky, so continue to urge your lawmakers to expand the CTC. While it is not your typical form of housing assistance, we cannot simply view the CTC in a vacuum when it also helps struggling families with costs like rent. It is an additional tool to tackle the affordable housing and homelessness crises while reducing poverty.  

While we look in the months ahead to build support for long-term, bold policies that would preserve, improve, and expand effective anti-poverty housing policies, we need to push for all the different forms of housing assistance we can get. One immediate action you can take is to not let Congress squander this opportunity with the CTC. 

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