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A New Bill Could End Homelessness in America in 5 Years

Ron Wyden's DASH Act is ambitious. But is it feasible?

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The chair of the Senate Finance committee just announced a bill that he promises would end homelessness in the United States within five years.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, announced The Decent, Affordable, Safe Housing Act (DASH) on Wednesday.

“Housing is a human right. Yet, millions of Americans pay more than half of their monthly take-home pay to keep a roof over their head. And more than half a million Americans don’t have housing at all,” Wyden said in a press release. “America is amidst a serious crisis of housing affordability, and it’s a big challenge that demands big, bold solutions. As housing prices skyrocket, a generation of young people are increasingly locked out of homeownership.”

A summary of the legislation reveals an ambitious array of policy changes, tax credits, and investments. It presents an existential challenge to the status quo, and not just for unhoused people and their loved ones, but also for regular people who aren’t homeless but are struggling to make ends meet. Here’s what you need to know.

How would the DASH Act end homelessness?

According to the summary, those experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness would be able to contact any organization that’s part of a community’s “Continuum of Care.” (Child welfare agencies and public housing agencies are two specific examples mentioned.)

Those agencies would evaluate the people who reach out to see if they are eligible for a Housing Choice Voucher administered by a public housing agency worth the amount of rent that’s above 30 percent of their adjusted income, a standard benchmark used to define housing affordability. A caseworker would also determine if they needed access to other supportive services.

Significantly, this system would be “permanently federally funded.” The public housing agencies providing the vouchers would receive “a capacity investment in order to serve everyone experiencing homelessness in their jurisdiction. And states would receive money through the Housing Trust Fund program adequate to construct “an initial tranche of housing for voucher recipients.”

How would the DASH Act make housing more affordable for everyone else?

The short answer: tax credits. There’s the Emergency Affordable Housing Act, which would strengthen the existing Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in a number of ways.

LIHTC properties would be preserved, and production of them would be expanded. The value of the credit would increase and various incentives would make the construction of low-income housing a more attractive endeavor for builders and investors.

Wyden claims that these changes would “produce nearly 1 million new affordable housing units over the next ten years.”

A new Renter’s Tax Credit provides a refundable tax credit to property owners who rent to eligible tenants with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) worth up to 110 percent of the difference between rent plus utilities and 30 percent of the tenant’s income.

A Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit (MIHTC) would provide a tax credit to developers who house tenants making between 60 and 100 percent of the AMI.

The Neighborhood Homes Investment Act would create a tax credit for builders operating in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 130 percent or great of the metro or state rate, income that are 80 percent or less of AMI, and home values below the metro or state median value.

First-time homebuyers would be eligible for a fully refundable down payment tax credit of $15,000. It would be phased out for loans over 110 percent of conforming loan limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and for those with incomes over $100,000 or $200,000, for individuals and joint filers, respectively.

How is the DASH Act being received?

Wyden is expected to introduce the legislation in September, according to Builder, but he’s already released the full text. Housing advocates seem to agree with the goals and some of the provisions in the law, but they have reservations.

The head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition took issue with the MIHTC, arguing that it would be better spent on those in poverty.

Of course, catering to the “middle class” is a longstanding political strategy founded on the simple fact that a majority of voters are in the middle class.

The bill’s prospects for passage are unclear, but Wyden will likely need to convince all of the conservative Senate Democrats and at least ten Senate Republicans that the DASH Act is worth billions in more spending on top of the trillions the Biden administration is already pushing for. That’s a tall order, so while the DASH Act is a step forward for housing advocates the likelihood that it passe and actually ends homelessness in one fell swoop seems remote.