White House Hopes to Lower Cost of Housing, Increase Supply

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — The White House is taking steps aimed at increasing the the supply of affordable housing while also bolstering protections for renters.

The housing measures announced Thursday include providing communities with $85 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce barriers to affordable housing, such as zoning restrictions that in some places have become a hurdle to increasing the supply and density of affordable housing. HUD would provide grants upwards of $10 million.

“HUD recognizes that communities have unique housing challenges and that’s why the resources announced today are not one-size-fits-all,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “Today, we are acting to increase the supply of affordable housing, which is crucial to lowering housing costs. We look forward to continuing this work in partnership with local communities.”

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The White House also announced that it was forming an inter-agency task force to develop ways to fund efforts to convert more commercial buildings to residential housing, especially zero emissions and affordable units. Across the country, office-to-housing conversions are being pursued as a potential lifeline for struggling downtown business districts that emptied out during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The mismatch between the demand for housing and the inadequate supply of affordable and available homes is at the heart of today’s housing affordability crisis,” Dennis Shea, executive director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing Policy, said in a statement.

These measures are part of a larger effort by the White House to address a chronic housing shortage, with the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimating the nation needs 7.3 million affordable rental homes to make up the gap. Meanwhile, evictions have returned to levels seen before the pandemic and are spiking in several cities across the country.

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Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, welcomed the news but said more needed to be done.

“As rents rise, homelessness increases, public housing deteriorates, and millions of families struggle to keep roofs over their heads, robust federal investments and actions are badly needed and long overdue,” Yentel said. “But the administration can’t solve this crisis on its own. Congress must also act with similar urgency and enact badly needed housing investments and tenant protections.”

Measures aimed at helping renters include a requirement that landlords notify public housing tenants 30 days before a lease termination due to nonpayment of rent as well as $10 million for tenant education and outreach.

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“We must provide renters with the necessary resources to safeguard their interests and enhance their communication with landlords,” Fudge said. “HUD is dedicated to collaborating with renters and ensuring they are well informed about their rights.”

The White House noted the policy directed at renters builds on earlier efforts during the pandemic including providing 11 million emergency rental payments as part of $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance and funding systems aimed at preventing evictions in several cities and states.

Other measures highlighted Thursday but announced earlier include $27 billion from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with money designated for retrofitting homes as well as the construction of zero-emission buildings. A $3.2 billion U.S. Department of Transportation program will target low-income communities with poor access to transportation.

By AP reporter Michael Casey

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