Originally published in the NY Times Room for Debate


by Representative Keith Ellison  Oct. 17, 2013

Did you ever couch surf? Not surfing on a beach, but moving with your family from place to place when you have no stable home. There are families in Minneapolis homeless shelters who have couch surfed with friends and relatives for two years

Because of deep budget cuts, more than 10,000 Minneapolis families are on the waiting list for affordable rental housing. Nationally, more than 7 million extremely low-income families need homes they can afford.

They need to have the National Housing Trust Fund fully financed.

The trust fund, created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, was to have provided communities with money to build, preserve and rehabilitate rental homes that were affordable to families with incomes below about 30 percent of area median income — about $24,000 in Minneapolis. This money could be used for loans, equity investments, grants, interest rate subsidies, property acquisition, site improvements, demolition, financing, operating costs to offset the low rents and reasonable administrative costs.

The trust fund was supposed to have been financed through assessments on new business by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But those agencies went into conservatorship before transferring any money. Now both are profitable again, but their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is ignoring the law and refusing to provide resources for the trust fund, meaning thousands of working families are going without the housing assistance they need. (The fund should have received about $382 million last year.)

To provide an additional source of money for the trust fund and other housing programs, I’ve introduced the Common Sense Housing Investment Act (H.R. 1213), which would finance the trust fund along with expanding the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Section 8 vouchers and the Public Housing Capital Fund.

The bill would raise about $200 billion over 10 years – more than four times the current budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development — by replacing the current mortgage interest deduction with a 15 percent flat-rate tax credit on mortgage interest and lowering the cap on the mortgage interest deduction from $1.1 million to $500,000.

We have ignored the pain that a lack of affordable housing creates for low-income families for too long. Congress can do something to help.