Welcome discussions on affordable housing

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Housing affordability is a critical issue in Idaho and all across the country. Nationwide, there is a shortage of millions of affordable rental homes available to lower-income Americans, and the gap between the demand for affordable homes and the supply of new ones being built increases each year. I was proud to welcome U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to visit Idaho recently when we toured nationally recognized models of affordable housing. We discussed the importance of collaboration between the government and private sector, and innovative approaches to housing models as key to creating more affordable housing.

During Secretary Carson’s recent visit, Secretary Carson, Representative Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho-1) and I toured the indieDwell factory in Caldwell, which was featured in an exhibit on the U.S. Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., as an innovative housing model. The project utilizes refurbished shipping units and solar power to create homes with a yard and a price tag under $900 monthly, including the cost of utilities. We also visited a larger project near downtown Boise aimed at providing housing for seniors with limited incomes, facilitated by the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Additionally, we received a briefing about another Boise-area housing project, which is scheduled to be completed next year, to house homeless veterans. Each project utilizes a combination of funds from the local, state and federal levels of government, and partnerships with the private sector, demonstrating that collaborative approaches yield results.

Tackling the issue requires innovative, collaborative approaches. This includes the Trump Administration’s work to reduce regulatory burdens that are acting as a drag on affordable housing development. The President recently signed an executive order to establish a White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing Development. Secretary Carson serves as chairman of the Council. The President stated in the order, “It shall be the policy of my Administration to work with Federal, State, local, tribal, and private sector leaders to address, reduce, and remove the multitude of overly burdensome regulatory barriers that artificially raise the cost of housing development and help to cause the lack of housing supply.”

Importantly, the council is tasked with looking at the effect regulations are having on the costs of developing affordable housing and the economy. When issuing the Executive Order, the Administration highlighted that more than 25 percent of the cost of a new home is the direct result of federal, state and local regulations, with the price tag even reaching up to 42 percent for some new multifamily construction. Further, the Administration recognized, “High housing prices are a primary determinant of homelessness, and research has directly linked more stringent housing market regulation to higher homelessness rates.”

Multiple factors contribute to the housing affordability problem, one of them simply being that the secret is out—Idaho is a great place to live. The visit from Secretary Carson was an opportunity to shed additional light on the challenges and solutions at our local level and further the discussion on making homeownership more attainable. As Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, I continue to work closely with Secretary Carson, my colleagues in Congress and others to spearhead efforts at the federal level to address this important issue. We must continue to facilitate the innovation that makes affordable housing possible.

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