The administration is taking a “comprehensive federal approach,” White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden told reporters, toward improving affordability for both homeowners and renters. The newly announced plan will leverage three separate areas toward achieving this goal: Easing land use and zoning rules, expanding financing and promoting the conversion of commercial to residential space.
As office space needs have shifted in the aftermath of the pandemic, the administration is incentivizing efforts to convert commercial properties to residential homes.
“Our work will involve identifying areas and methods where federal funding, including climate-focused federal resources, can be used to support these conversions,” Biden economic adviser Daniel Hornung said, pointing to funding from the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as one such funding mechanism.
Additionally, he said, “The General Services Administration, which manages much of the federal footprint of buildings, will launch an effort to identify and market surplus federal properties that represent the best opportunities for commercial to residential conversions.”
To address restrictive land use and zoning policies – including those that prohibit multifamily housing development, among other issues, the administration is looking to incentivize municipalities to lift some of those restrictions by “incorporating land use and zoning into the grant criteria for the historic Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program and also into the Economic Development Administration’s grant programs,” said Hornung.
Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is announcing a new program, the Pathways to Removing Obstacles to Housing program, which will provide communities with $85 million in funding to “identify and remove barriers to affordable housing production and preservation.”
On financing, the administration is rolling out a $27 billion fund via the Environmental Protection Agency for energy efficient and climate resilient housing. There are also new underwriting guidelines for Federal Housing Administration, a streamlining of other low-income HUD financing programs, and increasing financing for onsite housing units.
The administration is also announcing actions aimed at protecting renters, which comprise roughly 35% of the US population, per a White House fact sheet.
Government entities involved with housing are releasing guidance and best practices to landlords and operators regarding tenant screening reports and giving tenants an opportunity to correct errors in those reports. HUD will also unveil $10 million in tenant education and outreach funding. And there are a series of rulemaking efforts underway to give more time to tenants to avoid eviction.