Ambassador Susan E. Rice Remarks to Symposium on Affordable Housing Policies and the Market with University of Denver’s Burns School of Real Estate and Sturm College of Law
As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you, Susan [Daggett], for inviting me here today. I am proud to call you and your husband good friends. Some in the audience may be curious to learn that I’ve known Susan’s husband, Senator Michael Bennet, since nursery school. As Senator Bennet knows, I’ve always been good at sharing, so it’s a pleasure to share the virtual stage with this group.
Today, we’re here to discuss affordable housing development. Though affordable housing is a nationwide challenge, this issue is particularly acute in Colorado.
We simply have not built enough housing to keep up with demand. The most visible result of this gap is the growing number of people who have absolutely no shelter.
Last year, there were more than 10,000 homeless people in Colorado. About 30 percent of this population lives on the streets, in tents, and in their cars—going to sleep without a roof over their heads. President Biden has established an ambitious but achievable goal: to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness by 25% by 2025.
We are only going to reach this goal by increasing housing supply, in particular affordable housing supply. In the 2010s, the number of new households in Colorado exceeded the number of new units built during that period—and existing vacancies didn’t cover the difference. . That’s not going to cut it.
What’s more, too many Americans are struggling to pay their rent. As you know, Colorado is the 10th-most expensive state for renters, and the most expensive state not on a coast. In Eagle County, Aurora, Boulder, Lakewood, and Westminster, rents increased twice as much as income during the 2010s.
Unfortunately, as we see in so many areas of public policy, the disparities tend to hit Black and brown communities, and lower-income people, even harder. More than 30 percent of Black renters in Colorado pay more than half of their income in rent.
Housing isn’t and shouldn’t be a luxury. It is a necessity.
We know that affordable housing plays a role in our mental health and physical wellbeing.
We know that housing should be accompanied by supportive services, such as primary and behavioral healthcare.
That’s why increasing the supply of housing is a major priority for the Biden Administration.
Last May, the President announced his Housing Supply Action Plan. It represents the most comprehensive effort to close our housing supply shortfall in history.
Under the Plan, we’re leveraging once-in-a-generation resources to improve federal grant processes and financing programs. And we’re coordinating efforts across federal, state, and local governments.
Here are a few examples of that work:
First, we’re rewarding jurisdictions for reducing restrictive zoning and land-use policies that limit how much and where housing is built. So far, we’ve incentivized jurisdictions to reduce land use barriers in $6 billion of competitive infrastructure funding.
Second, we’re providing new financing mechanisms to build and preserve more housing. For instance, we’ve allowed recipients to use state and local fiscal recovery funds under the American Rescue Plan to make long-term loans that finance certain affordable housing projects.
Denver is using these funds to support 400 newly constructed rental units, 200 preserved rental units, and 50 newly constructed homeowner units, as well as to acquire existing buildings.
We also restarted the Federal Financing Bank’s Risk Sharing program, providing loans to state and local housing finance agencies at reduced interest rates. Since the relaunch of this program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has committed funds to create and preserve more than 9,000 rental homes.
Next, we’re expanding and improving existing forms of federal financing.
To that end, we reformed the income guidelines for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, the main source of federal financing used to fund affordable housing construction and rehabilitation. This will make it easier to build mixed-income housing that includes very low-income tenants, as well as housing in rural areas.
We also extended the deadlines for these tax credits in case of disruptions, such as the supply-chain issues we saw during the height of the pandemic.
In addition, we reformed a financing program at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it easier to build multifamily rental homes. More permits were issued to build multifamily housing last year than there had been in decades.
Fourth, we’re ensuring that more government-owned housing goes to owners who live in them—or to non-profits that will rehab them.
Recently, HUD held two sales of Home Equity Conversion Mortgage notes, secured by vacant properties. More than 60 percent of these notes went to non-profit or non-profit joint venture bidders. In addition, all purchasers were required to market their properties to owner-occupant, government, and non-profit buyers.
Finally, we’re promoting more housing options near transportation.
For example, the Westward Three Project in Colorado will generate three newly constructed mobility hubs in Grand Junction, Rifle, and Glenwood Springs. This project, supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, will improve the service provided by the region’s bus system. It also will open up a number of large vacant parcels for development into new multi-family units.
These supply-side efforts are complemented by our work across the housing market. Our Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights lays out a set of principles to strengthen tenant protections and encourage rental affordability. The Blueprint features 24 new federal actions that align with those principles. And, all of our work is grounded in a proactive effort to advance fair housing.
Clearly, we’ve made progress on this urgent effort to increase housing supply. Last year, construction was completed nationwide on more new units than in any year since 2006.
Yet, we’ve got much more work to do to finish the job. And we cannot do it alone. We need Congress’s help to expand housing supply and increase affordability, by appropriating more resources for rental assistance. President Biden has called on Congress to pass investments in housing production and preservation.
In this Congress, we will need to advance ideas that can achieve bipartisan support. The good news is that two of the President’s main proposals have Republican and Democratic co-sponsors.
The Neighborhood Homes Investment Act encourages investment in millions of homes that are otherwise too costly to develop or repair. Congress should expand and strengthen the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and federal subsidies for construction of affordable housing. The Administration has secured rental assistance to more than 100,000 households through the 2022 and 2033 appropriations bills and the American Rescue Plan—and we asked for funding to support twice that amount. This represents the largest expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program in decades, helping ensure that extremely low-income households can access affordable housing.
We’ve made a lot of progress toward our goal: to close the supply gap of 1.5 million homes across the U.S. But we all have much more to do to increase supply, develop new financing tools, and build truly affordable units for low-income households and those who are unhoused. Though our current housing supply gaps, affordability problems, and challenges around homelessness were decades in the making, we must tackle these problems with urgency.
Together, we can build a future in which every American household has safe, decent, and affordable housing, and every American has a roof over their heads. Americans deserve this future, so in our respective roles—whether we’re real estate professionals or policymakers—let’s keep pushing forward.
 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Point-in-Time Count, 2022.