It took thousands of advocates a full eight years of writing letters, making phone calls, and holding meetings to establish a national housing trust fund, but the efforts paid off when the housing trust fund was signed into law as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
Achievements in affordable housing policy do not come easy and the benefits of having a national housing trust fund will not be realized until units can be built or preserved. Enactment of the trust fund in 2008 did not result in actual funding for the trust fund because planned-for funds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac no longer exist to feed into the trust fund. Now, new funding sources must be identified and enacted. For trust fund advocates, this glass is half full. The trust fund has been enacted into law; it just needs some money in it. Say, at least $5 billion a year for the next 10 years.
This goal gives trust fund advocates reason to rally around President Obama’s request for fiscal year 2010, the first year even the 2008 bill would have allowed money to flow from the housing trust fund. President Obama has requested an initial capitalization of $1 billion for the trust fund, a program he supported along the campaign trail and an effort he cosponsored as a U.S. Senator.
When trust fund dollars start to flow, communities will receive the first funds since the 1970’s expressly for addressing the housing affordability needs of the lowest income families. Sure, there are a variety of other HUD housing programs working to help people afford housing. But of the few federal programs that actually produce and preserve housing, the trust fund is unique in that at least 75% of its funds must assist the nation’s lowest income people, people with incomes below 30% of area median.
The recession continues, unemployment rises, more households pay more than 50, 60, or 70 percent of their incomes on housing. More become homeless while the lucky families who can access our nation’s housing safety net cling to their assistance for longer periods, housing assistance waiting lists freeze as few leave behind their subsidies for new opportunities, and housing authorities struggle from underfunding.
This is not a cheery picture. But there is hope on the horizon if we set ourselves to achieving it.
Of course, no single housing program will solve all housing challenges. The nation needs a strong HUD budget so we can invest more in our public housing stock, increase the number of new vouchers issued by at least 200,000 next year and, yes, capitalize the housing trust fund.
For more information about the Fiscal Year 2010 President's Budget Requestion, visit this table published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
Linda Couch is the deputy director for NLIHC, an organization dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes.