As the United States Congress returns to Washington this week, our Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an opportunity to advance sensible, meaningful legislation that acknowledges housing affordability and availability as central to economic recovery, social equity, and a more stable, prosperous life for every American.
From 2000-2015, the country built 7.3 million fewer homes than were needed to meet housing demand. Half of American renters, disproportionately Black, are cost-burdened, spending more than 30% of their gross paychecks on rent. In Kentucky, two-thirds of our lowest income neighbors are spending more than 50% of their income on housing. As we have warned our congressional delegation, housing insecurity is on the rise and the housing shortage and affordability crisis continues to worsen, as supplemental unemployment and other safety net supports have expired. Prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus, Kentucky was already short 75,000 affordable rental homes available to our lowest income Kentuckians, according to research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Locally enacted restrictive zoning and discriminatory land-use laws in every corner of the United States make it nearly impossible to build enough housing. Often, these laws lock out low- and moderate-income Kentuckians from opportunity-rich neighborhoods with amenities, transit options, and jobs.
Few would argue that the federal government should oversee local land use decisions. But the housing crisis has grown too dire, and too widespread, for the federal government to ignore. Fortunately, Congress can act to help communities invite new housing of all types by passing the Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY) Act (H.R. 4351).
The YIMBY Act requires cities and states receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to report to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on a suite of local policies known to increase housing supply while decreasing housing cost. The policies subject to new reporting requirements include expanding multifamily zoning, reducing minimum lot sizes, creating transit-oriented development zones, streamlining the permitting process and establishing density bonuses.
The YIMBY Act does not mandate or condition funding on the enactment of any specific policy. Rather, it is an entry point for federal, state, and local governments to collaborate to catalyze home production and reverse historical housing inequities.
Despite passing without opposition in the House of Representatives in early March and having bipartisan sponsorship in the House and Senate, the YIMBY Act has not received a vote in the Senate. When the Senate reconvenes this September, we urge Sen. McConnell to use his authority as Majority Leader to pass the YIMBY Act and increase housing choice here in Kentucky.
ADRIENNE BUSH is the executive director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky.