Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest Blogger Jeffrey Lubell: Strengthen and Expand the Mandate of the Nation's Housing Agency

America faces multiple pressing housing challenges, including: a dramatic increase in home foreclosures; rising numbers of elderly with specialized housing needs; increasing numbers of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other working families who cannot afford to live where they work; and emergency relocation needs related to hurricanes and other disasters. As the recent spike in oil prices revealed, the energy-inefficiency of many homes and/or their remote locations – far from job centers and public transit stops – leave many families vulnerable to energy price shocks. And it is at least in part families’ search for low-cost housing that drives them to buy or rent homes in far-flung locations, increasing the number and length of necessary car trips, which in turn increase energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and the consumption of open space.

Despite the critical need for an effective and coordinated response to these housing issues, they routinely fall between the cracks of the jurisdictions of the different federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers a great number of important and effective housing assistance programs that merit continued and expanded support. But its mission, mandate, and funding all need to be expanded to cover the full range of pressing housing issues facing the nation.

Yes, by all means, let’s preserve and strengthen our existing stock of public and assisted housing and expand the number of families benefiting from housing vouchers. But ultimately, the base of support for these programs will be much stronger if the agency charged with administering them is seen as a key part of the solution to the critical housing challenges facing a broad cross-section of America.

Jeffrey Lubell is executive director of NHC's research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy, which specializes in developing solutions through research.

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