In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed into law one of the most consequential pieces of housing legislation, but unless you’re an urban planner or housing advocate you probably have never heard of the Section 9(g)(3) of the United States Housing Act of 1937, more commonly known as the “Faircloth Amendment.” Named for Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) who inserted the amendment into the law, it was at the time an obscure section in a package of new rules that made accessing public housing more costly and difficult for individuals and communities across the country. The National Low Income Housing Coalition called the Faircloth Amendment, “the most counterproductive part of this troubling public housing law.”
Simply put, the Faircloth Amendment effectively makes it illegal for the federal government to build or fund the development of more public housing. Because of this law, the number of public housing units cannot increase more than the number that existed on October 1, 1999. It’s an artificial barrier that prevents policymakers from using a major tool to address our nation’s growing housing crisis.
Since the Faircloth Amendment became law nearly 21 years ago, the U.S. population has grown by about 51 million and the inflation-adjusted median cost of buying a home in the U.S. has risen 36.83% from $198,612.11 to $271,768.42. This is all happening while there is a $70 billion backlog in funding for maintenance and repairs to existing public housing stock. With rising population and housing costs, and deteriorating public housing the need has never been greater for secure housing and smart policy solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this crisis even more obvious and urgent.
When America was faced with another housing crisis in the 1930s, the federal government responded by building millions of new homes. Public housing at mid-century was described by the Economic Policy Institute as, “highly-prized treasures, the most desirable housing available, their lucky residents the object of envy.” Public housing was an asset that gave families security and enabled them to build wealth, but these treasured homes were constructed in white neighborhoods for white families. As we have written before, the history of housing policy in the U.S. has always been interconnected with race and racism.
If we’re to tackle our nation’s housing crisis, especially during a pandemic that requires so many of us to be at home, we need evidence-based policy solutions. “This rule effectively and arbitrarily limits supply while making it difficult to increase the supply of affordable housing in local communities,” testified Anthony Scott, CEO of the Durham Housing Authority to the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations in March 2019. Scott described the Amendment as “unnecessarily” shackling local communities and preventing the development of new affordable housing. He concluded: “Simply put, the Faircloth Amendment needs to go.”
As public health advocates and healthcare providers, we can support legislation proposing to eliminate the Faircloth Amendment, while also championing fair and equitable housing policies.