‘Build Back Better’ must preserve housing provisions

The Boston area desperately needs assistance in federal bill

BUYING A HOME in Mattapan is hard. Prices are high and inventory is low. The same is true throughout the greater Boston area. And if you are a person of color, the numbers are stacked against you. Homeownership rates for white households in Massachusetts approach 70 percent while just 35 percent of Black, Latinx, and Asian residents own a home.

Last month, Congress passed and President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which will provide critical funding for our nation’s roads, bridges and public transportation. In other words, hard, traditional infrastructure. What didn’t happen at the same time, however, is an even bigger story.

President Biden and progressives in Congress, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, have been pushing for another infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better Act, which makes robust investments in our human infrastructure, including child care workers, front-line workers, renters, and homebuyers. For months, progressives had “held the line” to ensure that both the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act could pass together, using the bipartisan legislation as leverage to ensure the human infrastructure bill would move in tandem.

However, Washington politics got in the way of progress. At the last minute, the House voted to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill alone – hampering Democrats’ ability to deliver on President Biden’s full agenda. Congresswoman Pressley understood this dynamic when she voted against the infrastructure bill, and as executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, I commend her for standing her ground to ensure both bills are passed and no community is left behind. Her fierce advocacy has resulted in the House finally passing Build Back Better just before the Thanksgiving recess, but a significant hurdle remains in the Senate.

The Build Back Better Act contains historic investments in affordable housing, including a first-ever program to provide down payment assistance for first-generation homebuyers, or those without the Bank of Mom and Dad. We have worked closely and tirelessly over the past two years with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, to include this provision in federal legislation. These resources are especially critical for homebuyers of color, who due to generations of redlining and racial discrimination, have been systematically locked out of the homeownership market and denied the opportunity to build generational wealth. This lack of generational wealth has left buyers of color at a further disadvantage when seeking to purchase a home, as they are frequently outbid by those with greater family wealth.

This is just one example of how the Build Back Better Act would create opportunities for residents of Massachusetts and beyond. The bill also includes funding to eliminate the public housing repair backlog, expand the availability of rental assistance for low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities, make historic investments to construct or preserve more than 1 million new affordable housing units, remove lead and mold from housing, make flood insurance more affordable, build in climate resilience to our housing stock, and end exclusionary zoning. These transformative investments will drastically improve the lives of homebuyers and renters in Massachusetts by making housing more affordable, safe, and stable.

The federal government has divested from housing for far too long, and in the process, created a housing crisis that only gets worse daily. The Build Back Better Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get back on track and finally invest in housing as the critical infrastructure that it is.

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If the Senate and the White House are serious about building back better, then they should prioritize investments in both our physical and human infrastructure —not pit the two against each other, like they did when they split the two bills. It’s time for Senate Democrats to come together to pass the Build Back Better Act and honor the promises they made to voters in the last election. The fact is both a hard infrastructure and social/human infrastructure package are incomplete without housing. Housing is the lynchpin of both hard and human infrastructure. Let’s get this done.

Symone Crawford is executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance.