At Hearing, Warren Makes the Case for Expanding Supply of Affordable Housing
Warren's American Housing and Economic Mobility Act would create a new housing innovation grant program to reduce exclusionary local zoning laws
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for a new grant program to incentivize changes to these laws
Washington, DC - At today's Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee (BHUA) hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made the case for her American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would create a new housing innovation grant program to reduce exclusionary local zoning laws. President Biden has called for the elimination of exclusionary zoning and harmful land-use policies as part of the American Jobs Plan.
At the hearing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge agreed with Senator Warren about the harmful impact of exclusionary “not in my backyard” policies on families and the availability of affordable housing. Secretary Fudge also underscored the need for incentives such as those included in Senator Warren's American Housing and Economic Mobility Act which would help make a difference in pushing communities to expand the supply of affordable housing including for people of color.
Secretary Fudge told Senator Warren, “there is no question that [this type of program] could be helpful. And it’s certainly something that I’d really like to get into more detail with you about because until we could get to that point, that we could include the kinds of things you’re talking about, we’re going to forever have people locked out of communities of opportunity, given the opportunity to go to better schools, to have better jobs, and to build wealth.”
Transcript: “21st Century Communities: Expanding Opportunity Through Infrastructure Investments”
U.S. Senate Banking Committee
Tuesday, May 20, 2021
Senator Warren: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Secretary Fudge, we’ve discussed the importance of addressing our nation’s affordable housing crisis head-on. And I know that you are committed to increasing the number of affordable units available to families.
But those homes have to be built somewhere – and in too many communities around the country, restrictive zoning laws that were born out of racial segregation prevent new affordable housing units from being built.
Using exclusionary zoning to keep families -- often lower-income families and families of color -- out of certain neighborhoods is wrong. And over time, the harm really adds up: exclusionary practices drive up the costs of housing for everyone and reduce the amount of available land.
So Secretary Fudge, at your confirmation hearing, you told this Committee that it is important we get rid of the notion of “not in my backyard.” How does that “not in my backyard” approach impede efforts to address the affordable housing crisis?
Secretary Marcia Fudge: Well first off thank you Senator for our ongoing conversations about this. The first thing that it does, is it increases the costs of housing and it limits where can build housing. If you have restrictive zoning ordinances then there are two things that happen or can happen. One is, that where there is available land you cannot build or the zoning is so onerous that it costs you more money to build. Maybe they’ve put all kinds of restrictions on it that increase the costs of buying the property. The other thing it does is it just basically says to people in our communities ‘we do not want you to live in our neighborhood if you are low income, if you are a person of color.’ And so what we have found is that these laws have been around so very long that the Jobs Plan now gives us the opportunity to go into communities with some incentives to assist them in how we discuss it, how we can give them the kind of technical assistance to change it, how we engage communities so that we could have a better narrative about why we should allow new housing and housing that is not restrictive in communities that have historically prevented us from building.
Senator Warren: Right, so let me follow up on that. How would incentives help? Aren’t these changes that the federal government can just make on its own to get this housing built? Or why do you need these incentives?
Secretary Fudge: Well they really can’t. A lot of the zoning laws are really just local, they’re local ordinances many of which we cannot change as a federal government. Now we can talk about discrimination overall, we can talk about civil rights overall but we cannot just go into a community and change all of their zoning or planning ordinances. And that is why we want to engage communities with conversation, with technical assistance to talk to them about how they can change them, how they can, maybe we can come to some agreement that makes them not as restrictive and not as costly.
Senator Warren: I completely agree with the direction you’re going here. My American Housing and Economic Mobility Act includes a new 10 billion dollar Housing Innovation Grant program, that would provide funding so that local governments can use it to build things like parks or schools – if they’re actively removing unnecessary barriers to building affordable units in their communities.
Eligible reforms would include things like changing bans on multifamily construction, revising minimum lot size requirements, or passing inclusionary zoning ordinances.
So let me ask Secretary Fudge, could this kind of grant program make a difference in pushing communities to expand the supply of affordable housing?
Secretary Fudge: There is no question that it could be helpful.
Senator Warren: Good.
Secretary Fudge: And it’s certainly something that I’d really like to get into more detail with you about because until we could get to that point, that we could include the kinds of things you’re talking about, we’re going to forever have people locked out of communities of opportunity, given the opportunity to go to better schools, to have better jobs, and to build wealth. So I would very much like to continue that conversation.
Senator Warren: And I very much want to work with you on this. You know, I was so glad to see President Biden call for the elimination of exclusionary zoning and to end harmful land use policies as part of his American Jobs Plan. And now, I’ve got a proposal ready to go on this.
Taking on our affordable housing crisis requires a comprehensive strategy – and reducing exclusionary zoning and land use restrictions has to be part of this. So, thank you Secretary Fudge and thank you Mr. Chairman.
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