Economist Responds to Carson’s Call for Input on Housing Needs

Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentIn response to Dr. Ben Carson’s remarks during his first address to HUD employees on Monday, March 6, about “conducting a listening tour to learn what works and what doesn’t in the world of housing policy,” Nela Richardson, Chief Economist for Redfin, has something to say about that.

Carson also said that under his leadership, HUD would offer equality and fairness to all. “One of the things you will notice in this department under my leadership is that there will be a very big emphasis on fairness for everybody,” he said. He also talked about finding alternative ways to work with the private sector to find solutions to alieviate homelessness and affordable housing availability.

Richardson agrees that something needs to be done because “Income inequality and a shortage of affordable housing are at the worst levels we’ve ever seen in America,” she said. “The country needs a commitment to more progress, from the basic, immediate needs like access to affordable housing to longer-term solutions like increasing homeownership levels among the middle class.”

More specifically, Richardson offered these suggestions in a recent Redfin blog post:

  1. Carson should create a national housing plan. “We are quickly heading toward a future in which the middle class can no longer live where the good jobs are. Dr. Carson can reframe the housing crisis into an economic issue with regional and national importance.”
  2. HUD should increase the use and subsidy amount of housing vouchers so that working families can move to thriving communities where jobs are available. She said that too often a person’s zip code determines their economic mobility, and only one in four families that qualify for federal assistance actually receives it.
  3. HUD under Carson’s leadership should encourage deregulation of restrictive zoning rules to improve local housing policies. “That’s where the crisis starts,” Richardson said, “at the local level, when people vote against inclusionary zoning policies. This makes it difficult or impossible to build higher-density, affordable housing in a community.” She said that HUD can reward communities that change to inclusionary zoning practices by offering them federal infrastructure investments to improve the neighborhoods. That way inclusionary zoning is more appealing to longtime residents.
  4. HUD should encourage investment through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program. She said that HUD can influence builders to invest in affordable housing near America’s job centers, thereby increasing economic mobility for working families. In addition, at the same time, HUD can fund investments in poor rural and urban communities.

Richardson feels that HUD, under Dr. Carson’s direction, needs to implement these actions. “An across-the-board investment in affordable housing, in combination with sorely needed transit and infrastructure spending, will ensure that no neighborhood in America suffers due to isolation and neglect,” she said. This is necessary, she believes, to ensure that no family is isolated from economic opportunity simply because of where they live.

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