In a sweeping effort to expand affordable housing and combat homelessness, Representative Maxine Waters of California introduced a package of three bills on Wednesday aimed at narrowing the country’s racial wealth gap.
Ms. Waters is seeking $100 billion in direct assistance to first-time home buyers; more than $150 billion in fair and affordable housing investments; and the expansion of the housing voucher program, commonly known as Section 8, into a federal entitlement that is accessible to every American family that qualifies.
“Housing should be our number one priority. Every member of Congress has not one but two decent places to live — one in Washington, D.C., and one in our home district,” Ms. Waters said in an interview. “We cannot continue to claim we are the greatest nation on earth with people living on the street and without their basic needs being taken care of.”
Thirty percent of Americans living on the street and in shelters — about 171,000 individuals, according to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco — are in Ms. Waters’s home state of California. Under one of the bills, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would allocate $10 billion to create affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness, and permanently authorize the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which currently has a sunset date of October 2028. The agency coordinates the overall federal strategy to end homelessness.
That bill would also expand Section 8 federal entitlement, ensuring that any family earning 30 percent or less of the median income of their home metro area would qualify for public housing assistance. Currently only about one in 4 homes that qualify are able to access the program.
Ms. Waters said she knows it will be a hard sell getting the package through Congress. She is introducing the three bills in the House Financial Services Committee, on which she is the highest-ranking Democrat.
Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri agreed that Ms. Waters is facing an uphill battle in getting the bills passed, but said he believed that uphill was the only way.
“The only way to address the desperate need for affordable housing is to go into the challenge as though decent housing for millions of Americans depends on your success,” he said. “Progress on housing has never been achieved without toughness and persistence.”
Ms. Waters has made housing discrimination a priority, with plans to also push legislation to end racial bias in home appraisals later this year.
The bills introduced Wednesday echo provisions of the Build Back Better Act, which narrowly passed in 2021 after fierce opposition from Republicans. Representative Patrick McHenry, chairman of the Financial Services of Committee and a Republican from North Carolina, called that act a “reckless tax-and-spending spree.” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, set a record with an eight-hour speech from the House floor in 2021 in a bid to derail it as well.
One of the bills Ms. Waters introduced targets home buying, providing up to $20,000 for first-generation home buyers and up to $25,000 for socially and economically disadvantaged home buyers to defray the many additional costs, including closing fees and interest rate increases.
In the most ambitious bill she introduced, Ms. Waters is calling for more than $150 billion in affordable housing investments, including $65 billion to make repairs and improvements on current public housing stock, $24 billion for tenant-based rental assistance and $1 billion for project-based rental assistance contracts that could help thousands of extremely low-income renters.