Housing Requires Bipartisan Solutions
By Les Shaver
One proposal looks to stimulate production by looking at what works, and doesn't, at the local government level.
Bipartisan agreement is hard to come by in Washington. But when it comes to housing affordability, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) showed that there is a lot of common ground when they spoke at the Bisnow Multifamily Annual Conference (BMAC) East in the Nation’s Capital.
The housing affordability problem has a lot of causes, and because of that, it needs holistic solutions.
Both Senators thought it was necessary to build more housing. Young attempted to tackle this issue in June by introducing the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act. “If you choose the right acronym in this town, you have a much better chance of passing [your bill],” Young says.
Young’s proposal wants to bring transparency to local governments’ processes to make sure they’re not limiting the supply of housing through YIMBY policies. Under his bill, if a municipality receives any Community Development Block Grant money, it must share what it is doing to remove barriers to building housing.
“We’re trying to bring transparency to the process,” Young says. “We want local authorities to report why cosmetic features were required that added $5,000 to the cost of housing.”
The White House is also addressing the issue with a group called the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, which will identify barriers to construction and practices for producing housing. NAA is participating in this effort and was part of a recent meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “The federal government will work with locals to identify that process,” says Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Chief Alfonso Costa.
The hope is that the elimination of barriers and identification of best practices will unlock desperately needed housing production. “Between single family and multifamily, we’re underbuilt by hundreds and thousands of units,” Costa says.
Both Van Hollen and Young also agree that affordability requires holistic solutions that includes evaluating other areas, such as health care and transportation. “I would like to see people live close to where they work,” Van Hollen says.
But he acknowledges that isn’t realistic. To solve transit problems, Van Hollen says that policymakers must do a better job of creating transit options, such as the proposed Purple metro line that could provide more transit options in his home state.
“You have to get someone from where they live to where they work,” Van Hollen says.
Young also looks at home affordability holistically, calling it a healthcare issue and an educational issue. “It’s a solvable policy problem to quantify the impact of not having enough housing,” Young says.
While supply plays a role in housing affordability, demand is also a huge a driver. Young pointed out that employers are increasingly clustering in large urban areas, which drives housing prices. “We are now a truly global economy,” Young says. “The advantages of scale are more important.”
Van Hollen thinks the combination of anemic wage growth with rising housing, childcare, healthcare and education over the past three decades has played a major role in affordability issues.
“If incomes aren’t going up but housing and healthcare are, we need to look at this holistically,” Van Hollen says.