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The federal government has been heavily involved in promoting housing affordability since the 1930s and continues to have a critical role to play. Over the past several decades, the federal government has financed affordability by promoting development and income subsidies, but specific allocation decisions have devolved. Housing inequities can best be addressed locally, but only if localities are held to high standards of fairness and regional coordination is facilitated. Successful and sustainable local solutions to housing affordability will also require a substantial financial investment, one that the federal government can and should reliably and adequately provide. Each year, Congress permits households with the least household need to receive billions of taxpayer dollars in unnecessary housing subsidies — Congress must correct this misallocation of funds in order to help those facing the severest housing burdens.

Much of federal affordable housing policy today involves a patchwork of insufficient and ineffective measures mitigating affordability harms. These measures provide critical short-term relief for the minority of genuinely needy households who receive assistance, but the federal government has inadequately invested in long-term solutions for housing instability. The federal government’s responsibility to address persistent housing inequity arises in part from decades of its own harmful, racist housing policies. Although the inherently local nature of housing markets suggests that the actual implementation of housing assistance programs should continue to devolve, responsibility for ensuring fair access to quality housing ultimately lies with the federal government.

Part I of this Article describes the ubiquity and impacts of the problem of unaffordable housing. Part II examines the spectrum of approaches that a government can use to address housing unaffordability, from police power mandates to supply- and demandside subsidies. Part III makes the normative case for significant but reimagined federal involvement in the affordable housing sphere. Part IV points out the risks inherent in relying on federal funding and oversight and suggests ways the law might mitigate such risks.



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