There are already cases where the SHDA could intervene and respond to the needs of the communities. The city of Santa Fe, NM, has a 64-acre former college property next to a gentrifying neighborhood. After a developer pulled out in January, citing economic uncertainty, the city may be considering selling the property to investors due to its growing debt. Community organizations like Chainbreaker Collective are working to turn property into a land trust with much needed affordable housing. Its leaders cite insufficient funding as the main obstacle. SHDA could intervene provide funds and technical assistance to start the project.
With the exception of corporate speculators, SHDA would be a victory for all. Landlords would avoid tortuous lawsuits, tenants would avoid uncertainty, and communities would benefit from quality, affordable housing at all times. While its primary focus would be distressed residential property, the agency could also acquire empty office buildings and convert them into housing.
The SHDA would be financed, in accordance with the BUILD law of 2018, by the creation of a treasury account, which would be withdrawn and reconstituted thanks to the activities of the agency.
New programs take time and resources to get started. Policymakers are more comfortable creating incentives for the private sector than trying to build new public institutions. But a year of distress will not evaporate overnight.
Federal action on this scale is not a far-fetched idea. The United States government has a history, including after the 2008 crisis, of entering the market when needed – albeit imperfectly, but with significant success. Now is the time for the federal government to once again take bold action in the housing sector, and this time to hold communities accountable.
An effort like SHDA addresses pre-pandemic needs and will only increase in the years to come. Direct payment of rent is necessary and timely, but it is only a half measure. Even if they cover the last dime of tenant debt, that will only take us back to the pre-pandemic era, where one in four tenants were already paying half their income on rent and most families on low. income had unaffordable housing costs.
Crises are times of upheaval, but they are also opportunities to see how we did things and to ask ourselves if we might do it differently in the future. It’s time to make transformative changes in a housing system that, even before the pandemic, was failing too much. Congress and the White House have a chance to create policies that not only help us recover from this crisis, but also prevent the next.
Dr Gianpaolo Baiocchi is professor and director of the Urban Democracy Lab at New York University. Dr H. Jacob Carlson is a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University’s Center for Demographic Studies and Training and Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences (S4).
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