The Biden Administration Pushes Cities to Get Serious About Homelessness

Kriston Capps

The Biden Administration Pushes Cities to Get Serious About Homelessness

A federal initiative called House America will ask cities, counties and states to pledge to curb homelessness, in exchange for federal support and resources. 

By  | Posted on 20 September 2021 | Bloomberg CityLab

The White House is launching a new national initiative to combat the rising tide of homelessness, a pact with local governments to commit resources and energy to the people suffering most due to the national housing crisis.

With “House America,” the administration of President Joe Biden is asking leaders of city, county, state and tribal governments across the U.S. to make a public pledge to reduce homelessness. In turn, the federal government will provide guidance and support to achieve two goals: providing permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness and building new affordable units for those on the brink.

Housing Secretary Marcia L. Fudge is announcing the initiative, a signature policy push for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and other cabinet officials at a virtual event on Sept. 20, CityLab has learned.

“If you’re actually going to house 3,000 people in three years, you have to touch a lot more people than that. You have to divert people from homelessness. To accomplish that goal, you need to build a system,” Adler says. “In Austin, if we actually built out the homelessness response system, if we actually build out the infrastructure, then we can reach equilibrium.”

To support cities in these efforts, the Biden administration aims to convene monthly calls with local leaders who take the House America pledge. Some efforts will be tailored to places with unique housing struggles. In Maine, for example, record numbers for homelessness in recent years reflect both an urban and rural problem marked by a steep loss of existing affordable housing. The House America challenge includes officials from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services in order to support leaders in rural areas and legacy industrial cities, where the housing crisis takes different shapes. “The technical assistance is just as valuable as the dollars,” Schaaf says.

The lack of affordable housing is an enormous challenge for the nation, one that the Biden administration is trying to tackle on several fronts. Earlier this month, HUD announced an effort to build and preserve 100,000 affordable homes over the next three years. Both Congress and the White House are looking at ways to push local governments to ease restrictive zoning policies. And the federal government is trying to shake things up at the top: To speed the construction of subsidized housing, HUD announced that it will make 5% of funds under the $5 billion HOME-ARP grants available immediately to cities and counties, before any plans are approved.

Homelessness specifically has emerged as a priority for Fudge, who in addition to her work as housing secretary has also taken on the mantle of chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal policy between 19 different agencies. House America will now test the Biden administration’s commitment to the principle that housing is essential infrastructure.

(Corrects spelling of Chuck Hoskin, Jr. in fourth paragraph.)

Kriston Capps (@kristoncapps) is a writer for CityLab in Washington, D.C., focused on housing, architecture and the built environment.

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Cover Photo: A man experiencing homelessness sleeps on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in March 2021. Photographer: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images.