Policies to Increase Resources for Affordable Housing and Homeless Services

Right to Housing Resolution
A number of communities have passed resolutions recognizing housing as a human right. These resolutions should include concrete steps that communities must take toward realizing the human right to housing, such as increasing affordable housing resources. 
  • In 2011, the City Council of Eugene, Oregon unanimously passed an ordinance tasking the Eugene Human Rights Commission with “protecting, respecting, and fulfilling the full range of universal human rights as enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Shortly thereafter, the Council formed a Task Force on Homeless Solutions, which explicitly declared housing as a human right in its final report.
  • Right to housing resolutions have been adopted in Cook County, Illinois, Dane County, Wisconsin, Duluth, Minnesota.
  • The City Council of Madison, Wisconsin has just adopted an ordinance extending protections to people who are experiencing homelessness including: requiring an investigation into the current state of homelessness in Madison, providing funding for a staffer focusing on homelessness issues, and prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment practices, and public places based upon one’s status as homeless. 
  • As far back as 1998, cities including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland passed resolutions pledging to protect the rights enshrined in ICESCR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to housing. Source: “The Human Right to Housing: Making the Case in US Advocacy” co-authored by Maria Foscarinis of NLCHP.
  • Other cities have passed resolutions declaring themselves “human rights cities,” including Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh in 2011.
  • Support for conceptualizing housing as a right, and one inherent in every human, is catching momentum with legal, political, and religious organizations as well. For example, the American Bar Association affirmed its own commitment to housing as a human right in a 2012 resolution. The U.S. Catholic Bishops also continues to actively promote policies that respect fundamental, human rights such as the right to housing.
Inclusionary Zoning
Inclusionary zoning policies encourage the production of affordable housing by requiring or encouraging housing developers to build residential developments where a certain percentage of the housing units are affordable to low or moderate income residents. This affordable housing is offered in exchange for building incentives, such as density bonuses that allow developers to build a greater number of units than is otherwise allowed, or fast-track permitting that allow for a faster pace of development. To be effective at producing housing for those at risk for homelessness, inclusionary zoning plans should: 1) Be mandatory, 2) Make some of the units available to those making less than 30% of median income, 3) Keep units affordable long-term – at least 25 years. 

For more on how Inclusionary Zoning policies work click here

Community Land Trust
Community Land Trusts (CLTs) can permanently increase the supply of affordable homes for purchase or rent in a geographic area. A CLT, often a non-profit organization, uses public and/or private funds to purchase or develop land that it owns in perpetuity for the purpose of providing affordable rental housing or home ownership opportunities. A CLT may be used to improve or create low-income rental housing, create low-income homeownership opportunities, improve distressed neighborhoods, and promote diverse neighborhoods. CLTs may also serve as an intermediary between purchasers and lenders to secure home financing.

The National Community Land Trust Network provides a variety of tools and further resources on starting a Community Land Trust. 

Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
This federal program provides eligible homeless service providers, including state and local governments and non-profit organizations, with the right of first refusal to receive surplus federal properties to provide homeless services. Although applicants for the property are required to pay any necessary property rehabilitation and development expenses to meet the program needs, the property itself is provided at no charge. This is an underutilized resource that might prove particularly useful for increasing capacity to provide permanent, supportive housing. For further information on the constructive use of surplus government property, please see “This Land is Your Land” and “Unused But Still Useful” two reports produced by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. 

Illinois Abandoned Housing Rehabilitation Act
This law allows non-profit organizations to take temporary possession of abandoned housing, and to rehabilitate the property. If the owner regains possession of the home, the organization will be compensated for its expenditures. If the owner does not redeem the property within two years, however, the organization may obtain a judicial deed to the property so that it may be used for low-income housing for at least ten years.

Miami-Dade Homeless and Domestic Violence Tax
The tax, designed as a dedicated revenue stream to fund homeless services, imposes a 1% tax on all food and beverage sales by establishments licensed by the state to serve alcohol on the premises, excluding hotels and motels. 85% of the tax receipts go to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, which coordinates the County’s efforts to end homelessness. The food and beverage tax raises almost $20 million a year, helping to fund emergency, supportive and transitional housing, and other homeless services within Miami-Dade County. 

Medicaid Supportive Housing Services Benefit
States can use their Medicaid resources efficiently and effectively to address the health care needs of individuals while furthering its goal of ending chronic homelessness by creating a supportive housing services benefit. This benefit would not pay for housing, but would pay for the housing retention and case management services delivered in supportive housing. Organizations like the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance are advocating for such a policy.
Housing Trust Funds
Housing trust funds can be established by city, county or state governments to receive ongoing dedicated sources of public funding to increase affordable housing opportunities for families and individuals. Housing trust funds have already been launched on a federal level, as well as within many states and municipalities across the country. Furthermore, many state legislatures have passed legislation specifically authorizing the creation and often the financial support of local, housing trust funds. Communities have funded these trusts in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to:
  • Real Estate Document Recording Fee
In Washington, a document recording fee is charged by each county pursuant to RCW 36.22.178. The fees generate approximately $20 million annually, and the revenues are shared between the counties and the state. The state then provides grants to local governments through its homeless housing grant program. Missouri similarly dedicates funding for homeless services through a document recording fee applicable to its three most populous counties.
  • Interest Bearing Real Estate Trust Account Program 
In Wisconsin, this program requires real estate brokers to establish interest-bearing real estate trust accounts for the deposit of all down payments, earnest money and other funds related to the conveyance of real estate to generate funding for shelter and homeless services.
  • Documentary Tax Stamp on Real Estate Sales
Pursuant to Nev. Rev. Stat. §76-901, Nebraska collects $2.25 of every $1,000 of the value of real estate sold in the state via the documentary tax stamp on real estate sales.

The success of Housing Trust Funds has been well documented in many communities, including Washington, D.C., Columbus, OhioCambridge, MassachusettsMiami-Dade County, Florida, and Oregon. For a more detailed review of model housing trust funds, please see the Center for Community Change’s report: "State Legislation to Promote Local Housing Trust Funds: A Toolkit for Advocates."