WE DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY ON HOUSING AND WE DEMAND EMERGENCY RELIEF.
The nation's housing crisis has reached emergency levels. A person working full time, paid minimum wage, cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the United States. More than half of all Americans spend over 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. Twelve million households dedicate over half their wages to housing.
This recent crisis has reached a breaking point 10 years after big banks devastated American wealth. American families lost $16 trillion of their wealth in the 2008 financial crisis. Millions of people, particularly African Americans and Latinos, lost their homes and their life savings. Ten years later, those who have recovered wealth are disproportionately white and upper class, while several million people of color and working people remain underwater.
Instead of meeting the challenges of the crisis, Congress has just voted for a tax scam that will only exacerbate the situation for low-income and working class communities and communities of color. The tax scam will harm millions of the lowest income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans and other at-risk populations in need of federal support to keep a roof over their heads. This state of emergency demands emergency action from Congress.
We demand the following relief package:
PAY US BACK.
Our nation’s shameful legacy of excluding whole communities from generational wealth endures in the wealth gap. Any attempt to address the current housing emergency must rectify the wrongs of generations of housing policy, especially to black and brown households.
- Direct $1 trillion in reinvestment to black and brown households over the next ten years. This should come in the form of cash payments and/or zero interest loans. Black and brown households lost $1 trillion in wealth after 2008. The people who have bounced back have been disproportionately white and upper class. Others will continue to suffer the effects of the recession for decades to come. By 2031, the average black household will $98,000 poorer than if the recession hadn’t happened.
- Direct $1.7 trillion in affordable loans and downpayment assistance grants available to black and brown households over the next ten years. Historic, government-enabled racist lending policies, including block-busting, contract for deed, general discrimination, and policies like the GI Bill, have left black and brown households far behind whites in attaining and retaining homeownership. For example, while the GI Bill fostered a long-term boom in white wealth, black and brown veterans, for the most part, weren't able to make use of the housing provisions because banks wouldn't lend to them. Today, where whites enjoy a 72.5 percent homeownership rate compared to 42 percent for black families.
- Institute principal reduction for homeowners in targeted neighborhoods who are underwater due to the housing crash. Some homeowners are still “underwater” in the wake of the financial crisis, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Wiping or restructuring their debt can support them to avoid foreclosure.
REINVEST IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING.
For every assisted household in the United States, twice as many low-income households are homeless or pay more than half their income for rent and do not receive any federal assistance. The tax scam will lead to deep funding cuts to existing affordable housing programs, further entrenching the affordable housing crisis that impacts every community in the country. We must make a major investment in existing affordable housing stock, and we must construct additional units to meet the scale of the need.
- Increase the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to restore funds to meet 100 percent of need. Nationally, there are just 35 homes affordable and available to every 100 of the lowest income families. Due to chronic underfunding of critical affordable housing programs, only one in four low-income households in need receives any assistance. Over 12 million are unassisted low-income-renter households, paying more than half their income for housing and living on the cusp of homelessness.
- End homelessness by providing $12.8 billion annually for the creation of new units in impacted areas. On any given night, 560,000 people are homeless. In any given year, there are more than 1.3 million homeless children, up from 680,000 before the financial crisis. Targeted annual funding of $12.8 billion will put us on a path to zero homelessness.
- Introduce a $200 billion Preservation Fund to rehabilitate the 1.2 million existing public housing units. Public housing has faced massive disinvestment that has left existing units in disrepair. Cities face the perfect storm of aging housing stock and slashed funds. Vital repairs are going uncompleted. And essential renovations are being put off indefinitely.
- Introduce a $200 billion Anti-Displacement Fund. Displacement of low-income communities and communities of color in America is nothing new. The earliest settlements rose on stolen and reappropriated Native land. There have been immeasurable other forces that have displaced low-income, black and brown communities. Over the last 10 years, residents of American cities are experiencing displacement from a new set of forces. Increased public and private investment in downtown neighborhoods, tightening rental markets across the country, and more corporate and out-of-state landlords add up to a question: Who can live in the American cities of the future? An anti-displacement fund would provide grants for local governments and/or not-for-profit, mission-driven developers to buy, rehab, develop new units.
- Fully enforce fair housing rules and mandate the acceptance of vouchers. The acceptance of housing vouchers must not remain an optional endeavor. It should be mandated. We must add provisions against income discrimination to existing federal fair housing regulations and laws.
- Issue an immediate moratorium on selling public housing to private businesses. We must not allow for the conversion of public housing to “mixed income” or privately owned units if any total low-income housing units are lost in the process.
GUARD AGAINST THE NEXT CRISIS.
It is not enough to right the wrongs of the past or to simply reinvest in existing housing. We must be prepared for another crisis of similar scale to the 2008 recession. We must also consider the implications of current and future climate crises on housing.
- Pass a national Tenants Bill of Rights. Such legislation would update federal affordability standards, guard tenants from unfair evictions, end income-source discrimination, further code enforcement and protect tenants from paying for uninhabitable housing conditions.
- Introduce a $200 billion Emergency Housing Bubble Fund to protect against the next housing bubble. We have a responsibility to protect American consumers from another crash. Banks that were responsible for the 2008 crash--or their current owners--should pay into a price shock fund that does this.
- Introduce a $350 billion Climate Resilience Fund. Not only are communities of color and low-income communities the ones that bear the brunt of the housing crisis, they are also the ones who feel the most severe effects of climate disaster. To begin to address this, we call for a fund to finance energy efficiency and green energy upgrades (solar panels, weatherization, efficient appliances etc.), requiring contractors to hire local residents at living wage jobs.
CONDUCT A PEOPLE-CENTERED NEEDS ASSESSMENT.
We know that the housing crisis has breadth and depth. But there is also a lot we don’t know about who is impacted and where. Any plan to comprehensively move a progressive housing agenda must begin with strengthening a real, people-centered assessment of need.
- Mandate a national housing needs assessment to be completed by 2020. Legislators should schedule their own “people’s hearings” on housing in their districts. These meetings can be spaces to learn about the current crisis and to develop a progressive vision for housing justice. Legislators should go out into their districts and meet with constituents. The needs assessment should be used to imagine solutions for increasing supply, decreasing speculations, stopping displacement and more.