Biden renews push for housing in infrastructure plan

Housing has returned to center stage in the Biden administration’s push for an additional infrastructure plan.

President Joe Biden said this week that he planned to make an “historic investment” in affordable housing, by building and rehabilitating more than two million homes.

“We need to deal with the shortage of affordable housing in America,” said Biden. “Over 10 million renters in this country pay more than half their income for the rent on their apartment, and the lack of affordable housing prevents people from moving to communities where there are more opportunities.”

His commitment to include housing as part of an additional infrastructure package was welcomed by California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. In a statement, Waters said her “number one priority” has been to ensure that Biden includes funding for housing in an infrastructure plan.

“The President assured me that housing would be included in reconciliation,” Waters wrote. “To be clear, as housing costs skyrocket, communities across the country — including rural, suburban, and urban America — need affordable housing now more than ever. To say that the pandemic destabilized an already unstable housing market is an understatement.”

The reappearance of housing in Biden’s infrastructure plan comes as the supply of housing has dwindled to historic lows.

The National Association of Realtors, which represents real estate agents, said that there is a cumulative demand-supply gap of 6.8 million homes. The loss of existing units — through demolition, natural disaster or functional obsolescence — has contributed to the shortfall, along with the underproduction of new housing units.

But even with the President’s insistence that housing be part of an infrastructure package, it is unclear if it could garner the necessary support from enough centrist Democrats. Democrats hold only a tenuous majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the 51st vote. That leaves little room for internal quarrels.

Biden has said that he would not sign the first infrastructure plan if the second infrastructure package did not also reach his desk. Some Republicans viewed that as negotiating in bad faith, and Biden later clarified he did not intend his remarks as a veto threat. The exchange revealed the fragile nature of negotiations for both packages.

In June, Biden announced that he had secured bipartisan support for a limited $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal. Housing and eldercare appeared nowhere in the whittled-down agreement, which was a fraction of his initial $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan proposal.

Instead, the plan focused on traditional infrastructure improvements, such as expanding transit and rail, rebuilding roads, expanding electric vehicle charging stations, modernizing water infrastructure and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

Democrats in Congress have said they plan to pass an infrastructure package with many of Biden’s original proposals through a process called reconciliation. The abbreviated process allows Congress to enact legislation on taxes, spending, and the debt limit with only a simple majority.

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