Joe Biden is now president of the United States, and will have a narrow Democratic majority backing him up in the House and Senate. He faces many challenges and has an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days in office. What does this mean for America’s low-income renters?
President Biden has already moved quickly to address critical housing needs brought on by the pandemic. His first day in office, he signed an executive order to extend the CDC national moratorium on evictions through the end of March. But there are more housing policies that he could pursue in his first 100 days.
Having a Senate majority means that cabinet officials are more likely to be confirmed quickly. Housing will definitely be included in the next round of coronavirus relief. President Biden can also take some actions on his own with executive orders. And in early February, Biden will be presenting his housing priorities to Congress in his FY 2022 budget proposal.
Nominee for HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge is a long-serving member of Congress, and USDA nominee Tom Vilsack already served in the post during the Obama administration. They should be approved without much opposition in the Senate. Having key leadership posts filled quickly means that work gets started sooner on the president’s housing goals.
Immediate Help for Renters
President Biden’s extension of the eviction moratorium through the end of March will keep millions of low-income renters in their homes through the winter. During that time, Biden will be working with Congress to pass his coronavirus relief proposal, called the American Rescue Plan. The bill includes a provision extending the national eviction moratorium through the end of September.
The most recent stimulus package had $25 billion for emergency rental assistance. President Biden is proposing to add $30 billion more, with $5 billion of that set aside to cover utility bills. However, housing experts have estimated that at least $100 billion will be needed for all low-income renters to stay in their homes through the course of the pandemic. This is the amount the House passed in the HEROES Act last May, which was never passed.
Affordable housing advocates have also pushed for more funds to help homeless shelter and assistance providers. Providers have been swamped with the extra costs of helping homeless people during the pandemic, such as deconcentrating shelters, hotel stays, and buying personal protective equipment (PPE). President Biden has proposed $5 billion for state and local governments to help people experiencing homelessness.
Low-income renters will also benefit from some of the economic proposals in The American Rescue Act. President Biden wants to send out another round of stimulus checks. He is proposing $1,400 stimulus checks, which combined with the $600 checks approved in December will put $2,000 total in the pockets of low- and moderate-income households.
Biden is also proposing a $400 per week federal unemployment boost. It is not as generous as the $600 per week under last year’s CARES Act, but it is more than the $300 per week that the current stimulus package provides for unemployed workers. The unemployment boost would apply through the end of September, 2021.
President Biden aims to help workers directly by proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Several cities already have a $15 an hour minimum wage, Seattle being one. President Biden just issued an executive order giving a $15 minimum wage to federal employees.
This will likely be a controversial provision in the bill. Although the living wage movement has gained steam over the last several years, many congressional Republicans are opposed to raising the minimum wage. They say it will hurt small businesses and stall the economy. Others point out that higher wages mean people can pay their bills and spend more in the local economy.
Some Quick Policy Changes; Some Not So Quick
Some of the changes that can be made most quickly are those that can be done by executive orders. Executive orders are directives from the president to federal agencies. Although presidents can make swift policy changes this way, the orders can be changed or cancelled by later presidents. President Biden’s extending the CDC eviction moratorium is this kind of move.
Biden can also reverse harmful regulatory changes made by the Trump administration. The Trump administration made many changes to housing regulations that hurt low-income renters. President Biden can address some of these problems directly by executive order, but most will require changes through the formal rule-making process.
Proposed rules must be published in the Federal Register with a chance for the public to comment. It typically takes months for new rules to be finalized, and even longer if they are challenged in court. President Biden will likely issue orders for the Secretaries of HUD and USDA to begin revising key Trump-era regulations that hurt vulnerable renters and people experiencing homelessness.
We can expect the Biden administration to reinstate the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. The Trump administration rescinded this rule that requires state and local governments to identify historic patterns of segregation and housing discrimination. They must also propose concrete steps to reduce segregation and be held accountable for progress.
President Biden will also likely direct HUD to rescind the Trump administration’s rule that allowed homeless shelter providers to discriminate against transgender homeless people. He will also likely reverse the Trump administration’s public charge rule. This will allow legal immigrant and mixed status households to receive the housing assistance they are entitled to by law.
Biden’s Housing Policy Over the Next Two Years
President Biden will be submitting his first budget to Congress in early February. This will outline his housing priorities for the coming year. Biden had a detailed housing plan during his presidential campaign, and many of these items will find their way into his budget for FY 2022.
President Biden’s housing plan pledged to make Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers available to anyone who is eligible. Currently, only about 25% of households eligible for federal rental assistance receive it. Section 8 rental assistance is the largest single item in HUD’s annual budget, receiving almost $26 billion for FY 2021. Increasing the program four-fold may be a hard sell to Republicans in Congress, so Biden may propose smaller increases over his term.
Biden also supports a renter tax credit proposal similar to one supported by Vice President Kamala Harris when she was a senator. It will reduce rent and utilities to 30% of monthly income for low-income renters. It will serve those who make too much to qualify for Section 8 but still have trouble paying the rent. This measure will likely have to be part of tax legislation, rather than the budget and appropriations process.
As a candidate, President Biden also committed to increasing the production of affordable housing. The lack of affordable units is the biggest reason that the cost of housing has outstripped incomes in recent years.
Biden’s housing plan proposes large increases to the national Housing Trust Fund, Public Housing, and USDA Rural Rental Housing. These funds will build new units affordable to renters with the lowest incomes. They will also modernize older properties that serve low-income renters. The increased funding for USDA rental programs will be targeted to rural areas that have had persistent poverty.
Biden’s plan also proposes making changes to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). One change was made in an earlier stimulus package that held up the value of some kinds of housing tax credit whose value had been undercut by inflation. Other changes are being considered that will encourage more investors to use the tax credit.
LIHTC has been the only federal program producing thousands of new affordable units over the last couple of decades. Boosting the value of the credit and making it easier to use will provide a big boost to affordable housing production. These measures are most likely to be included in tax-related legislation. Changes to the tax credit generally have bipartisan support in Congress.
President Biden has made it clear he wants to come out swinging big in his first 100 days. Presidents usually have the most support and momentum at the beginning of their terms. Biden has already proposed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, and has said he will also put together a large infrastructure package to spur economic growth.
Biden is facing more challenges than any new president in modern history. He will have to get his agencies staffed, push for emergency pandemic relief, and get vaccinations back on track. Biden has made affordable housing a priority in coronavirus relief and in his proposals to improve communities.