President Biden has now signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, and while there is certainly much to commend in this proposed legislation, such as hundreds of billions for climate and energy programs, expanding healthcare subsidies, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, Congress missed an extraordinarily rare opportunity to address a primary driver of inflation and a critical issue facing the lowest-income and most marginalized households: skyrocketing rents and a lack of housing affordability.
Industry data shows that rent has climbed 18% nationwide over the last year alone. Not surprisingly, low income renters are struggling enormously right now and more are falling into the vicious spiral of housing instability, eviction, and homelessness. A statistical analysis by the GAO found that median rent increases of $100 per month were associated with a 9% increase in homelessness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shelter index accounted for over 40% of the spike in “core inflation” – the largest factor in the overall increase. Research clearly shows that investments to make housing more affordable generate multiplying returns across many sectors. Stable, affordable housing options located in neighborhoods of opportunity are associated with better educational outcomes, better physical and mental health outcomes, lower healthcare expenditures, greater food security, stronger upward economic mobility and growth, greater racial and gender equity, fewer encounters with the criminal legal system, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more.
Unfortunately, years of underinvestment in affordable housing solutions have contributed to our current housing crisis. For example, although it is well documented that housing vouchers and other rental assistance are highly effective at addressing homelessness and housing instability, reducing domestic violence, and improving other outcomes, 3 in 4 people eligible for rental assistance do not receive it due to inadequate funding. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign – alongside leading organizations from healthcare, education, climate, hunger, child welfare, gender and racial equity, criminal justice, faith, and many others – has consistently urged Congress to include robust housing investments in any reconciliation legislation for housing vouchers, public housing, and the national Housing Trust Fund. These are the three solutions which, if scaled to meet the existing need, would end housing instability and homelessness for the lowest income people.
Unfortunately, because none of these housing investments are included in the proposed Inflation Reduction Act, the lowest income people would continue to bear the brunt of the nation’s worsening housing crisis, and the consequences would continue to hamstring our ability to achieve a variety of other national priorities. Ongoing federal inaction on the housing crisis is simply unacceptable.