This post was submitted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition as part of a blog series hosted by Rooflines, the Opportunity Agenda, Race-Talk (the blog of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity), and the National Council of La Raza.
National Homeownership Month provides a good opportunity to reflect on federal housing policy, and the housing needs of all Americans. The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. For most low-income people across the U.S., this means quality, low-cost rental housing. But for some low-income people, affordable homeownership is the right solution. There is a spectrum of housing need, and federal housing policy should support a continuum of housing choices to meet that need.
Over the last 80 years, U.S. policy has increasingly focused on promoting homeownership. Today, only 20 percent of public resources go toward rental housing. While we are not arguing that homeownership should no longer be a goal of U.S. housing policy, the market collapse of 2007 and 2008 made obvious that homeownership is not the right option for everyone. Federal housing policy must take an approach that balances both rental housing and homeownership.
The authorized but still uncapitalized National Housing Trust Fund primarily would expand the supply of rental housing affordable to extremely low and very low income households. This primary goal is critical, as households with incomes below 30 percent of area median income (extremely low income) are the group with the most severe shortage of housing available and affordable to them.
It might seem odd for an organization like ours, so focused on low-cost rental housing, to recognize National Homeownership Month. But what many people don't realize is that up to 10 percent of National Housing Trust Fund dollars could be used to produce, preserve, or rehabilitate housing for first-time homebuyers, or to provide them with down payment, closing cost, or interest rate buy-down assistance. It's all part of what we at the Coalition refer to as balanced housing policy—meaning that U.S. policy must focus not only on homeownership, but ensuring that there are both homeownership and rental housing opportunities for Americans at all income levels.
The bottom line is that housing policy must focus on providing safe, decent, affordable housing to those most in need, irrespective of tenure situation or choice. For many households, rental housing may be the most sustainable and suitable option. For others, programs to provide stable and affordable rental housing may be the best way to responsibly encourage and build the foundation for households that choose to own their home. Others still are ready for homeownership right now. It is important that we as advocates focus on both the rental and homeownership components of U.S. housing policy and seek to rebalance the dialogue and funding priorities as we continue to move forward.