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Government Agencies Seek Affordable-Housing Solutions

The shortage of housing—of both the affordable and merely available variety—is a forefront issue for housing-policy decision-makers, and is at the center of many recent studies aiming to gain understanding and access solutions.  The idea of housing as infrastructure has been a forefront discussion topic for Treasury officials and the Biden Administration, whose Build Back Better plan aims to "create, preserve, and sell nearly 100,000 additional affordable homes for homeowners and renters across the country over the next three years," according to a news alert from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD announced a series of actions to support, in an administrative capacity, the President's plan to unlock and create more housing for lower-income segments.

"President Biden promised the American people that his administration would dramatically expand our nation’s supply of affordable rental housing—and the actions announced today represent a significant down payment toward that commitment," said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. "These actions will expand access to critical capital for state Housing Finance Agencies, empower local communities to build more affordable housing using the historic investments contained in the American Rescue Plan, and advance equitable housing policies such as inclusionary zoning practices. Moving forward, HUD and the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to pursue bold actions to create and preserve affordable homes for all Americans."

In its press release, HUD explains it will make more single-family homes available to individuals, families, and non-profit organizations in the future by prioritizing homeownership and limiting the sale to large investors of certain FHA-insured and HUD-owned properties.

As congress considers the Build Back Better agenda, President Biden in a White House Fact Sheet says he "is committed to using every tool available in government to produce more affordable housing supply as quickly as possible, and to make supply available to families in need of affordable, quality housing—rather than to large investors," pointing to a report on investor homebuying that showed 35% of the nation's stock being purchased by large companies.

HUD’s Policy Development and Research team also will release research on state and local governments' pursuit of strategies to remove regulatory barriers. HUD has published a catalog listing 4,800 barriers and solutions, broken down by counties and cities, it says, along with solutions and information—collectively the research and catalog is known as HUD's Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse also is intended to inform Biden's locally driven zoning reform initiative, a competitive grant program to target so-called exclusionary zoning laws—think minimum lot sizes, parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing—that the administration says have inflated construction costs and and locked out segments of the population.

A report earlier this year shows re-zoning certain residential areas is the first thing many experts think of when asked to address the shortage. Zillow Research also published a paper entitled "Zoning Changes Most Effective Path to Boosting Housing Supply,"  for which authors considered insight from a panel of one-hundred-plus subject-matter experts and economists.

Further, HUD’s Community Development and Planning arm announced it is creating a new toolkit featuring easy-to-implement strategies to deploy resources to grantees facing affordability challenges worsened during the pandemic.

HUD stated that its actions are part of an interagency effort to increase the affordable housing supply.

The efforts go hand in hand with Federal Housing Administration's Housing Finance Agency Risk-Sharing Program, the Department of Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank (which provides low-cost capital needed to spur development of rental housing), and related agreements with state housing finance agencies, which "mark a renewed focus on supporting construction and development of affordable housing units in states across the country," HUD reported.

The White House in its statement acknowledged that "persistent imbalances in the U.S. housing market have formed over many decades and it will take concerted effort and iterative policymaking to correct them."

The White House, HUD, and FHFA plan to regularly convene with state and local officials and stakeholders for a series of peer learning and listening sessions.

"These sessions will allow for the exchange of best practices on locally led zoning reform to address supply and affordability challenges, including a virtual session on accessory dwelling units hosted by FHFA in September," noted the White House briefing. "The sessions will also identify the obstacles to implementation that remain, which the President’s Build Back Better Agenda and potentially federal administrative action, can help address."

The comprehensive list of actions by the White House and agencies is available at whitehouse.gov.

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media and Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning News, among others. Contact Christina at [email protected].

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