June 29, 2017

If Housing Costs Burden Members of Congress, Then Imagine the Burden on Working Families

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mother and son in affordable housing community

Earlier this week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) proposed in an interview with The Hill that House and Senate lawmakers should receive a housing allowance of $2,500 per month (or $30,000 per year).  Rep. Chaffetz explained: “Washington, D.C. is one of the most expensive places in the world, and I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and second place here in D.C.” He argued that “a $2,500 housing allowance would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington.”

If $174,000 Isn't Cutting It, How Can $40,000?

Since he made this proposal only several days before he is expected to resign from Congress, it doesn’t appear to be for his own benefit.  Rep. Chaffetz remarked that “there are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term.” These members of Congress earn a $174,000 annual salary, which is nearly twice as much as the DC Metro’s median household income of $93,000. Rep. Chaffetz’s proposal begs the question: if dozens of Members of Congress feel so burdened by the extraordinarily high cost of housing in D.C. that taxpayers should assist them, then how pressed to cover monthly housing costs are everyday families earning $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 per year?

HUD’s Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the D.C. Metro is calculated at $1,746 per month, which means that a family of four must earn almost $70,000  per year after tax in order keep housing costs under 30 percent of their income, the level at which a household is considered rent burdened. According to the Joint Center for Housing's State of the Nation's Housing 2017 report, nearly 46 percent of renters in the D.C. Metro are rent burdened such that they have to make heartbreaking decisions between paying rent or buying food and health care. 

Housing Costs Rising Fast Than Incomes

Housing costs continue to grow faster than incomes not just in the nation’s capital, but in every area of the country. The demand for homes that families find affordable far outstrips the supply. Nationwide, around 12 million Americans spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent, and not by choice. Only one out of four families eligible for federal rental assistance is offered help, and the President has called for the elimination of many successful housing and community development programs. 

Now that these Members of Congress understand that the rental housing market has changed significantly since they were first starting out on their own, they should take a hard look at the housing needs of their constituents. Members of Congress who truly understand and care about housing affordability in this country must reject the president's budget proposals and instead provide robust funding for housing and community development programs. One such example is the HOME Investment Partnerships Program which provides flexible grants to states and cities to build and preserve housing for low-income households. In Rep. Chaffetz’s district alone, HOME has created 13,352 affordable homes. Congress should also expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which allows States to leverage private sector investments to rehabilitate and build new apartments nationwide.

Take Action Now

In the coming weeks, House and Senate appropriators will determine funding levels for programs that both keep roofs over the heads of millions of Americans who otherwise may be homeless grant people the opportunity to transform their lives. Members of Congress need to hear how vital federal investment in housing is for those of us who make less than $174,000 per year. Please pick up the phone and call your Representative and your Senators to let them know how important having access to an affordable home is to you.