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Developing Long-Term Solutions to Some of the Country’s Most Significant Housing Challenges

Summary: 
Secretary Shaun Donovan reflects on the event that demonstrated the Obama Administration’s commitment to developing long-term solutions to some of the country’s most significant housing challenges.

Yesterday, I had the privilege to participate in an event that demonstrated the Obama Administration’s commitment to developing long-term solutions to some of the country’s most significant housing challenges.  While the Administration has been focused on developing effective responses to our most pressing crises, this has not diverted our attention from resolving persistent and long-standing housing problems.  Over the course of the day, we heard from a variety of experts and voices from outside the Administration regarding the future of the nation’s housing policy during The Next Generation Housing Policy:  Convening on Rental Housing.

Co-hosted by the White House Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, the Council of Economic Advisors, the MacArthur Foundation as well as HUD, the Department’s of Treasury, and Agriculture, yesterday’s convening represents a tremendous opportunity for us to begin envisioning the future of our nation’s rental housing policy. 

Obviously, problem mortgages and foreclosures played a central role in our nation’s recent economic collapse.  But far less attention is given to some of the nation’s more deeply-rooted housing challenges such as the affordability of rental housing for low-income Americans and the persistence of concentrated poverty in many of our neighborhoods.  These challenges require some of our best minds, which is why bringing together leading practitioners, academics, and advocates from the housing and community development field at yesterday’s conference is so important.     

The events keynote speakers were Melody Barnes, Director of White House Domestic Policy Council, and Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council.  After an introductory panel, featuring two of the country’s leading rental housing scholars, the day’s conversations were organized around three broad questions surrounding the future of federal housing policy:

  1. How can the Next Generation Housing policy more effectively combat poverty, address social inequity issues, and create new incentives for wealth building?
  2. What policies would further neighborhood revitalization, sustainability and fair housing goals?
  3. How can policy better finance the new construction, preservation, and sustainability of rental housing? 

Partnering in the event is the MacArthur Foundation, which has provided essential support of research on rental market dynamics and made significant efforts to preserve and improve existing affordable rental housing; they have helped put rental housing back on the policy map.

Certainly, we’ve worked to answer these questions at HUD.  Since being sworn in as HUD Secretary, I have been committed to pursuing a more balanced federal housing policy that supports renters as well as owners, across the economic spectrum.  While the crisis remains a painful reminder of the need to attain this balance, yesterday’s conference provided an opportunity to seriously consider the policy mechanisms which can allow us to achieve that balance.  These are not problems that will be solved in a day, a week or a month.  But they can be solved.

Of course, a balanced housing policy is about more than just supporting rental and ownership  – it’s also about how we address the needs of communities, from those recently been hit by the foreclosure crisis to those places that have been losing population and suffering from disinvestment for decades.  A balanced housing policy should serve the full spectrum of communities and provide the tools to unlock the potential of our communities and our economy by creating a true geography of opportunity for all our children – one that ensures their futures—and their choices—are no longer limited by something as arbitrary as the zip code they grow up in. 

That is what yesterday’s conference was about.  And it’s why I was proud to be a part of it. 

Shaun Donovan is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development