Housing advocates and their Democratic allies in Congress are hopping mad that the reconciliation bill that the White House and congressional leadership have worked out with Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) doesn't include any more federal funds for housing.
"The recent information about what has been made available in this deal…is shameful, I'm embarrassed by it. I'm angered by it," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D–Calif.) during a press call today. "The way I'm feeling right now, I'm not committed to voting for [the bill]. I have a lot I have to say to leadership."
The call was organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) to promote the release of its Out of Reach report, which compiles data on wages and rents across the U.S. to paint a bleak picture of housing affordability.
(The report is a helpful resource for comparing housing costs across the country. But its methodology also overstates the housing affordability issues many renters face, as I've argued before.)
The NLIHC has long advocated for additional federal spending and tenant protections as the cure for America's high housing costs. Their latest report re-ups those recommendations. It also endorses converting the $46 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), a temporary measure passed during the pandemic, into a permanent program.
Early in the Biden administration, hopes were high among supporters of this approach to housing affordability that they'd be able to get most of their agenda passed.
Waters, who chairs the House Committee on Financial Services (which handles housing policy), managed to include $150 billion in housing spending in the far more expansive reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better Act, that passed the House in November 2021.
None of that spending managed to make it into the new reconciliation bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. That bill does include close to $900 million to fund energy efficiency improvements at affordable housing complexes, which Waters said was deeply disappointing.
The new reconciliation bill also nixes one of the few possible silver linings in the Build Back Better proposal.
The version of Build Back Better that the House passed in November included a modest "Unlocking Possibilities" program that would have provided $1.6 billion in planning grants to local governments looking to reform their zoning code.
Free market wonks were split on how effective this would have been at encouraging localities to reduce their regulations on new housing supply. The exclusion of even that tepid measure from the Inflation Reduction Act is more evidence that zoning reform is less and less of a priority for this Congress.
The Senate is supposed to take up the Inflation Reduction Act next week.
Whether Waters can be convinced to vote for the bill, given her criticism of it today, remains to be seen. Her fellow progressives in the House were less perturbed by the absence of new housing funding.
"If it's all true, and if the language is really—reflects what is what the top lines are, it's a huge victory for the American people," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, per NBC News.