Lawmakers and witnesses at a hearing addressing housing affordability Wednesday morning sounded similar frustrations over the growing divide between affordable housing supply and demand in markets across the country.
“The severe shortage of affordable and available homes for extremely low-income renters is a structural feature of the country’s housing system, consistently impacting every state and nearly every community,” said witness Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
A surge of post-pandemic evictions highlighted the nation’s racially unequal housing crisis, with Black and brown renters being evicted at much higher rates compared to white renters.
Experts have said that starter homes hardly exist anymore, with first-time home buyers needing 13 percent more in income to afford today’s starter home prices. With high rent and home prices, there are scarce signs of improvements on the horizon.
“The gap between supply and demand continues to grow,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said Wednesday.
Witnesses blamed local policies and zoning laws for much of the problem, while disagreeing over the federal role in fixing the housing crisis.
“Federal government intervention in the form of subsidies is necessary,” Yentel said.
Witness Norbert J. Michel, director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute, disagreed, saying that “failed housing policies” out of Congress are driving the housing affordability problem.
“Without reversing course, federal policies will further expand government intervention in housing markets at a great cost to millions of Americans,” Michel said.
“They will put even more upward pressure on prices and rental rates, waste taxpayers’ money, and ultimately make housing less affordable. Ideally, the federal government would end policies that favor ownership over renting and stop intervening in housing markets.”
Conservative members agreed, with Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) saying, “It’s very simple, you get government out of the way.”
“This has got to be something on the local level,” he added.
Both Yentel and Waters pointed to housing costs as a key driver of homelessness, with Waters saying, “Housing costs are too damn high and they’re pushing people out of their homes.”
Democratic representatives fumed over the lack of legislative action or attention on housing in the GOP-controlled House.
“I do believe on the issue of housing; this committee has lost the plot,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)
“Because House Republicans don’t want to talk about this issue, we don’t have the time to advance the policies that matter to the American people,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.).
“I am pissed, the American people are pissed, my constituents are pissed if we don’t make housing more of a priority in this Congress.”
Horsford highlighted the number of hearings on the issue: 55 during the previous Democrat-led Congress, and one since Republicans took back power.
“Almost a year into this Congress, and we are holding the first hearing on housing,” Horsford said. “Congratulations.”
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) fired back at Horsford, claiming Democrats had done nothing to fix the problem despite all the attention on it.
“Apparently my colleagues seem to think the number of hearings we hold translates to actual legislation passing. In the last Congress, there were 55 hearings on housing, and yet 0 bills were enacted. These bills were so bad that even the Biden administration rejected them,” he said.
“Maybe we should consider changing our policies,” Lawler continued. “Maybe we should reduce the cost of living. No, why would we think about this logically. Stop worrying about the number of hearings and start worrying about the damn laws we’re passing.”