Joe Biden’s surprisingly visionary housing plan, explained

“The centerpiece is simple. Take America’s biggest rental assistance program — Section 8 housing vouchers — and make it available to every family who qualifies. The current funding structure leaves out around 11 million people, simply because the pot allocated by Congress is too small. Then pair it with regulatory changes to help the housing market work better for more people. It’s the general consensus approach among top Democratic Party politicians and left-of-center policy wonks.”

“because key provisions would be eligible for budget reconciliation treatment, which would require a majority vote in the Senate instead of a supermajority, it’s the kind of thing that really might happen in 2021 if Biden won.” 

“the government gives low-income people vouchers that landlords can redeem for money and lets them rent whatever kind of house someone will rent to them. Since the voucher program, when created, became Section 8 of the US Housing Act of 1937, the vouchers have come to be known as Section 8 vouchers.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than 5 million people receive help from the program.

It has various flaws, including, most notably, the widespread discrimination against voucher tenants that Stephanie Wykstra has written about for Vox. Another huge flaw is that that, unlike Medicaid or SNAP — which, at least in theory, provide benefits to everyone who meets the eligibility criteria — Section 8 is capped in the amount of money available to it by the whims of Congress. As it stands, about three-quarters of eligible people don’t get the help because there simply isn’t enough money in the pot, which is a huge missed opportunity to improve the lives of millions of Americans.

CBPP data shows that receipt of housing vouchers leads to a decline in children experiencing separation from their parents, a decline in domestic violence, a decline in food insecurity, and, most of all, a steep decline in housing instability.”…
“When land is expensive and demand for housing is high, the natural market response would be to build denser structures — townhouses or mid-rise apartments or even big towers — so as to spread the land cost across more households. The origins of these zoning rules were intimately connected to now-forgotten segregation battles in the first half of the 20th century, when the Supreme Court rules essentially that cities couldn’t formally exclude Black people from certain neighborhoods but they could try to exclude all low-income people and count on economics to do the rest.

Later, redlining policies excluded Black neighborhoods from much New Deal housing assistance, depriving Black families of wealth-building opportunities and creating pockets of poverty and exclusion that persist today.

Handing out money to those in need helps the problem on one side, but breaking down the zoning barriers on the other is important as well. Biden picks up a proposal from Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. James Clyburn to require localities that benefit from Community Development Block Grants or Surface Transportation Block Grants to develop plans to change zoning rules that block development of more housing types.

While expanding vouchers is a straightforward liberal pitch, changing exclusionary zoning involves more complicated politics. Many of the most exclusionary places in America are affluent inner-ring suburbs of big coastal cities — places that these days send Democrats to Congress, but that presumably don’t want to be made to change their zoning rules. The potential good news is that, conceptually at least, liberalizing regulation is something Republicans might support.”

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