WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Chair of the Senate Banking and Housing Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development joined Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and 15 Senate Committee Chairs in a letter to President Biden requesting that the federal government utilize a “whole-of-government” approach to address our nation’s housing needs.
“Our nation’s housing is an essential piece of our infrastructure, but it is a sector that remains in crisis,” wrote the Senators. “With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, we took decisive steps to address many of our nation’s infrastructure deficiencies. However, more must be done to address the challenges facing the housing sector, where lagging production coupled with aging housing stock are making housing more expensive and unable to meet the needs of all Americans.”
As Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, Smith has held multiple hearings aimed at improving housing programs. Last September, Smith led a hearing on ways to improve the availability of rural housing, help keep rural seniors afford their homes, and reduce red tape for home owners and renters. In May of 2022, Smith chaired a hearing with Xochitl Torres Small, Under Secretary for Rural Development, about which aspects of the USDA’s Rural Housing Service programs are functioning well and which areas should be changed or reformed. She has also supported legislation to increase access to safe and affordable housing including the bipartisan Choice in Affordable Housing Act. In 2020, two of her bills related to Native housing became law: the Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act and the Native American Housing Affordability Act, which make it easier for Tribes to access funds to combat homelessness and secure mortgages on trust lands, respectively.
Smith has also led efforts on fire safety and home health risks following the 2019 Cedar High Apartments Fire in Minneapolis. In addition to leading hearings on ways to improve safety in federally assisted housing, she introduced the Public Housing Fire Safety Act with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to install fire sprinkler systems in public housing. Last summer, Smith led a hearing on homelessness and opportunities to support veterans and others who face challenges with housing. Next week, Smith is set to lead another hearing on addressing homelessness.
Smith and Brown were joined in the letter by Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI), Indian Affairs Committee Chair Brian Schatz (D-HI), Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Aging Committee Chair Bob Casey (D-PA), Small Business Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD), Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joint Economic Committee Vice Chair Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE), Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-VA), Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL), Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Homeland Security Committee Chair Gary Peters (D-MI), and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
A copy of the letter is available here and below:
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden:
As the Chairs of Committees of the United States Senate, we write to express the urgent need for the federal government to utilize a “whole-of-government” approach to address our nation’s housing needs. Whether they rent or own – whether they live in urban, rural, suburban, or Native communities – too many Americans cannot afford a safe place to call home in their communities.
Our nation’s housing is an essential piece of our infrastructure, but it is a sector that remains in crisis. With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, decisive steps have been taken to address many of our nation’s infrastructure deficiencies. However, more must be done to address the challenges facing the housing sector, where lagging production coupled with aging housing stock are making housing more expensive and unable to meet the needs of all Americans.
We applaud your Administration for the decisive and historic steps it has taken to keep people in their homes and to increase housing production. Your leadership helped reduce the burden of housing costs during the COVID-19 emergency, increase the supply of quality housing through the Housing Supply Action Plan, and, most recently, protect renters. Yet, additional federal investment is needed to address the growing housing crisis and ensure fair and competitive markets for all renters and homeowners across the country. In your Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Proposal, we urge you to maximize available federal resources – across all relevant agencies – to increase the supply of safe, accessible, affordable homes; lower rental housing cost burdens; and expand access to affordable homeownership so that families can build wealth and older adults, grandfamilies, and people with disabilities can live safely in their communities. We also urge your Administration to undertake further efforts to ensure that the resources Congress has already made available are utilized to support communities’ comprehensive planning and economic development goals, including to address local affordable housing needs.
As the Administration assesses the benefits from new federal investments in infrastructure, resiliency, manufacturing, and domestic energy independence, we urge you to track the full benefits of these investments. For example, programs that invest in household energy efficiency can reduce overall costs to families. Similarly, programs that support transportation access and public transportation can increase housing options and reduce household expenses. Investments made to build out a region’s innovation economy or manufacturing base should also consider the importance of housing as part of comprehensive initiatives. Expanded consideration of housing-related benefits from ongoing federal investments can ensure that the federal government systematically addresses American’s housing needs while creating good jobs and promoting economic growth.
The Administration should also expand efforts to assist state, local, and Native communities in achieving their goals for accessible, affordable, and sustainable housing, including supporting steps they take to increase housing production. Federal agencies can raise awareness of how federally-backed infrastructure and other economic development investments can support housing needs, and federal agencies can review their assistance programs to identify strategies that can help grant recipients utilize federal resources in a way that supports safe and affordable housing while achieving established programmatic goals. Finally, we also urge you to continue to pursue opportunities for greater interagency alignment and coordination in order to further these goals.
The depth of our country’s affordable housing crisis is undeniable. This crisis was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we continue to learn about how safe and affordable housing can support Americans’ health, well-being, and economic opportunity. We thank you for considering the measures suggested in this letter as your Administration continues its work to address housing needs in communities across the nation.