White House tackles housing shortage with plan for 100,000 affordable homes

FILE PHOTO: Security fencing at the White House in Washington
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By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration is taking steps to address a severe housing shortage in the United States by creating and selling 100,000 affordable homes over the next three years using existing funds, the White House said on Wednesday.

The moves will focus on boosting home sales to individuals and non-profit organizations, while limiting sales to large investors, who scooped up one in six homes sold in the second quarter, according to a White House statement.

Demand for housing soared early in the pandemic as Americans sought more spacious accommodations for home offices and home schooling, but a shortage of homes for sale and supply chain bottlenecks have driven housing prices sharply higher.

Rental prices, which typically follow the lead of house prices, are also a big concern, given that even before the pandemic 11 million families - or nearly a quarter of all renters - were already spending more than half their income on rent, according to the White House.

The United States has an estimated shortage of as many as 4 million affordable housing units, White House officials say.

U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed spending over $300 billion to add 2 million more affordable housing units as part of a $3.5 trillion investment package being considered by Congress, but wanted to push forward with immediate steps that could be taken now, the White House said.

The plans will cover rural and urban housing projects, with a focus on aiding communities of color, where home ownership rates have lagged historically.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge will announce the measures after touring a new five-story affordable housing complex in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Fudge called the initiatives "significant downpayment" on Biden's commitment to boost the supply of affordable rental housing, expanding access to capital for state Housing Finance Agencies, empowering local communities to build more affordable housing and promoting equitable housing policies.

Specific actions are planned by Fudge's department, the U.S. Treasury and agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which will increase financing opportunities to enable more Americans to purchase homes, the White House said.

One key step is the revival of a joint Treasury-HUD "Risk Sharing Program" that ended in 2019 and that will enable state housing financing agencies to provide more low-cost capital for affordable housing development.

The plans will also boost the supply of manufactured housing and 2-4 unit properties by expanding financing through Freddie Mac, while taking steps to limit the sale of some U.S. Federal Housing Administration-insured properties to large investors.

Investor purchases, which have been as high as one in every four homes in some communities, have driven up prices for lower-cost houses and triggered fierce competition for starter homes, the White House said.

The administration also plans to work with state and local governments to leverage existing federal funds, and help reduce exclusionary zoning and other practices that have discouraged efforts to boost the supply of housing, the official said.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency "will begin to study the interaction between exclusionary zoning and our regulated entities," said acting Director Sandra L. Thompson.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler, Richard Pullin and Chizu Nomiyama)