Washington, D.C.—Another organization is stepping up to combat the affordable housing issue in the United States, this time with a formal policy platform. Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a national nonprofit focused on creating opportunity for low- and moderate-income individuals through affordable housing, has just launched “An Investment in Opportunity,” which lays out federal, state and local policy recommendations that the organization hopes will transform U.S. housing policy.
“This is a pivotal moment for housing policy in the U.S. For one, we now have quantifiable evidence that where you live—the city, the neighborhood, even the block—has a profound impact on the opportunities you get in life…if we’re serious about tackling poverty and promoting economic mobility, we need to focus on housing. But we also need to take a close look at our current approach to housing policy at all levels of government,” John Griffith, a senior analyst & project manager at Enterprise, told MHN.
The affordable housing issue can be seen in the numbers. As Griffith says, one in four renter households, or about 11.4 million in total, spend more than half their monthly income in housing costs. A recent report from Enterprise and Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies also found that the number of severely burdened renters could rise by as much as 25 percent in the next 10 years.
The other main issue is many families who live in housing that’s technically “affordable” are located in neighborhoods that are disconnected from jobs, good schools, transit and other opportunities. In response to these problems, Enterprise has put forth 23 policy recommendations.
“In releasing this platform, we want to make clear that: 1) housing must be a central part of any effort to address poverty and expand economic opportunity; and 2) the housing problems we face as a country are not intractable—indeed, we already have many of the tools needed to solve them. The key question is whether we have the political will to strengthen those tools and make the investments necessary to address the problem at the scale at which it exists,” Griffith said.
Enterprise’s platform incorporates four overall strategies for reform: 1) Ensuring broad access to high-opportunity neighborhoods (which includes improving the Section 8 program to give participants access to housing in neighborhoods with good schools and lower poverty rates); 2) Promote comprehensive public and private investments into low-income neighborhoods; 3) Recalibrate our priorities in housing policy to target scarce subsidy dollars where they’re needed most; and 4) Improve the overall financial stability of low-income families.
While several of these recommendations are meant to be long-term proposals, many have already received bipartisan support, Griffith told MHN. For example, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission recommended a significant expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credi tin 2013, he said.
In addition to its policy recommendations, Enterprise has also pledged to provide opportunity for 1 million low-income families through quality affordable housing. To accomplish this, “We work across sectors with many partners—developers, financiers and more—to provide capital, advocate for policies and implement solutions that help bring more affordable housing to communities and link it to good schools, jobs, transit and healthcare, which we consider pillars of healthy neighborhoods.”
Examples of how Enterprise does this, Griffith said, is connecting developers to predevelopment planning grants to make the building process more efficient and cost effective, and working with all levels of government to develop financing mechanisms, such as transit-oriented development funds.
He added that, “At the end of the day, we want to move toward actual policy change. In addition to guiding our own policy and advocacy efforts, we hope that this platform will help to galvanize our partners and the field around a set of concrete policy solutions.”