Today’s hearing has highlighted the need to move forward urgently on legislation to make Housing Choice Vouchers universally available. First, if we had this in place prior to the pandemic, so that a housing safety net kicked in automatically like it does with food stamps, we wouldn’t have had to scramble to put together the emergency relief packages we did. We don’t reinvent FEMA and disaster assistance every time there is a natural disaster. My Republican colleagues know that being fully employed doesn’t guarantee being able to afford housing, it takes nearly three times the federal minimum wage to be able to afford a modest apartment nationally. Many people who are experiencing homelessness are in fact working. Finally, my Republican colleagues are simply wrong about the effectiveness of Housing First.
The dramatic reductions in veterans and chronic homelessness under the Obama Administration from 2010-2015 resulted from Housing First coupled with resources to implement—efforts that Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration tried to reduce or eliminate funding for every year.
But to be clear, Housing First doesn’t mean Housing Only. As Ms. Oliva said, if the only thing a dedicated street outreach worker can offer a person experiencing homelessness is a bottle of water, rather than a place to live, we aren’t going to undo the damage done by the Trump Administration. They need to be armed with a Housing Choice Voucher and the supportive services to move them from the street to stability. And we might even have agreement across the aisle that Medicaid has an important role to play.
But I’m committed to, and the U.S. Supreme Court requires, ensuring that people confronting mental illness, substance addiction, or other health challenges can live in the community and not in institutions. And I hope we can work together on needed zoning reforms to increase supply. I want to especially thank Representative Al Green for recognizing and articulating that even with mental illness assistance for people who are disabled that we need to have housing, so once they are stabilized, they have a place to go.