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Affordable Housing Crisis Prompts States to Act: Legislative Watch

Massachusetts, Nebraska and Minnesota are among numerous states where legislation has recently been introduced to address the affordable housing deficit. Some bills are more concrete than others.

Affordable housing advocates protests on June 30, 2020, in Chicago. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
The pandemic has pushed the nation’s affordable housing crisis into plain view. Those hit by job losses or salary cuts have little room for belt tightening when they are overcommitted on rent or mortgages. Housing security is now more precious than ever when personal safety concerns and public health orders make public spaces off limits, and the office and schoolroom move into the home.

According to formulas used at both national at state levels, housing is “affordable” if the cost amounts to no more 30 percent of annual household income. Half of all renters in the country spend more than this. According to HUD, as many as 12 million households spend more than half of their income on housing.

Bills introduced in recent weeks reflect a range of approaches to this problem, reflecting the ways that reducing housing costs can spur economic growth and help to dismantle systemic racism. 

Massachusetts H4854 allocates $35 million for loans or grants to speed the creation of low- and moderate-income housing near transportation nodes. It aims to help disadvantaged citizen access employment centers and jobs. Organizations eligible for funds include government, housing authorities, nonprofit organizations, for-profit entities and community development corporations. Priority is to be given to projects in communities most impacted by the pandemic and job losses.

Minnesota HF2 is put forward in the aftermath of civil disturbances arising from the death of George Floyd. It sets forth measures to help business owners whose property was damaged by protestors as well as those aimed at “structural systems of inequality” that added to civic unrest. It proposes the creation of a metropolitan area redevelopment corporation, led by people of color. The corporation is to identify the impacts of racial discrimination, including access to affordable housing, gentrification and displacement of low-income residents and develop strategies to overcome them.

Nebraska LR434 points out the state has a shortage of affordable housing in the range of 30,000-50,000 units. It calls on the legislature’s urban affairs committee is to gather information about affordable and low-income housing tax credits, speed the production of detached housing, housing and job development and other matters, and to make recommendations for addressing Nebraska’s affordable housing deficit.

S8689, a New York bill, notes that few individuals released from prison are being referred to supportive systems, with more than half going straight to homeless shelters after release. Because these individuals are not “chronically” homeless at the time of their lives, they are not eligible for voucher or supportive housing programs. It proposes to link incarcerated persons with nonprofit service providers 45 days prior to their release, facilitating their access to housing and other services and guard against housing discrimination based only on a criminal record.

SR76 in New Jersey opposes HUD actions in regard to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which Secretary Ben Carson terminated on July 23, calling it “unworkable” and a “waste of time.” The resolution, by contrast, expresses the view that the AFFH rule helps states receiving HUD funding take “meaningful action” to overcome housing inequities, underscoring that the rule does not dictate what communities must do to develop affordable housing.

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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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