On October 28th, President Biden proposed the “Build Back Better Act” framework, providing $150 billion in affordable housing investments. The Build Back Better (BBB) Act’s plan for affordable housing represents a comprehensive approach to tackling our nation’s housing crisis. By expanding rental assistance, increasing the number of homes affordable to households living on low incomes, and supporting local governments seeking to dismantle exclusionary zoning and discriminatory land-use policies, we can significantly impact the housing crisis across Montana. There are many components in the proposed framework, and we highlight several key investments below.
- Reduce housing instability and homelessness. The BBB plan provides a total of $26 billion for rental assistance, with $24 billion going towards new Housing Choice Vouchers for households living on poverty level incomes and $7 billion of those dollars directed specifically to households experiencing or at risk of homelessness and survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. (See our latest report on the Housing Choice Voucher program and its importance in Montana.) The $1 billion goes towards project-based assistance. The remaining $1 billion is for the Section 811 and 202 programs for people living with disabilities and seniors, investments that can be used for capital improvements and project-based rental assistance. Providing sustainable, multi-year funding for rental assistance is an essential step to keeping our neighbors housed and secure.
- Support public housing capital improvements. Keeping rents levels deeply affordable to households living on very low income can require public subsidies to build. The BBB plan includes $65 billion to repair and rehabilitate the nation’s public housing infrastructure. It provides an additional $15 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund and HOME Investment Partnerships program to construct and rehabilitate more than 150,000 homes affordable to households living in poverty and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These investments will have a significant impact in Montana. Our public housing is among the oldest in the nation. For example, in Helena, public housing is 63 years old on average —and in dire need of repairs to remove safety hazards like lead paint and mold, improve accessibility, and raise the quality of living to an acceptable standard for residents.
- Address housing needs in Indian Country. Tribal communities confront housing shortages, unacceptable levels of environmental hazards in residents’ homes, and critical infrastructure needs. The BBB plan provides $2 billion to expand construction and rehabilitation of housing on reservations, build infrastructure to support housing, such as water and sewer lines, and support energy-efficient, climate-resistant development projects.
- Incentivize removing of exclusionary zoning and discriminatory land-use policies. There is a legacy and ongoing practice of communities locking out prospective low-income and BIPOC residents through land-use tactics, like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and restricting multifamily housing. These policies have also increased housing prices and construction costs. The BBB plan provides help to jurisdictions to dismantle these policies and, thus, expand housing opportunities for people who have been intentionally excluded from high-opportunity neighborhoods. The BBB plan creates a $5 billion incentive fund that awards flexible funding to jurisdictions that reduce these barriers that restrict housing production and lockout prospective residents.
- Build affordable housing and supportive infrastructure in rural America. Small, rural towns face storages of housing that is affordable for workers living on low incomes and for aging residents with accessibility needs. The BBB plan provides $250 million for a new Main Street Revitalization Programs for grants to small communities. These grants would increase supply of housing as well as revitalize downtown business districts.
- Build climate-resistant communities and energy-efficient homes. In an era of climate change, extreme weather events are displacing households across the nation. The BBB plan provides more than $2 billion for a new Community Development Block Grant Program for communities vulnerable to climate change. These grants target low- and moderate-income regions that are at high risk of suffering climate-related disasters. In addition, the BBB provides $500 million in grants and low-interest loans to renovate public housing, making them energy-efficient and resilient against extreme weather events.
The targeted housing investments and complementary expansion of federal tax credits supporting those investments would provide greater levels of affordability, stability, and opportunity for those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. A failure to invest in housing has led to the crisis we find ourselves in today. In Montana, two out of three households living in poverty must pay more than half their income on rent. About 6,000 children are in families behind on rent payments, and many face eviction. Passing the BBB Act is our opportunity to change course by treating housing as critical infrastructure. Housing is just as important as roads, bridges, and schools. It will ensure everyone has the basic foundations we all need to lead stable and healthy lives.