NEWS From Washington» Adam SCHIFF

Addressing the Housing Affordability Crisis


For generations of Americans, saving up to buy a home and set down roots in a community have been a cornerstone of the American Dream. But as anyone who has recently tried to buy or rent a home can attest, that dream feels increasingly out of reach – particularly in Los Angeles, where families have been hit hard by the lack of affordable housing. The headlines are relentless: Los Angeles is among the worst metropolitan areas for first-time home buyers, the fifth worst city in the U.S. for renters, and homelessness is on the rise. Whether you are looking to buy a home or rent an apartment, chances are you’ve felt the effects of Los Angeles’ increasingly expensive housing market.   

The affordable housing crisis is complex, but it is a clearly a crisis. It will require solutions at the local, state and federal levels, as well as partnerships with the private and nonprofit sectors. In the first instance, we need better tax incentives to create more affordable housing. The amount of housing stock is simply far too low for our burgeoning population. We also need to raise incomes and wages so people can buy or rent a home when there are units available. But there are other answers as well.

One of the primary ways the federal government helps people on low income obtain affordable housing is by providing vouchers to assist with rent payments. Throughout my time in Congress, I have fought for funding for these critical federal programs – particularly for vouchers that support families and veterans.

Having a voucher is not the same as having a place to live, though, and in many parts of the country it is still legal for landlords to turn away qualified tenants just because they use federal vouchers to pay their rent. That’s why earlier this month, Congressman Scott Peters and I introduced the Fair Housing Improvement Act to protect from discrimination low-income families, veterans, and others who use federal vouchers to pay rent. This legislation builds on the original Fair Housing Act – a landmark civil rights bill passed in 1968 – which outlaws housing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or sex.

Already, low-income families and veterans have to endure long waiting periods – many longer than a year and a half – to receive federal housing assistance. If they are subsequently turned away by landlords for no other reason than the fact they receive government aid, that discrimination only perpetuates cycles of poverty and homelessness, preventing families from moving into neighborhoods with better schools and job opportunities. And, for communities of color that have been persistently excluded from housing opportunities, the ramifications of this discrimination and its subsequent economic disparities can be felt for generations.

Of course, the Fair Housing Improvement Act is just one tool to chip away at the housing affordability crisis, albeit an important one. In addition to combatting housing discrimination, Congress must also address the root issue of lack of supply: in cities like Los Angeles, there simply aren’t enough affordable housing options for those who need them.

It is not only individual renters and families who struggle to find housing in this market – public housing agencies themselves are finding that the supply of available properties is not meeting the intense demand for affordable housing. I am drafting legislation that will incentivize property owners to sell to public housing authorities, which will enable these agencies to do their job even in expensive rental markets like Los Angeles, where competition for property is steep. When public housing agencies are able compete with private developers in bids for property, they will be able to increase the supply of affordable housing options they provide.

In a nation as prosperous as America, families and individuals should not struggle to put a roof over their heads, but so many do. Every person deserves a safe and dignified space to call home. I believe we can restore this central promise of the American Dream if we approach the housing affordability crisis with a sense of urgency, compassion and, creativity. And with efforts like these two pieces of legislation and others, we are working to do just that.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.