SPRINGFIELD -- With housing authorities struggling to meet demand due to growing waitlists, a low number of available apartments and aging infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, called Monday for the federal government to build 3 million new housing units across the country.
Warren, who is up for re-election in November, made her pitch while discussing her proposed "American Housing and Economic Mobility Act" with Western Massachusetts housing officials, elected leaders and veterans advocates.
Arguing that there is currently not enough housing stock across the United States to serve those seeking affordable housing options, the senator argued that federal officials must do more to help middle- and low-income Americans currently on waiting lists.
"We are in a housing crisis in this country. It's not a crisis for rich people, it's a housing crisis for everyone else. There's been a real shift in how housing is built over the last couple of generations. More and more housing is available for upper income families and less and less housing is available for middle-class, for working-class, for working poor and the poor," she said. "The solution to that we knew from decades ago was to put federal support in so there was adequate housing built across the economic range."
The Democrat offered that the federal government can help expand the housing supply by making more money available for such units. Communities, meanwhile, could collaborate so their zoning and building codes are more uniform and brought up to 21st Century standards, thus reducing construction costs, Warren said.
She specifically proposed that the federal government build or rehabilitate 3.2 million new housing units for low-income and middle-class families, along with supportive infrastructure, like schools.
Warren, who noted that the legislation could create 1.5 million jobs at its peak, said estate taxes imposed on wealthy Americans, as well as private investments, would fuel the effort.
Beyond growing the affordable housing stock, the senator said her legislation also seeks to prevent and address discrimination in the public housing system, as well as provide assistance to first-time home buyers and others.
"It's a very ambitious bill, but that's because we have a very big problem and we need to address it and address it now," she said.
Warren's bill calls for: Creating a $10 billion competitive grant program that communities can use to build infrastructure as long as local governments overhaul land use rules that increase the costs of new affordable housing; investing $2 billion to support borrowers impacted by the 2008 financial crisis; and providing down payment grants to first-time homebuyers living in lower-income, segregated areas.
It, among other things, also seeks to expand the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and source of income, including government assistance.
Holyoke Housing Authority Executive Director Matthew Mainville said he's "excited about what this bill means," noting that it could help more families find long-term stable housing or even purchase their own homes.
Soldier On Executive Vice President Steve Como, meanwhile, encouraged the senator to consider setting aside funding for veteran-specific housing projects, something which he argued could address current delays.
Warren thanked local officials for their feedback, stressing that she needs allies to not just pass the bill in Congress, but to promote it at the state and local level.
"I count on the fact you'll be there on the ground to help develop the right approaches to use this opportunity," she said.
The legislation, introduced late last month, has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.