This afternoon Dr. Ben Carson, the newly-confirmed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), addressed his staff, observing that because of its scope, the department was well-positioned to influence the country very broadly. On this point, we couldn’t agree more.
Income inequality and a shortage of affordable housing are at the worst levels we’ve ever seen in America. The country needs a commitment to more progress, from the basic, immediate needs like access to affordable housing to longer-term solutions like increasing homeownership levels among the middle class.
Dr. Carson said that his first act would be to conduct a listening tour, to learn what works and what doesn’t in the world of housing policy. Here are four ways Dr. Carson can begin to heal the affordability crisis in America:
1. Create a national housing plan
Housing is first and foremost an economic issue that affects every American. We are quickly heading toward a future in which the middle class can no longer live where the good jobs are. Dr. Carson can reframe the housing crisis into an economic issue with regional and national importance.
2. Increase the use and subsidy amount of housing vouchers
Too often a person’s zip code determines their economic mobility. Nearly half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent. Only one in four families that qualify for federal assistance actually receives it. By increasing subsidies to households who need them and helping them move to thriving communities near jobs and functional schools, HUD can help working families make a better life for themselves.
3. Encourage deregulation of restrictive zoning rules
The federal government can do much more to be influential in local housing policy. That’s where the crisis starts – at the local level, when people vote against inclusionary zoning policies, making it difficult or impossible to build higher-density, affordable housing in a community. HUD under Ben Carson can reward communities that change to inclusionary zoning practices by offering them federal infrastructure investments to improve the neighborhoods. That way inclusionary zoning is more appealing to longtime residents.
4. Champion Investment Through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program
Bottom line, we need more housing. HUD can incentivize builders to invest in affordable housing near America’s job centers to increase economic mobility for working families. At the same time, HUD can fund investments in poor rural and urban communities.
An across-the-board investment in affordable housing, in combination with sorely needed transit and infrastructure spending, will ensure that no neighborhood in America suffers due to isolation and neglect and no family is isolated from economic opportunity simply because of where they live.