- The bottom line: Roughly $65 billion will go to rebuild and repair public housing. About $25 billion will go to federal housing vouchers to help low-income tenants afford rent, which could help reduce homelessness. The housing trust fund program, aimed at expanding the stock of affordable housing for low-income families, will get an additional $15 billion.
- What critics say: The bill’s housing components may not do enough to boost housing supply in the United States, in part because it does not repeal restrictive zoning codes that constrain new construction. Some have also criticized funding to support public housing, a government program, as wasteful and inefficient compared with focusing on solutions from the private sector.
- Senate prognosis: Housing is expected to prove one of the items most vulnerable to being cut if the overall Biden spending plan is downsized in the Senate. Two other key components of the bill — early-childhood education programs and a suite of climate measures — are viewed as higher priorities for many party leaders than the housing plans.
Housing experts say the infusion of federal money will partially alleviate rental pressures facing low-income families but may not stem the broader meteoric rise in home prices and rents over the past several decades.
Combined, the legislation includes roughly $170 billion for housing, but that number could fall dramatically as the Senate considers cuts to the overall package. By comparison, President Barack Obama’s stimulus program included a rough total of $15 billion for housing funding. The Build Back Better legislation amounts to roughly $15 billion every year for 10 years.
Despite the major new funding investment, the Democrats’ plan steers clear of the zoning reforms housing experts say would be necessary to spur the kind of housing boom that may be necessary to prevent prices from continuing to rise. Many Democrats support those measures but are unlikely to be able to approve them through the Senate procedure they are using to pass Biden’s economic package without Republican support.
Public housing funding: The legislation includes what is likely to be the biggest investment in public housing in decades, roughly $65 billion, as lawmakers aim to reverse the slow deterioration of public housing for some 2 million people living primarily in cities across the country.
Federal funding for public housing capital projects fell by about 62 percent from 1998 to 2020, and residents in public housing have contended with large levels of mold, burst water pipes and other dangerous housing conditions.
The funding is more than the $40 billion the White House initially called for but less than the $80 billion sought earlier by House Democrats. The money will be used for repairs and maintenance to the existing public housing backlog that is estimated to be as large as $40 billion for New York City alone.
Section 8 assistance that will help mitigate homelessness: The House Democrats’ bill wound up dramatically reducing the amount of funding initially proposed for Section 8 housing assistance. Section 8 is a program by which the federal government reimburses landlords to house low-income tenants, but demand far outstrips funding and the waitlist stretches over a year.
The original bill included as much as $90 billion in rental support. That number has been reduced to as little as $25 billion to expand Section 8 assistance. Some experts have worried that providing more aid for rental demand could exacerbate inflationary pressures by bidding up prices. That helps explain why the amount of Section 8 funding in the bill has declined.
National housing trust fund: The third substantial pot of housing funding in the bill is roughly $15 billion for the for the national housing trust fund to build new housing supply for low-income families.
The national housing trust fund provides loans and grants directly to the construction for low-income housing projects. Affordable housing developers struggle to raise enough money from private and government sources to launch new projects, but the new federal funding will help plug financing gaps to help those developments get off the ground.
“The housing trust is one of the best tools to help create new construction of low-income housing projects that provide low rents for the people least able and most vulnerable to housing inflation,” said Paul Williams, a housing expert at the Jain Family Foundation, a left-leaning think tank. He said the funding could create hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units.