Washington, DC – Yesterday, the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign hosted a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss the two major pieces of bipartisan housing legislation that were recently introduced in the Senate: the Eviction Crisis Act and the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act. The briefing was attended by roughly 100 Hill staffers and advocates. The briefing focused on the importance of the legislation and encouraged elected officials to cosponsor and support both bills in the House and Senate.
The Eviction Crisis Act, introduced by Senators Bennet (D-CO) and Portman (R-OH), along with Senators Brown (D-OH) and Young (R-IN), would create new tools to tackle the nation’s ongoing eviction epidemic, including the creation a new Emergency Assistance Fund to provide direct financial assistance to help families remain stably housed during an unforeseen economic shock, such as a broken-down car or sudden medical bill. The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act, introduced by Senators Young (R-IN) and Van Hollen (D-MD), would create 500,000 new housing vouchers specifically designed to help families with young children access neighborhoods of opportunity with high-performing schools, strong job prospects, and other crucial resources.
Briefing speakers included:
- U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown
- U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen
- U.S. Senator Michael Bennet
- Dr. Matthew Desmond, Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted
- Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition
- Peggy Bailey, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
- Sarah Oppenheimer, Associate Director of Policy and Research at Opportunity Insights
- Jeffrey Williams, Tenant Advocate in Richmond, Virginia
The introduction of the Eviction Crisis Act and the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act are both significant milestones for the campaign in getting its policy ideas introduced into legislation. The solutions contained in these bills have been priorities of the campaign from its inception. Together with its multi-sector partners, the campaign will continue to champion these bipartisan bills until they are enacted into law. The fact that these bills are bipartisan – especially in the current political climate – speaks volumes about the growing recognition that housing is inextricably linked to nearly every measure of having a quality life.
“I think we’re seeing a growing awareness among colleagues in both parties of how important housing is – that everything begins and ends in housing,” said Senator Brown. “If people aren’t housed adequately in safe, affordable, clean surroundings, so much else goes badly in their lives.”
“The focus of the legislation that Senator Young and I have introduced [the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act] is families with kids because we know that moving to opportunity makes a huge difference in helping families transition out of poverty,” said Senator Van Hollen. “The fact that Senator Young and I were able to team up on this is an important sign that there is bipartisan support. We need your help in expanding the list of cosponsors.”
“When I was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, I realized the profound effect that housing was having on the quality of the education that kids were getting,” said Senator Bennet. “The Eviction Crisis Act is now a bipartisan piece of legislation in the Senate and I really think there is a real chance that we’re going to be able to get this bill passed. We will do absolutely everything we can do to make sure we get it across the finish line.”
“About one third of all evictions in America are for less than a month’s worth of rent,” said Dr. Desmond. “We can do something about these evictions right now. Without stable shelter, everything else falls apart. And here’s an opportunity [the Eviction Crisis Act] for us to act now.”
“The overwhelming support for these solutions is clear, as is the extraordinary need,” said Ms. Yentel. “Inaction is expensive – we’re paying to maintain homelessness and housing poverty in our country. We pay for it through lowered educational attainment for kids, avoidable health care costs, lost work-productivity, and lowered tax revenue. We must invest in solutions at the scale necessary.”
“This bill [the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act] really does reflect evidence-based strategies,” said Ms. Oppenheimer. “These vouchers are sorely needed because of the housing crisis and for groups that are most vulnerable. This bill is encouraging because it proposes scalable solutions.”
“A lack of affordable housing is both the cause of and the solution to homelessness,” said Ms. Roman. “Eviction is a predictor of homelessness among families and individuals, and housing vouchers end homelessness for people. These two bills present a solution to homelessness.”
“Our mission is to help people with the lowest incomes and you can’t do that unless you address housing,” said Ms. Bailey. “We need to address one of the most basic needs that people have, and that’s paying for housing.”
“Prior to my family’s eviction, we tried to reach out on the state and city levels for funds and resources to help,” said Mr. Williams. “We tried to reach all assets but no one could help. We were stuck on the day of our eviction and our whole lives – a family of three – were turned up in less than an hour.”
“States and localities must do their part in expanding resources and implementing more effective policies,” said Mr. Koprowski. “However, they cannot fully solve this problem without more robust action from the federal government. And these bipartisan bills, which are both research-based and cost-effective, are an important part of the overall solution.”
Leading national organizations from the housing, education, health, civil rights, anti-hunger, anti-poverty, criminal justice, child welfare, and faith-based sectors have come together through the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to advocate for more robust and equitable federal housing policies.
A full recording of the event is now available through the Opportunity Starts at Home podcast series.